Opposition and Chavez Supporters March Separately for Mayday in Venezuela

Venezuelans celebrated International Worker’s Day yesterday with two large marches that wound through the streets of Caracas. One in support of the Chavez-led “Bolivarian Revolution,” and the other with the opposition.

Caracas, Venezuela, May 2, 2006—Venezuelanscelebrated International Worker’s Day yesterday with two large marches thatwound through the streets of Caracas. One in support of the Chavez-led “BolivarianRevolution,” and the other with the opposition. This marks the sixth year in a row that Venezuelan workers have heldseparate marches on May 1st.

While the marches began on different sides of the city, theyboth ended blocks from each other and a stone’s throw away from thePresidential Palace of Miraflores.

No violence was reported, although the situation turnedtense near Las Fuerzas ArmadasAvenue, when the opposition march crossed a bridge directly above thepro-government route. Armed with shieldsand batons, carloads of police linked arms to keep the two sides fromphysically interacting. Verbalaltercations were numerous although brief as the opposition demonstrationcontinued on its way.

While an official count is unconfirmed, both marchesnumbered in the thousands, and ran for several blocks. The pro-government march was substantiallylarger, with participants at the tail still waiting to begin the severalkilometer route by the time the front had arrived to its destination.

The opposition march was led by theConfederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) which, according to the Venezuelandaily El Universal, called for theparticipants to march for increased salaries, back-pay, a dignified socialsecurity system, and freedom for CTV President Carlos Ortega, who was sentencedlast year to 16 years in prison for his role in the two-month 2002-3 oil industryshut down.

“Things are turbulent. With this government everything is turbulent,”yelled 15 year- CTV veteran, Israel Masa, from the opposition march. “That’swhy we are marching- to demand transparency in the next elections, because wein the opposition know that we are the majority and that we are the truedemocrats.”

The pro-government march was led by the National Workers Union (UNT) andofficially entitled, the “Bolivarian March Against Imperialism and Free TradeAgreements,” highlighting the international importance of today’s celebrations,and calling attention to the recent motives for Venezuela’s withdrawal from theCommunity of Andean Nations.

“This demonstration is a struggle against imperialism andthe conspiratorial plans of USimperialism against Venezuela,”announced Venezuelan National Assembly Representative Dario Vivas in themorning, at the start of the march. “The people of Venezuela are ready to do whatevernecessary to guarantee our liberty.”

Beginning the march at the offices of the Ministry of PopularEconomy (in charge of promoting and organizing the country’s cooperatives),highlighted the importance of Venezuela’scooperatives and their members in the May 1st celebration.

Yenni Torres, 29, is a member of a maintenance cooperativeworking with the state-company CVG Bauxilum. She traveled 11 hours last night from her home in Bolivar state, tomarch yesterday and “show her support for President Chavez.” “We have seen greatchanges,” she explained in front of the stage at the conclusion of the march.“At least in our case, we were largely unemployed, and that has beendiminishing. Another group ofcooperatives is now being formed and integrated, by people who wereunemployed.”

In Venezuela,there are currently over 105,000 cooperatives in the country, 95% of which havebeen formed since Chavez took office in 1999. This year, the government has stated that it is working to train 700,000new cooperativistas in thejob-training Mission,Vuelvan Caras. Many highlight that this cooperative boom hashelped lead to a decrease in Venezuelan unemployment from 22% to 10%, since theVenezuelan economic troubles of 2002-2003.

CTV Secretary General, Manuel Cova, doesn’t buy it, "This country has nothing to celebrate, because thereis currently an unemployment rate between 15-17%, and the statistic of 10% onlyexists in the mind of the Government.”

The worker divisions go deeperthan one would imagine. Members of the Worker’sUnion for the Construction Industry (SUTIC)participated in both marches, highlighting the difficult situation that someworkers find themselves in. “We areworking for unity,” proclaimed union leader Fredy Nolasco at yesterday’s UNT march,but the union appears to be anything but united.

Meanwhile, in a move that was celebrated by mostVenezuelans, President Chavez raised the minimum wage last week by 10%. The CTV, however, has called the move“insufficient.” CTV Executive Secretary, AlfredoRamos recently stated that since over half of the employed Venezuelans areworking in the informal sector, the wage increase will only benefit “the 4million Venezuelans” who are formally employed.