Venezuela News Summary #92

Chavez Rejects U.S. Mediation in Venezuela-Colombia Spat, U.S. Withdrawal is “Only Solution” - Chavez Says Venezuela Will Defend Itself Against Colombian-U.S. Aggression - Venezuela Declares Commitment to Peace and Dialogue, Prepares Defense of Natural Resources - United Socialist Party of Venezuela Elects Congress Delegates amidst Debates over Party Direction - Venezuelan Government Takes Hold of Two Largest Coffee Companies - Venezuela Destroys 32,000 Firearms to Fight Crime - Venezuelan Trade Unionists Organize to Defend the “Bolivarian Revolution”

I. Chavez Rejects U.S. Mediation in Venezuela-Colombia Spat, U.S. Withdrawal is “Only Solution”
Tensions in Northern South America grew on October 30th, when the United States and Colombia signed a joint military pact allowing the U.S. military access to seven Colombian bases and granting full immunity to U.S. personnel. Last weekend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced that the only “practical solution” to the growing conflict between Venezuela and Colombia was an “immediate” end to the deal. Chavez said that the agreement, is a “pact for war,” and will give the U.S. carte blanche to conduct military operations that could jeopardize the sovereignty and integrity of neighboring countries. His statement came in response, to comments by U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ian Kelly who said last week that the United States is prepared to mediate between Venezuela and Colombia to find “practical solutions” to the conflict. Chavez called Kelly’s proposal another demonstration of Washington’s “cynicism.” He said, “Venezuela’s sovereignty is not up for discussion, nor will it be negotiated with any other country.” U.S. and Colombian officials deny that Colombia will be used as a launch pad for military interventions in other South American countries, and say the agreement is designed to fight Colombian drug trafficking and left-wing guerrillas. However, the 2010 budget of the US Air Force Military Construction Program, states that Colombia’s Palanquero air base, “supports mobility missions by providing access to the entire continent.” http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4933

II. Chavez Says Venezuela Will Defend Itself Against Colombian-U.S. Aggression
Meanwhile, a week and a half ago Chavez declared that his country is prepared to defend itself against a possible act of aggression from Colombia or the United States.
Chavez called on the commanders of the Venezuelan Armed Forces to “lose no time” in forming civilian revolutionary militias, ready to defend Venezuela. He said that Venezuela would “never again be a Yankee colony” and warned that if the U.S. and Colombia start a war with Venezuela, it would “be the start of a hundred year war.” The best way to avoid war, Chavez said, is to prepare for it. Chavez said that as a result of the military agreement between the US and Colombia, “The Colombian government is no longer in Bogota, it is in the United States.” The Colombian government responded in an official statement declaring that, “Colombia has not made nor will it make any gesture of war toward the international community.” Colombia called Chavez’s declarations “threats of war” and said it would issue complaints in the Organization of American States and the United Nations Security Council. The U.S. State Department said the conflict between Venezuela and Colombia does not have to do with the United States, and urged both sides to engage in dialogue. Venezuela said it is prepared to debate the issue with Colombia in any multilateral organization. Meanwhile, Nicaragua, Brazil and several governments across the region, expressed their deep concern over the growing tensions from the U.S.-Colombia military deal, and also called for dialogue. Bolivian President Evo Morales said the recent U.S.-Colombian military pact is to South America what the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay is to Cuba. He suggested that the issue of foreign bases on South American soil be put to a continent-wide vote. Meanwhile, Bolivian Vice President Alvaro García said, “The U.S. presence in Colombia is an invasion of the continent… we have to prepare ourselves in the face of the possibility of a U.S. military invasion.” http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4924

III. Venezuela Declares Commitment to Peace and Dialogue, Prepares Defense of Natural Resources
In response to Colombia’s complaints to the United Nations about Chavez’s “threats of war”, Venezuela reiterated its intention to promote peaceful international relations while defending its sovereignty against a potential attack from Colombia. Last week, several Venezuelan officials publicly declared that Colombia had intentionally distorted President Hugo Chavez’s comments from earlier this month, when Chavez said that Venezuela is prepared to defend itself and its natural resources against foreign aggression. Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister Nicolas Maduro called Colombia’s complaint to the U.N. part of a “script for a dirty war against Venezuela.” He accused Colombia of attempting to divert attention from its military deal with the U.S. Venezuela has repeatedly argued that the United States plans to use its military power to destabilize left-leaning governments in Latin America and, in the words of Trade Minister Eduardo Saman, “take control of our oil and our natural riches.” Venezuelan Communications Minister Blanca Eekhout said that the U.S. seeks to provoke a war between Colombia and Venezuela in order to disrupt the processes of integration that Venezuela and other anti-imperialist governments are carrying out in South America. Last week, thousands of Venezuelans from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, marched in Caracas to express their opposition to the military deal between Colombia and the U.S. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4931

IV. United Socialist Party of Venezuela Elects Congress Delegates amidst Debates over Party Direction
On November 15, The PSUV held nation-wide delegate elections for its First Extraordinary Congress. 8000 members competed in the elections for nearly 800 congress delegate positions. The PSUV has nearly 7 million members, but last weekend’s voting was only open to the 2 and a half million “active” party members. Roughly half of those participated in last weekend’s vote. While the “endogenous right”, or more conservative sector of the Bolivarian revolution, overwhelmingly dominates the PSUV, left-wing PSUV activists applauded the results, with a number of respected revolutionaries elected to the Congress. Among those are Aporrea co-founder, Gonzalo Gomez; Women’s Bank director, Nora Castañeda; National Assembly Representative, Jesús Faria; and the radical former mayor of Carora, Julio Chavez. The PSUV Congress will be held over the next several weekends in Caracas. Delegates plan to debate the party’s program, principles, organizational structure and the mechanism for selecting candidates for the 2010 national parliamentary elections. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4935

V. Venezuelan Government Takes Hold of Two Largest Coffee Companies
Last week, in a push to break up the market share of Venezuela’s two largest coffee makers, the Venezuela government nationalized Fama de America and turned Cafe Madrid into a mixed enterprise partially owned by the state. The decision came three months after the company facilities were occupied under suspicion of hoarding, speculating, and smuggling coffee into Colombia to avoid government price controls. The head of the National Superintendent of Silos, Carlos Osorio, said the two companies were producing and distributing 70% of Venezuelan coffee, leaving nearly 100 other producers with little market access. Osorio declared that “with this decree, the government is looking to balance the distribution of coffee.” According to Osorio, the government plan is to reduce Fama de America and Cafe Madrid’s total market share to 50%, and distribute the other 50% to small and medium sized coffee producers and cooperatives nation-wide. The workers at Fama de America welcomed the company nationalization, and said they are willing to collaborate with the government to revamp production. Fama de America union member Wilfredo Bejarano said he hopes the state will increase the workers’ participation in decision-making. This year, some Venezuelan regions have experienced coffee shortages. Osorio said the problem was not a drop in production, but irresponsible behavior on the part of the private owners. He declared that with the nationalization, “there will be a secure supply of coffee, because the monopoly and smuggling will end.” http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4930

VI. Venezuela Destroys 32,000 Firearms to Fight Crime
As part of its crime fighting efforts, the Venezuelan government publicly destroyed more than 32,000 firearms last week. According to the head of the Armed Forces General Board of Arms and Explosives, Colonel Julio César Morales, nearly $5,000 in proceeds from the sale of the scrap metal will be donated to the Friends of Children with Cancer Foundation. The weapons were seized this year from people arrested for violent crimes and also from prisoners. Nearly a third of the weapons were homemade. In polls, Venezuelans have repeatedly placed crime and insecurity as the most serious issue affecting the country. According to government figures, the number of homicides per year rose from 6,000 in 1999 to nearly 13,000 in 2007, before declining last year down to fewer than 8,000. In addition to destroying weapons, the government has increased the number of police officers, renovated their equipment, begun training unarmed community police squads, and laid the groundwork for a network of local drug prevention educator schools. In 2006, the government began its police reform program with a nation-wide, public consultation process and the creation of a national commission to write new standards for police conduct. Two years later, the National Assembly passed a law creating a new national police force, and this year the Ministry of Justice set up a new university for training in police conduct. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4927

VII. Venezuelan Trade Unionists Organize to Defend the “Bolivarian Revolution”
Venezuelan trade unionists are organizing to refound the National Union of Workers, or UNT, through a national congress scheduled for December 5 aimed at defending and deepening the gains of the Bolivarian revolution. President Hugo Chavez, has stated that the aim of the revolution is “Socialism of the 21st Century.” Among the workers who are organizing the congress, however, there is general agreement on the need to build a unified national union federation to confront a pro-capitalist state bureaucracy that threatens to derail the revolution. Regional meetings are being held throughout the country in order to facilitate debate among rank and file workers in preparation for the national congress. Two weeks ago, the UNT held an Eastern region congress with 250 union workers from the states of Anzoategui, Bolivar, Sucre, Nueva Esparta, and Monagas. Regional meetings have also been held in Zulia, the Central Region, and the Andean region. The UNT was formed in April 2003 after the country’s traditional labor federation, the CTV, together with the country’s largest employer federation, Fedecamaras, participated in the 2002 military coup against Chavez as well as the 2002 oil lockout. Discredited over its role in the coup and lockout, the CTV all but collapsed. In turn UNT affiliation grew dramatically, representing 75% of all collective agreements signed in 2003-2004. Despite general agreement on the principles at the founding UNT congress, elections for the new federation were postponed and a provisional leadership of 21 national coordinators was formed. In 2005 the UNT led a million strong march of workers in Caracas under the banner of “Co-management is revolution.” However, factional infighting led to a collapse of the UNT’s 2nd congress in 2006. Elections were postponed again and the federation effectively ceased functioning at a national level. Despite the divisions, the UNT continues to be the principle union federation in the country with eighty percent of active unions legally affiliated to it. The push to re-found the national federation is being led by Marea Socialista, the CTR, and the Bolivarian Educators. These UNT leaders are calling for all of the ad-hoc UNT provisional leaders to resign their national coordinator positions at the start of the congress. Interim leadership and an electoral commission would then be elected from the congress to organize nation-wide grassroots elections, tentatively scheduled for February next year. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4926