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Venezuelan Workers Defy Rightist Oil Blockade
By Andy McInerney, Liberation News

Since Dec. 2, Venezuela's economic elite have tried desperately to
bring the popular government of President Hugo Chavez to its knees.
The same forces that launched a failed coup attempt against Chavez
in April--the bosses' Fedecameras federation, some corrupt union
leaders connected to the old political elite, and some sectors of
the military, with the support of the U.S. government--are now
trying to force Chavez to resign. Their main target has been the
state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, the government's largest
source of revenue.

They call the action a "strike." In reality, it is the bosses'
attempt to blockade the Chavez government and the millions of poor
and working people it represents. It is the same policy that U.S.
imperialism has tried to dictate against Iraq and Cuba.

Chavez has vowed from the outset to weather the crisis. Thanks to
popular support and mass mobilization of workers around the country,
along with solidarity from across Latin America, the popular
government has managed to resist the blockade and sabotage as the
New Year arrives.

Big business news media in the U.S. have mainly served as
cheerleaders for the right wing opposition, wildly inflating numbers
for opposition demonstrations and not reporting pro-Chavez
demonstrations at all. But some reports on the class character of
the misnamed "strike" have begun to surface.

A Dec. 24 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer had the headline,
"Venezuela strike splits capital into haves and have-
nots." "Thousands of holiday shoppers throng the streets of working-
class western Caracas, where a general strike designed to oust
President Hugo Chavez seems a figment of the imagination," the
article states. "Meanwhile, in well-to-do eastern Caracas, the work
stoppage is very real, with shops and restaurants closed, the
sidewalks mostly devoid of pedestrians."

In the critical oil industry, managers and executives organize the
"strike." But the Chavez government has won over the support of many
oil workers, according to a Dec. 29 New York Times report.

Of a visit to an oil refinery at Puerto La Cruz, a New York Times
reporter wrote: "Nearly a month into Venezuela's devastating
national strike, all systems were back up and running close to
normal this week at the refinery here that supplies gasoline to the
eastern half of the country.

"Night shift workers were bursting with pride."

"We are prouder now than ever," said 17-year veteran oil worker
Wilfredo Bastardo. "We have shown our supervisors that we can run
this plant without them."

Speaking at a rally of pro-Chavez oil workers in Yaguas, Chavez
declared, "We will move heaven and earth, but we will never leave
the people in the hands of this savage and treacherous oligarchy."

Chavez is also benefiting from his foreign policy goal of promoting
Latin American solidarity. Both Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago have
sent shipments of gasoline to help Venezuela weather the protests.
The Dominican Republic has sent rice.

Oil workers in Colombia and Ecuador have volunteered their expertise
in keeping the refineries open.

MASSES MOBILIZE TO DEFEND CHAVEZ

Chavez's opponents accuse him of being a dictator. But his
government has shown a degree of tolerance toward the plotters that
would be unheard of by any of the capitalist "democracies" if they
were facing such disruption from the organized working class. The
rich elite in Venezuela use their control over the media to
broadcast anti-Chavez propaganda. Rebellious military officers--so
far a small minority of the armed forces--meet openly in the wealthy
areas of the capital.

But demands are growing on the part of the millions of Chavez
supporters--overwhelmingly poor and working people--to meet the
opposition head on.

Over 300,000 Venezuelans have signed petitions calling for a
referendum on suspending government concessions to private
television stations "that have violated their code of ethics by
blatantly slanting news events in an anti-patriotic manner, and are
openly conspiring against the Constitution of the Bolivarian
Republic of Venezuela."

Thousands of others have signed petitions in support of Petroleos de
Venezuela director of oil production Felix Rodriguez, who filed a
motion asking the Supreme Court to declare the oil stoppage illegal.
The Supreme Court did so on Dec. 19, but oil managers have continued
their stoppage.

The oil executives' defiance of the Supreme Court order prompted
Chavez to fire over 90 of them. The government is also considering
arresting them for damages done to the economy.

The Bolivarian Circles, neighborhood-based organizations organized
to defend Chavez's "Bolivarian revolution," have been the core of
popular mobilizations against the counterrevolutionary mobilization.
The circles have organized daily demonstrations in support of Chavez.

Some sectors of the Bolivarian Circle movement are openly preparing
to defend against the next attempt to oust Chavez. On Nov. 9, the
Associated Press interviewed Comandante Lina Ron, one of the most
militant leaders of the Bolivarian Circle movement.

Describing the greed of Venezuela's rich ruling class, Ron said, "If
that's the way things are, I am preparing for war. We will wage a
scorched-earth campaign."

Ron organized a Christmas party in Caracas on Dec. 25, distributing
gifts to poor children. Vice President Jose Vincent Rangel attended
the event.

"Tonight is a night of understanding," he said. But the loudest
cheers came with his next sentence: "But this doesn't rule out a
firm hand."