In the last few weeks in Venezuela there has been a renewed offensive in the "war against the latifundia" and a number of factory expropriations. This has had the effect of polarising the country, with the private bourgeois media launching a "crusade" in defence of private property.
The expropriations have involved the Heinz tomato processing plant in Monagas, the Fribarasa slaughterhouse in Barinas, the Promabasa (the Alimentos Polar owned silos) in Barinas, the Comanacoa Sugar Mill and the Sidororca pipe factory. In the countryside the La Marquesena estate has been taken over and there have been similar such interventions in a number of other latifundia up and down the country.
The oligarchy is now up in arms trying to mobilise the weak forces of the opposition. They have organised an intense media campaign, whipping up the fear of the petty bourgeoisie that their property is going to be taken over (something which is not at all contemplated by revolutionary Marxists when we talk about expropriating the means of production). In this manner, the ruling class is trying to recover a certain social base of support.
We should remember that the Land Reform law was one of the elements that sparked off the coup in 2002 and it touches on a key aspect of Venezuelan capitalism. If we add to this the expropriation of a number of companies and the announcement of a reform of the very concept of private property in the Bolivarian Constitution once this gets a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, we can see why the ruling class and imperialism are accelerating their plans to counter what they see as a "socialist threat".
On Sunday 25, the news bulletins of the main media interrupted their normal broadcasts to bring live coverage from the streets where, according to them, "the Venezuelan people were protesting against this assault on private property on the part of President Chavez". These were in fact small rallies in the upper-middle class neighbourhoods in the main cities in the north of the country (Caracas, Valencia, Maracaibo, etc). On all of them there were slogans against the expropriations and against Chavez, who at that same moment was talking on his weekly Alo President programme, broadcast from the expropriated estate of La Marquesena, so as not to leave any doubts about the fact that it had been taken over and that part of it was already being handed over to 80 peasant families.
The Church, as a loyal servant of the ruling class, has also stepped in to the campaign to attack these recent measures which are hitting Venezuelan capitalism. Among those making statements was the president of the Active Consciousness Foundation, the rabbi and highest representative of the Jewish faith in the country, Pynchas Brenner. According to El Nacional, Brenner declared from Maracaibo that respect for private property has existed since ancient times, otherwise the sacred scriptures would not have mentioned respect for this right in one of the main commandments: "you shall not steal". And he added: "this is a commandment of God which implicitly recognises the right of private property as a basic human right which cannot be taken away". As always, this is part of the strategy of the ruling class to try and present this system of oppression we live under, as one that has always existed and that shall exist forever, like a kind of law of God.
The media campaign has also had support from their masters in the north, as was to be expected. The US ambassador Brownfield stated on Globovision that the expropriations are an "internal and sovereign" affair of the country "if they are in accordance with international law", and added that what is happening in the country will "undoubtedly have an impact on private companies, not only in the US but in all countries of the world".
The businessman and president of [the business federation] Conindustria, Eduardo Gomez Sigala, as a representative of the "national" bourgeoisie, also joined in this reactionary chorus, warning that the expropriations are going to "bring confrontation and will affect the investment climate. We call on industrialists to defend their property vehemently, as the case requires. There is no doubt that we cannot act with halfway measures in this matter. The Venezuelans who have built up this country, created industries, companies and houses must defend them for the well being of future generations".
With extreme cynicism, these employers (the same who squeeze every last drop out of us in order to fill their bank accounts with the proceeds of our labour) have expressed their "deepest worries" for the workers of the expropriated companies and landed estates, and for the future of their families. As if they had ever cared for the well being of our class when they destroy jobs to maximise their profits!
The Government expropriates La Marquesena and other latifundia
The government has organised a census of nearly 2157 landed estates covering 7 million hectares of land, and has determined that 3,658,123 hectares can be classified as latifundia. This means that INTI [National Land Institute] plans to intervene in 317 estates. As Genaro Mendez, president of FEDENAGA, the association of cattle ranchers and latifundia owners said, "the problem is not just La Marquesena, the land that is threatened is those of the whole of Venezuela, and we will assume the defence of all producers".
The Minister of Agriculture and Land, Antonio Albarran, explained that the time scale for the taking over of land this year includes a further seven landed estates. These are those of Jovito (Apure), Los Cocos (Apure), San Pablo Paeño (Apure), La Bendición, Ramera, La Marqueseña (Barinas), La Vaca (Guárico) and Barrera in Carabobo. They add up to a total of 1,740,000 hectares. The will be followed by estates in Bolivar and Carabobo. The La Vergarena ranch, with more than 180,000 hectares will be the next one to be taken over. It is forecast that a total of half a million hectares will be taken over by the end of 2005.
In response to these advances in the struggle against latifundia in Venezuela, the hired thugs of the landowners attacked the house of Minister Albarran in Sabaneta (Barinas) in the early hours of last Wednesday in a shooting spree. The bullets hit the room of his daughter who fortunately escaped unharmed. "I am not going to retreat in the face of this or any other kind of pressure. I will continue the war against the latifundia", said the Minister.
More than 180 peasant activists have been killed in the last seven years of revolution by the hired thugs of the landowners in an attempt to prevent them from taking over the land that is rightfully theirs. Now they want to apply the same methods to the Minister of Agriculture and Land.
A few days ago, on September 13, the president of FEDECAMARAS, Jose Luis Betancourt, read a document of this, the most important business organisation in the country, which demands, "an immediate stop to arbitrary and illegal actions against private property, the return of the affected properties to their legitimate owners, and the respect to the right to work for workers and employees of the companies affected". "A Venezuela without private property is a Venezuela without freedom, without democracy, without dignity and without a private sector. A Venezuela without a private sector is doomed to hunger and poverty", ended the statement. The problem is that it is precisely the chains of the nation state and private property of the means of production which condemn millions of human beings all over the world to hunger, misery, scourges which could be easily eradicated on the basis of a nationalised and democratically planned economy.
The statements from Betancourt did not seem to cow the president of INTI [National Land Institute], Richard Antonio Vivas, who reaffirmed that the process of land distribution will continue, "the aim of INTI is to eradicate latifundia from the country". According to the national government what is taking place right now is the taking back of the country's land, since in most instances it is not a case of "confiscation, expropriation or intervention, but of taking back".
The National Government’s legal base for the expropriation of these estates is that in the majority of cases the landowners have no property titles, or deeds, for the land they occupy. Most of them increased the size of their estates arbitrarily, illegally appropriating land that belonged to the State or to the poor peasants. A large proportion of the country's latifundia falls into this category.
On Wednesday 21, during the ceremony where the State paid its debts to 1049 aerospace technicians, which took place in the Miraflores Palace, Chavez stated that, "we will not expropriate more than what is necessary… the land owners think they own everything, but they are not the owners of anything, because the owners are the Venezuelans as a whole." At the same time he explained that according to his information, "99% of land owners have no current property titles, so that when they are required by the authorities to produce property titles they cannot provide a document that corresponds to the land they occupy".
Referring to corruption he said that there were "remains of the old state infiltrated within the new State that is being born. We must get rid of the arbitrary and elite police state that sequestrated the rights of the peoples". Immediately after that he recommended that the authorities keep an eye on the bankers since "it seems that a group of them are acting against the people".
VENEPAL was to be an exception, but expropriations continue in Venezuela
On July 17, President Chavez reported that in the country there are 700 non-productive companies and 1149 which operate at 50% capacity and that the government was going to expropriate those that did not work. Since then there had been no concrete measures to implement this promise. However in the last few weeks it would seem that things have started to move in the direction announced by the president two months ago.
On Thursday 22, the Legislative Council of Barinas State asked the governor Hugo de los Reyes Chavez to declare that the Empresas Polar plant in this State was “of public interest” (a prior requirement before expropriation). The regional governor declared that "my hand will not tremble when it comes to signing a decree or any other measure to the benefit of the people". The following Monday the Regional Government expropriated the silos property of Remavenca, a subsidiary of Empresas Polar, and thus put an end to all speculation. In fact, the agreement that had been reached the previous Friday with the executives of Polar (which included no expropriation of the company) was broken and the State took over the plant. The Polar board of directors issued a statement declaring these actions to be a violation of private property and an abuse.
Along the same lines, on Monday September 26, the National Assembly, in an ordinary session, declared as companies of “public and social interest” the Cumanacoa Sugar Mill and Sidororca (a company that produces pipes for the oil industry), as a step prior to expropriation and that they be handed over to the workers under co-management [cogestion]. Both companies had been left idle for a number of years and the workers were demanding their reopening. The expropriation was announced by deputy Jose Khan, who, together with Assembly president Nicolas Maduro, had previously met with the workers at the end of a demonstration.
On the same day, a group of workers at OXIDOR [a private oil refinery], on the Valencia industrial estate, took over the plant to protest against the paralysis of the refinery and to demand a fair collective bargaining agreement. Jose Romer, the union president, stated, "We have been six months without work, so we decided to take the president up on his word and occupy the factory to demand our rights". This group of workers demanded the expropriation of the company and its reopening under "workers and peoples' control".
A few days earlier the workers of a glove factory in the Amazonas state were threatened with arrest after a few weeks of occupying the Mi Guante installations, which had been closed and abandoned by the bosses. We should also remember the battle of the workers of Snack's America Latina, particularly in Lara and the Aragua plants, in which once again the Venezuelan justice system has shown it is at the service of the capitalist class. What we are witnessing is a recovery of the workers' struggles all over the country. And although so far these have been isolated cases, they highlight the role of the working class in this revolutionary process.
Contradictions of capitalism become more acute
Recently president Chavez warned CANTV, Venezuela's leading telephone company that, "CANTV must recognise the debts to its workers... because if it does not, regardless of how powerful its bosses think they are, we will have to apply the sword and the acid of the law". He made this statement during a ceremony where the state was paying up its back debts to the former workers of the Maiquetia airport. This was a measure similar to what the Supreme Court of Justice was asking of CANTV. After the news of this statement, CANTV shares in the Caracas stock exchange fell dramatically by 12%. Chavez said that the company owes 279 million dollars to its pensioned workers and that the decision of the high tribunal was aimed at giving back the right to a "decent pension" to the CANTV workers.
On Wednesday 21, president Chavez announced the revocation of all concessions to foreign companies operating in national mines. "I want to tell the country that on the road of recovering Venezuela's economic sovereignty we will continue to advance in a firmer and more precise way. Recently, for instance, we took the decision, after looking carefully into it, to cancel all mining concessions. We will not give the multinationals any more concessions. No, no, no. They are fooling us", said Chavez. The share prices of Cystallex International fell by 44% on the Canadian market, to 1.2 dollars, its lowest level since June 2003, while shares of other mining companies with a presence in the country such as Gold Reserve and Bolivar Gold, fell by 28% and 13% the following day.
Price controls, particularly in the food sector, have not stopped inflation; on the contrary, it has been the regulated products that have suffered the highest price increases. This is despite the concessions made by the government in relation to beef and other products that the employers had been hoarding or for which they had imposed higher prices without any government reaction, with the exception of some complaints by the president on one of his Sunday TV programmes. The expropriation of the Promabasa silos, which were being dismantled by Empresas Polar, was used as an excuse to provoke an artificial scarcity of maize products (flower for arepas, etc).
The only road to Socialism of the XXI century
We are witnessing an offensive of the National Government against the landowners and capitalists, although so far this has only been partial, and this is obviously met with sympathy and support on the part of workers and peasants. The oligarchy is conducting a hysterical campaign in the bourgeois media about the sacred right of private property, that according to them is being violated by the National Government. These parasites and speculators who "defend" national wealth by taking their money out of the country or by keeping their factories and land idle, now complain because the Bolivarian government is taking from them what does not belong to them, but belongs to the workers and the people, and that they are incapable of putting to use. The capitalists cannot take the country forward. It is only the working class and the peasants that can do this, and this is being demonstrated by the workers of Invepal, Alcasa and thousands of peasant cooperatives up and down the country.
All these are enormous steps forward, but the government must not stop here. Venezuela cannot advance while the land, factories and banks are in the hands of the capitalists. The solution to the problems of the Venezuelan people can only be found on the basis of state ownership of the means of production and the democratic planning of the economy instead of the chaos and anarchy generated by capitalism. This is the only possible way of having real economic development in the face of economic sabotage on the part of the landowners and capitalists. This is also the only way to build "Socialism of the XXI century."