Venezuela: freedom for jailed workers!

For years the massive mobilisation of the Venezuelan masses cast aside the repression of the state apparatus. However, the failure to complete the socialist revolution has created economic chaos. As the Maduro government has attempted to make workers pay for the crisis and the bureaucracy has become bolder in asserting its own interests, it has met the resistance of working-class activists with increasing state repression, arrests, and victimisation.


What began as a revolution has turned into its opposite

Beyond the long list of calumnies that the right wing nationally and internationally have thrown at the Bolivarian Revolution over the years, the revolution nevertheless represented the most democratic period in our country’s history, at least for the last decade, a point which we in the International Marxist Tendency have always defended since the very start of the revolution.

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Although the revolution was not completed, and the rising tide of struggle of the working masses did not reach its final conclusion, the period was characterised by a key feature of all revolutionary epochs: the working masses intervened decisively in determining major historical events.

For years the workers mobilised powerfully, attempting to take their destiny into their own hands. Abandoned, under-used, or large estates were taken over by peasants. When threatened with mass dismissals or factory closures, workers occupied their factories, restarting production without the need for bureaucrats or employers. In the working-class neighborhoods, people organised to take an active part in administering community life.

The mobilisation and rising tide of the masses was of such magnitude that the bourgeois state apparatus was unable to contain it. Besides a few specific cases of repression, the masses cast the state apparatus aside for a whole period, while they fought to make social, economic and political conquests, and to end the state of affairs that had reigned until then in Venezuela.

We cannot ignore the role of comrade Hugo Chávez in this process, who constantly encouraged the active participation of the working masses in politics. Chávez pointed out the importance of popular power and the power of the workers to advance towards the overthrow of capitalism, although, of course, he on many occasions restrained the masses from advancing, although this is not the question we presently mean to deal with.

The point is that mass participation in the workers’ and popular movements was the central factor in this entire process of extending democratic rights in the country, and the ebb that the mass movement has suffered in the following period has also been decisive in allowing the advance of the repressive forces of the state.

The economic crisis, the ebb of the masses, and the increase in repression against workers

On many occasions, we have explained how the failure to complete the socialist revolution was central to the economic chaos that the country has experienced in recent years.

By attempting to control the prices of goods, applying foreign currency exchange controls, by expropriating one sector of capitalists while increasing taxes on another, the revolution provoked a fierce response from the bourgeoisie who responded with the sabotage of production, smuggling, the creation of chronic shortages of basic goods, capital investment strikes, and so on. This was the ultimate cause of the brutal inflationary crisis we’ve seen in recent years, as well as of the serious drop in levels of production, and, finally, of the economy’s general collapse.

This process, which accelerated the destruction of workers’ living standards and practically all of the conquests that they had achieved up until that point, in turn became a factor in accelerating the process of exhaustion, demoralisation, and reflux among the working masses. Hundreds of thousands of workers were pushed out of political activity by the force of economic events.

Forced to devote more and more time to the daily struggle for survival through individual rather than collective methods, the workers increasingly abandoned the historical fortifications of their struggle, such as the unions, left-wing parties and organisations, and community collectives.

In such a context, the bourgeoisie accelerated its offensive on the same economic field, but it also combined this with an offensive on the political field.

For their part, different sectors of the chavismo leadership – which had suffered a process of accelerated bureaucratisation and bourgeoisification – also became emboldened in advancing its own interests, and the defence of its own privileges and ‘conquests’ of the past period. But this obviously demanded the services of that very apparatus that has historically fulfilled the function of repression: the armed bodies of the state, the courts, and the prisons.

The year 2018 marked a turning point, following which the Maduro government increased its use of repressive measures against workers with the signing of Memorandum 2792.

Before September 2018, the government had tried to contain the inflationary spiral by injecting more liquidity into the economy. Real wages were maintained despite inflation by the granting of consecutive wage rises whilst no measures of a more radical nature were taken against the bourgeoisie. Taking Chávez’s policy of expropriations to its logical conclusion was off the agenda for the Maduro government.

The August 2018 currency reform package marked a turning point, beginning a deepening of the anti-worker and bourgeois turn of the government. For the first time, it decided to apply a policy severely restricting liquidity, of increasingly privatising the old nationalised companies, and of making greater and greater concessions to sectors of the bourgeoisie. This policy is in absolute, diametrical opposition to the policy of the previous twenty years, being oriented along Keynesian and social-democratic lines. Its purpose is to solve the country’s serious economic crisis, but not at the expense of the privileges of the bourgeoisie. Rather, it aims to solve the crisis by making the workers pay with unprecedented levels of hunger and misery.

Alongside the liquidity restriction we saw the passing of Memorandum 2792. The latter proposed to practically suspend collective bargaining, as well as the de facto elimination of grades and salary bands for public officials.

The policy was accompanied by what amounted to a salary freeze, in the worst tradition of the so-called neoliberal, monetarist adjustment plans of the Chicago Boys – applied in the 1970s and 1980s by Pinochet, Reagan, and in Venezuela, by Carlos Andrés Pérez, with the catastrophic social consequences well known to all that ended in the Caracazo in 1989.

In short, whilst there have been salary increases since Memorandum 2792, in reality they have been utterly paltry to the point of being absurd. At best, they represent the tiniest adjustment of the meagre salaries Venezuelan workers take home relative to the progressive devaluation of the Bolívar against the Dollar, yet they fail to breach the salary ceiling that currently hovers at around $2.4 per month.

A plan of such a nature can be carried through by no other means than through brute repression, measures which, as night follows day, inevitably provoke a response from the popular and workers’ movement. Following the August 2018 currency reform, we therefore saw a significant increase in labour repression nationally.

Finally, some remarks should be made on the question of the economic blockade. Certainly, the policy of imperialism of blockading Venezuela is aimed at overthrowing the government so that it can once again impose its policy of looting the wealth of the country without regard for the effects on working people.

However, the government has framed its response to the blockade and the coup-mongering policy of the right in terms that are increasingly opposed to socialism and revolutionary, left-wing struggles. Indeed, in the end, Guaidó [a right-wing politician who led an attempted coup, proclaimed himself president, and called for US intervention] was never detained. Rather, the government now has dialogue with him. On the one hand, Freddy Guevara [a counter-revolutionary opposition leader arrested for his links with criminal elements] has recently been freed. On the other hand, dozens of revolutionaries and class fighters remain behind bars merely for defending their class interests.

In the economic field too, far from deepening the struggle against the bourgeoisie and imperialism, the government has stepped up privatisations and deregulation of the internal market to try and circumvent economic sanctions.

In short, in the face of attacks by Yankee imperialism, its stooges among the Venezuelan right, and the parasitic bourgeoisie, the Maduro government has distanced itself from the left, from socialist revolution and from Chávez’s own legacy. Instead, it has increasingly moved to the side of reaction, the bourgeoisie, and even imperialism.

In the following report, we will bring to the reader’s attention some of the most egregious cases of anti-worker repression, arbitrary arrests of workers in struggle, and of scapegoating of workers to cover up for corruption within the state apparatus. The comrades of Lucha de Clases, as part of the Committee of relatives and friends of the imprisoned workers, have been supporting the fight for the freedom of these comrades. We call on the labour movement and left-wing activists around the world to show their solidarity in the fight to salvage the political and labour rights of the Venezuelan working class.

Labour repression against the labor movement in PDVSA

On 28 January 2020, an assembly of oil workers was held at El Palito refinery, in Carabobo state, with the purpose of developing a recovery plan for the industry.

Among the union leaders present were Marcos Sabariego and Gil Mujica, who were detained by the National Guard. The comrades had made complaints regarding the violation of various contractual clauses in matters concerning health, as well as regarding corruption at management level in PDVSA.

To this day, both workers remain under house arrest. Sabariego in particular has health problems, but he has been unable to receive proper treatment.

Similarly, Bartolo Guerra, leader of PDV Marina, was arrested on 5 May 2020 at the PDV Marina headquarters in Puerto La Cruz in Anzoátegui state following a meeting with the company president, Cesar Romero. Guerra had come to the meeting to denounce the deplorable working conditions. Workers were, for instance, required to work for periods of forty days continuously without a day off and without the company providing employees with food or water in the course of a week.

The worker highlighted that his arrest took place at Romero’s request after the latter demanded Guerra retract his complaints, which he refused to do. Guerra was also placed under house arrest for almost a year without receiving a date for his trial.

Eudis Girot, revolutionary and class struggle trade union leader of PDVSA

Eudis Girot is a worker in the Venezuelan oil industry with 30 years of service. He is currently a member of the national executive of the Unitary Federation of Petroleum Workers of Venezuela (FUTPV). During the industrial sabotage of the lockout of 2002 and 2003, he played a leading role in the fight against sabotage to keep the company running, for which he was decorated three times by Commandante Chávez. 

Eudis Girot

Since then, and until his arrest on 18 November 2020, he has worked hard to defend workers’ rights and the industry as a whole. In the past year he had set in motion a fight to recover workers’ health insurance, which had been practically pulverised in the context of the brutal economic crisis and the inflationary spiral of 2018. This state of affairs was even responsible for the deaths of fellow workers in the industry, who were helpless in the face of health situations that demanded urgent medical attention.

Eudis has been charged with terrorism, conspiracy, criminal association and the disclosure of confidential information. At his hearing, the judge dismissed three of the crimes for which he was accused, whilst upholding those relating to terrorism, and adding a charge of illegal possession of weapons, even though Eudis has the relevant weapons permit.

As in the previous cases, in Eudis’s file there is no real evidence to support the crimes of which he is accused.

Luis Cárdenas – former manager of PDVSA

We cannot fail to mention the case of Luis Cárdenas, who has been on the list of arbitrarily detained workers for almost two years now. At the time of his arrest, Luis was serving as PDVSA’s Audit, Trade and International Business Functional Manager.

Luis Cárdenas

Luis Cárdenas was accused of promoting hatred, illicit possession of a firearm, concealment of ammunition, resale of products, simple contraband and money laundering, without any proof to support such accusations.

According to a press interview given by his wife at the beginning of June of this year, a video of Cárdenas giving his personal opinion of the Maduro government was used as grounds for accusing him of inciting hatred. In other words, Luis Cárdenas was a prisoner of conscience, arbitrarily detained for nothing other than privately expressing his political opinion.

After his arrest, his home was raided by DGCIM officials, who found $10,000 in cash. $7,000 corresponded to expenses relating to PDVSA international trips – there exists evidence of this fact – and $3,000 belonged to the Cárdenas family. On the basis of such an amount, which, whether legal or illegal does not constitute a large sum, he was absurdly accused of money laundering.

Thanks to the Committee’s struggle, Luis is now free, although he is still required to report regularly to the authorities.

The case of air traffic controllers Guillermo and Derbys

Guillermo Gonzalez and Derbys Rodríguez are air traffic controllers at the Maiquetía airport. At the beginning of last year, according to both workers, people outside the airport made calls to González’s phone offering him money in exchange for not reporting the traffic of some private flights. Both of the workers decided to report such an irregularity.

Guillermo Gonzalez

However, instead of carrying out an investigation, the DGCIM officials detained the workers themselves while working at their posts in May and June last year.

Guillermo is charged with the crimes of terrorism, criminal association, incitement to hatred and disclosing strategic material of the State; while Derbys is charged with the crime of disclosing confidential information and criminal association, even though there is no evidence to support such charges in either case.

Guillermo is a young man of just 24 years of age who was still living with his parents at the time of his arrest. He has always supported the cause of the Bolivarian Revolution. Furthermore, Guillermo was celebrated as part of the Venezuelan Olympic shooting team. At his last international competition, held in South Korea, he managed to reach number 28 in the world rankings, whilst maintaining the Venezuelan record in Olympic shooting, despite being detained behind bars.

Derbys Rodriguez

Guillermo was summoned, under deception, to an alleged interview at the DGCIM on 20 May 2020, where he was arrested and then presented the next day before the courts. He has been detained for almost 11 months without a preliminary hearing. Whilst in prison, Guillermo has contracted Covid-19 twice due to the total lack of minimum health and hygiene conditions in the detention centre.

Derbys, meanwhile, was arrested on 4 June 2020. The detaining officers did not have a warrant. The reason given for his detention was that he had to testify. His partner Oriana Rojas – also a worker at the Maiquetía airport – was detained having recorded Derbys’ arrest and was charged with resisting arrest. She was detained for four days in the dungeons of the DGCIM, although she was later released under caution whilst having to report regularly to the authorities. 

Subsequently, Rojas received an arbitrary notice of dismissal from the institution. Both Rojas and Derbys are breadwinners for their two children.

Currently both Guillermo Gonzalez and Derbys Rodríguez are detained in the El Rodeo II prison in deplorable conditions.  

Due to his work as an air traffic controller for 15 years, a job that involves high levels of stress, Derbys suffers from hypertension, although he is only 38 years old. While he was detained at the DGCIM, he was evaluated by a doctor from the institution, who pointed out that he should be evaluated by a cardiologist. In August last year, a request for him to be transferred to a medical center, where he could be treated by a specialist, was submitted to the corresponding court. It has yet to be authorised.

Rodney Álvarez

Rodney Álvarez

Sadly emblematic of the criminalisation of the labour movement in Venezuela is the case of Rodney Álvarez. At the time of his arrest, Rodney was a Ferrominera worker affiliated with the Sintraferrominera union and he was active in the union’s work commissions, although he was not part of its leading council.

In June 2011, during a union assembly meeting, several armed men burst into the meeting place and opened fire on the attendees in order to terrorise and disperse the meeting. Several witnesses later identified Héctor Maican among the gunmen, a political operator of the PSUV who is close to the state governor, as having shot and killed Renny Rojas. 

Although Maican was detained by the GNB, he was later released, while Álvarez has been thrown behind bars and the murder of Rojas pinned on him. Ten years passed without Rodney receiving even a first hearing when, in June 2021, he was presented to the courts for the first time. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, not counting the ten years that he has already served in detention without trial. This represents a true crime against human rights and the fundamental liberties of the working class.

Aryenis and Alfredo, and Vanessa Rosales

There are two further cases that we are not permitted by space to outline and analyse in depth but which we must also comment on.

Aryenis y Alfredo

The first is that of Alfredo and Aryenis, condemned by sectors of the bureaucracy controlling PDVSA on the accusation of having collaborated with imperialism and leaking confidential information. In reality, the cause of their conviction was the fierce opposition these comrades made to the scandalous and unrestrained corruption that we witness today in PDVSA. Alfredo and Aryenis were an obstacle to the management at their workplace engaging freely in acts of corruption, and PDVSA and government bureaucrats were determined to make them pay for it. Although the comrades were granted house arrest, the fight for their full freedom continues.

Secondly, there is the case of comrade Vanessa Rosales. Rosales is a renowned feminist and leftist activist for women’s rights in Merida state. She gave her support to a thirteen-year-old girl who had been raped by a neighbor and family friend. The pregnancy was even causing health problems for the girl, and an abortion was performed under the hygiene and safety measures that such an operation demands.

Vanessa

Consequently, Vanessa was arrested and thrown behind bars. Thanks to the struggle carried out by the comrade herself, and a group of feminist collectives from Venezuela and outside the country, the comrade achieved her freedom, whilst also setting an important legal precedent for future struggles of female comrades for their rights. The girl’s rapist is still free. As we can see, the state’s priority was to apprehend a comrade who defended the rights and health of a raped girl, not punishing the rapist.

Other cases

As we have pointed out at the beginning of this report, the rising tide of repression against the labour movement by the Maduro government is not isolated to certain specific cases. Rather, it is a general phenomenon and a clear symptom of the process of political degeneration of the Bolivarian leadership along bourgeois, anti-working class and even neoliberal lines.

As long as the government applies a monetarist adjustment to solve the brutal economic crisis that the country is experiencing – on which the imperialist blockade undoubtedly has an important bearing – it must necessarily rest upon the repressive apparatus of the bourgeois state to contain the response that it provokes among  the workers and the popular masses.

As such, the list of workers who have been detained, fired and intimidated by the security forces is far more extensive than the list forming the current committee, and whose cases are listed below:

Rubén González (Secretary General of Sintraferrominera), Darío Salcedo (Secretary of Organization of Sinstrapescave); William Prieto (General Secretary of the Sutrabfogade Union); Luis Chaparro (general secretary of the Cement Workers Federation, Vencemos); Elio Palacios (general secretary of the Corpoelec Workers' Single Union), Ramón Gómez (general secretary of Suepless), Omar Escalante (president of Fetracarabobo), Juan Ovalles (president of the Association of Retirees and Pensioners of the Caracas Metro, Ajupemeca), Bartolo Guerra (oil workers' leader), Exio Urriola, Carlos Mora and Jimmy Merchán (president, secretary and secretary of Claims of the Leche Los Andes Union, respectively) and José Hidalgo (general secretary of Sutrapuval), among other comrades currently detained or prosecuted.

For more information (in Spanish) see: 

comitelibertadtrabajadorxs.wordpress.com

surgentes.org.ve