Venezuela: thousands march
to protest U.S. intervention
Govt says Washington behind provocation from Colombia
Thousands march in Caracas, Venezuela, January 23 to protest provocation staged by Colombian regime that the Venezuelan government says was orchestrated in Washington.
BY MARTÍN KOPPEL
AND ARGIRIS MALAPANIS
Tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Caracas, Venezuelas capital, on January 23 to condemn the U.S.-backed government of neighboring Colombia for organizing the kidnapping of a Colombian guerrilla leader on Venezuelan soil. They accused Washington of complicity in the provocative action.
Uribes regime violated our sovereignty, Alejandra Aveledo told the Militant in a January 26 telephone interview. But the provocation was made in the USA. The U.S. government supported Uribes actions and has been sending more and more military advisors and aid to Bogotá. Aveledo, an anthropology student at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas who took part in the march, was referring to Colombias president, Alvaro Uribe.
U.S. officials openly backed the Colombian government in the dispute and pressed other South American governments to demand that Venezuela cut its alleged ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), an antigovernment guerrilla group.
The latest moves by the U.S. government and its Colombian ally to crank up pressure against Caracas take place as peasants in Venezuela step up their fight for land. Small farmers have been encouraged by a January 10 government decree aimed at accelerating land distribution in that country. Many domestic capitalists and their backers in Washington have reacted with hostility at the deepening struggle in the countryside, worried that the growing confidence of working people in Venezuela will threaten their profit prerogatives there and throughout the region.
Colombian defense minister Jorge Uribe announced January 12 that security agents of his government had paid some Venezuelan policemen to act as bounty hunters and seize Rodrigo Granda, a leader of the FARC, in Caracas. Granda, identified by the FARC as a member of its International Commission, was snatched off a downtown Caracas street December 13.
Officials in Caracas condemned the kidnapping as a flagrant violation of their nations sovereignty. They said Colombian security forces had bribed Venezuelan soldiers to grab Granda and hand him over to them. Five Venezuelan National Guardsmen were arrested for their role in the abduction.
Venezuela recalled its ambassador from Colombia, suspended diplomatic and commercial relations with Bogotá, and demanded an apology.
On January 23, tens of thousands of protesters marched 10 miles from Petare, a large working-class neighborhood in eastern Caracas, to the Miraflores presidential palace. They chanted, Colombia, stay out of Venezuela and Bush: Venezuela is not Iraq. Demonstrators told the press they were directing their fire not against their Colombian brothers but against the actions of the government in Bogotá and its U.S. mentors.
Large contingents of Colombians, along with immigrants from many other Latin American countries, took part in the march, said Aveledo.
Most people came from Caracas, because the march was organized on one weeks notice, said Wikénferd Oliver, a leader of the Youth of the Fifth Republic Movement (JVR), in another phone interview. The JVR is affiliated with Venezuelas governing party. Smaller rallies took place in other states, he added, like Anzoátegui and Mérida. In Táchira, which is on the border with Colombia, hundreds of people marched against the provocation.
Provocation came from Washington
President Hugo Chávez told the cheering crowd in Caracas that the kidnapping operation was a violation of Venezuelas sovereignty. This provocation came from Washington, he said. It is the latest attempt by the imperialists…to ruin our relations with Colombia.
The same day, capitalist forces opposed to the Chávez government staged a small counterdemonstration in the ritzy Chacao district. Aveledo said hundreds took part in the right-wing action. They blamed the Venezuelan government for the dispute with its neighbor, echoing the charge that it has given refuge to Colombian rebel groups, and accused Chávez of threatening democracy. The theme of the march was the anniversary of the 1958 overthrow of the Pérez Jiménez military dictatorship, a banner the pro-imperialist opposition has unsuccessfully tried to hijack.
Uribe, Washingtons closest ally in the region, responded defiantly to Venezuelas protests. He accused the Chávez government of harboring FARC guerrillas and asserted his governments right to pursue narcoterrorists.
Officials in Bogotá said they gave Venezuelan authorities the names of 10 major Colombian terrorists allegedly operating inside Venezuela. Caracas replied that it was willing to arrest and extradite FARC leaders if the Colombian government turned over relevant information.
When we get that information, which up to now we have not received from Colombia, we will process it and if we find any of these men in Venezuela, we will arrest them…and hand them over to Colombia, Venezuelan interior minister Jesse Chacón told reporters.
Venezuelan officials said January 18 that they would accept an offer by the Brazilian government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to play a role in resolving the conflict between the two governments.
Washington publicly backed the Colombian regimes stance in the dispute. We support 100 percent the declarations from the presidential palace in Bogotá, stated William Wood, U.S. ambassador to Colombia.
U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli denied the Venezuelan accusations of a U.S. role in the capture of Granda. Asked by the press about U.S. involvement, he admitted only that Washington helped provide information to the Uribe regime.
Ereli condemned the Venezuelan governments apparent tolerance of terrorist groups using its territory and demanded that it take action against FARC members residing in that country.
U.S. calls for pressure on Caracas
In a note sent to other governments in South America January 23, the U.S. State Department called on them to pressure the government of Venezuela to end relations with the FARC and with any other organization deemed to be of a terrorist nature by the United States.
The 18,000-member FARC, which Washington has placed on its so-called terrorist list, has been waging a 40-year-long guerrilla war against the Colombian government.
Under the banner of fighting narcoterrorism, the U.S. rulers have channeled more than $3 billion to the Colombian military since 2000 and sent U.S. military personnel to train Colombian army batallions. Washington has stepped up its military intervention both in Colombia and in the broader region in anticipation of sharper resistance by working people to imperialist domination and the economic depression that is devastating millions in South America.
While increasing its military presence in South America, Washington has condemned the Venezuelan government for an alleged arms buildup. In November U.S. officials made bellicose statements opposing plans announced by Caracas to purchase helicopters, rifles, and other arms from Russia for its armed forces.
At U.S. Senate confirmation hearings January 18, newly appointed U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice declared that Venezuelas government was a negative force in the region. She accused it of meddling in its neighbors affairs and objected to Venezuelas close ties with the government of Cuba.
The following day, Venezuelas foreign ministry rejected Rices charges. It replied that Washington, not Venezuela, is interfering in the affairs of other nations.
Chávez is the last one who should be complaining about trampled sovereignty, said an editorial in the January 23 Miami Herald. Today, more than ever, any country that knowingly offers a safe haven for terrorists or turns a blind eye to their presence is inviting trouble.
The U.S. rulers and their counterparts throughout South America are concerned above all about the ongoing struggles by workers and farmers in Venezuela for jobs, land, and better living conditions and their growing confidence and expectations. The Chávez administration has angered Washington and decisive sections of the Venezuelan capitalist class by adopting a number of measures around which workers and farmers have mobilized to defend their class interests. These include an agrarian reform law, legislation to protect small fishermen from superexploitation by large capitalist operations, bills strengthening state control of oil, and programs to expand literacy and access to medical care.
On three occasions working people have successfully mobilized to defeat U.S.-backed efforts by capitalist forces to destabilize and overthrow the elected government: a short-lived military coup in April 2002, a bosses lockout in December of that year, and a presidential recall referendum last August.
Capitalists worried about land seizures
A growing source of concern for the propertied classes is the stepped-up struggles by Venezuelan peasants for land. On January 8 the governor of Cojedes state, southwest of Caracas, sent 200 National Guard troops to El Charcote cattle ranch, part of which has been occupied and farmed by hundreds of peasants who are demanding the government turn over the land to them. The troops accompanied government inspectors, who over the coming months are to determine how much, if any, of the 32,000-acre ranch will be given to the peasants and how much will be kept by its owner, the Vestey Group, a British food conglomerate.
Two days later, the national government issued a decree designed to speed up distribution of idle lands or unproductive farms to peasants, hundreds of thousands of whom are landless. The decree established a commission to review titles of thousands of private farms in order to determine whether they were obtained legally and whether they are productive or idle.
Under the land reform law adopted in 2001, about 115,000 peasant families have obtained title to more than 9 million acres, government officials report. In 1998, according to that years census, 5 percent of the countrys farmers owned 75 percent of the arable land.
While government officials in Washington and London have so far refrained from commenting on the sharpening peasant struggles and the land reform measures, the U.S. and British financial press have been less disguised about their alarm.
The Financial Times, a British daily, ran a January 13 editorial, titled Chávez slips into demagogy again. The editorial complained that the Venezuelan land reform policy threatens to undermine property rights and is likely to weaken the farm sector.
In a January 18 article, the Wall Street Journal suddenly discovered its heartfelt concern for poor peasants. The governments land program, Jose de Cordoba wrote, may further batter Venezuelas economy and hurt the landless peasants Mr. Chavez says he wants to help. Echoing an oft-repeated argument by large landowners, he said that land distribution would lead to inefficient small plots.
The Journal correspondent opined that while Mr. Chavez has yet to duplicate the pure statist model employed by his mentor, Cuban President Fidel Castro, the land campaign is an important move along that road.
In a January 22 Miami Herald article titled Chávez eyes idle lands, raising fears, the reporter remarked that land reform is dangerous territory, and history has not been kind to those who have walked Chávezs path: Both Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, and Salvador Allende in 1973 were ousted by U.S.-backed coups after confiscating idle lands. And the Bush administration has not hidden its disapproval of the Chávez government lately.
The capitalist press dismisses the need for land reform in Venezuela by arguing that small farmers are increasingly irrelevant there. The Financial Times editors said agrarian reform is especially pointless in Venezuela, where nine out of 10 people live in urban areas.
De Cordoba of the Journal insisted that there are few rural peasants left in the country. Cojedes, scene of the confrontation at El Charcote, is a backwater state with barely 300,000 inhabitants, he sniffed.
The reality, however, is that while peasants are 13 percent of Venezuelas population, their economic and social weight is decisive. They produce 70 percent of the countrys vegetables and other major crops.
Venezuela currently imports more than 60 percent of is food. At the same time, a sizable portion of its arable land remains idle and hundreds of thousands of peasants who want to farm have no land.
Carmen Guzmán, one of the peasants occupying El Charcote, told the Miami Herald reporter her view of the matter: If theyre not using the land, they should let us have it.