Original text in Spanish: La Cl@se.info, 21/02/2019 | Photos: laclase.info (used with permission).
Interview by Joe Hill with union leader José Bodas Lugo about the most recent political events in Venezuela and the position of the class sectors. Joe Hill belongs to the Antiwar Comittes, an anti-imperialist leftist organization in the US initially driven by activists who moved away from the pro-Assad positions on the Syrian war raised by most anti-war organizations.
Please, tell us a little about yourself, who you are, your experience and political background.
I’m José Bodas Lugo. I work for PDVSA, at the Puerto La Cruz refinery, and I have 30 years of service in the Venezuelan oil industry. I am a plant operator at the refinery. I am also a lawyer. I am the general secretary of the United Federation of Petroleum, Gas, Similar and Derivatives Workers of Venezuela (FUTPV). I was elected to my post the first of October 2009 until the first of October 2014. Since 2014 we have been fighting a battle in the oil industry for new FUTPV elections. The elections have not been held precisely because the government knows that it would lose due to its role, completely in favor of management and in favor of the transnationals, as carried out by the president of the federation appointed by the government; the latter are really who is responsible for the fact that Venezuelan oil workers earn seven dollars a month. I am a revolutionary and an anti-imperialist socialist. I fight so that, in Venezuela, and throughout Latin America, and throughout the world, the working class can advance. I fight for a workers’ government. I believe in socialism with workers’ democracy, without bureaucracy, with the working class and the people permanently mobilized.
The media refers to a severe shortage, including hunger, but many on the left dispute these claims. How would you characterize the current situation in Venezuela?
Yes, in Venezuela we are experiencing a terrible crisis, and the origin of this terrible crisis is the plan implemented by the government of Nicolas Maduro; it is a capitalist and brutally neoliberal package of measures that has allowed the prices of food and medicine to rise rapidly, while Venezuelan workers earn a minimum wage of only six dollars per month. Our workers earn only 18 thousand Sovereign Bolivars, which is equivalent to six dollars. We are experiencing a very serious situation in Venezuela, lack of medicine and lack of food, as a result of government policies.
We have to say clearly that the Maduro government is not left; it is not an anti-imperialist government. Chavez already proved this through his joint ventures in the Orinoco oil belt: he delivered Venezuelan oil to Russian companies like Rosneft, the French Total, the Norwegian Statoil, Chinese and Vietnamese companies, Italian companies such as Eni [Eni SpA], the Spanish company Repsol, and the North American Chevron. Chevron reports that the largest profits in Latin America, for Chevron, are made in Venezuela through the joint ventures in the Orinoco oil belt. The government gives up our mineral wealth, at gigantic costs to our environment – we can speak of ecocide in Venezuela’s jungle; it delivers our mineral wealth to Chinese and Canadian companies.
At the same time, it is a government that criminalizes protest, which criminalizes the right to strike. The right to strike is legal, it is in the constitution and it is in our contracts, but the Chávez and Maduro governments have said that strikes and union autonomy are counterrevolutionary poison. They have criminalized workers who fight for an autonomous union. We demand that our unions be at the service of the working-class struggles, that they be democratic, not bureaucratic, with assemblies and ongoing mobilizations of the rank and file. We activists are fighting for our rights, for union autonomy, for our right to bargain collectively, for decent wages, for better working conditions. For these efforts, workers like Rodney Álvarez have been imprisoned; he is a worker in the heavy industry in Guayana who has been imprisoned for seven years for a crime he did not commit. Rubén Gonzales has also been detained for having taken a position in defense of workers’ rights. They are many other workers who have been arrested, along with the young people who have been protesting. Protest has been criminalized and protestors have been shot at, as we have seen in the last year of popular rebellion against the government, which by the way the United Democratic Front (the MUD, Mesa Unidad Democratica) betrayed in negotiations with the government, held in the Dominican Republic. Well, there have been more than 139 dead, more than a thousand injured, a lot of detained activists, of young people, who were fighting precisely against a government that applies brutal capitalist measures, that lets prices skyrocket—they have reached international levels, the price of a kilo of meat in Venezuela is worth four dollars–while the workers earn only six dollars per month. It is a fact, there is hunger. Now, confronted with these struggles, the government blames the crisis on the embargo, but we have been living this reality for the last four years.
Politicians like Marco Rubio have presented events in Venezuela as a democratic struggle against a “socialist dictatorship”, meanwhile, many on the left of this country present the events as a right-wing coup against Maduro. How do you see the political situation? The roots of the economic crisis are disputed. The voices on the right speak of the failure of “socialism”. Is there, was there, socialism in Venezuela? The voices on the left speak of the damage caused by a US blockade. What responsibility does the Maduro government have for the economic crisis?
The government of Chavez and Maduro, the government of “Socialism of the 21st Century” is nothing more than a scam. This government is not socialist, it is not a workers’ government. It is a bourgeois government. It is a government that applies a bourgeois, anti-worker and anti-popular <<paquetazo>> [package of austerity measures], which includes miserable wages. The price of labor in Venezuela is a disgrace throughout this continent; our wages are the lowest. It is the government that is surrendering our sovereignty to the multinationals, and what does this government offer to these multinationals? Well, it has been offering oil for more than a hundred years, and it offers a manpower recognized technically and scientifically as one of the best—I am referring to Venezuelan oil workers, who have more than 100 years of history—at a wage of 7 dollars per month! Nowhere else on the planet does the North American firm Chevron pay a wage of 7 dollars to a worker, only here in Venezuela, because it is the wage set by our government, through PDVSA, with the multinationals—these wages can only buy hunger. In this sense, socialism has not failed in Venezuela.
In Venezuela what has failed is a brutal form of capitalism, a kind of capitalism carried out by a government of class conciliation, a government that surrenders national sovereignty, that gives away our country’s oil, our gold, and hands our workers over as semi-slave labor, while it persecutes activists who fight for an autonomous union, protesting young people, and working people protesting for dignified wages, while it charges that strikes and union autonomy are counterrevolutionary poison —this is the reality in Venezuela. We see how many on the Left around the world support this government. Well, this government, I want to say to those gentlemen, that this government is not leftwing, that this government is rightwing, and above all I want to say that the movement that supports this government does so without having lived under it. If these people, in their countries, had a government like that of Nicolas Maduro, I am convinced they would be the first to fight. In this sense, these gentlemen are part of a bankrupt Left. It is a Left that abandoned the banners of the working class; the Left that supports Maduro is undoubtedly a treacherous Left.
We see photos and videos of rallies for Guaidó, are we seeing the full story? What motivates the support to Guaidó? Maduro has also organized mass rallies, what are the motivations of people to participate in these demonstrations? What kind of reaction do the workers of Venezuela have in the face of Trump’s threats to send troops? Have these threats tended to reinforce or harm popular support for Maduro?
Yes, undoubtedly, as a result of the discontent, motivated by the brutal, neoliberal <<paquetazo>> that the government of Nicolas Maduro applies and this terrible, terrible crisis that we Venezuelans are experiencing, young people in large numbers have taken to the streets to protest against this government, to protest against the brutal measures that the government of Nicolas Maduro is applying. Undoubtedly there are also demonstrations of support for Maduro, but the concrete reality is that every day they are fewer in number, every day they are increasingly more the products of the apparatus or the bureaucrats of the PSUV, and they do not have the enthusiasm or the determination of the majority of Venezuelans, of those who protest against the government of Nicolas Maduro. That is why we say that with the mobilization we must defeat the bourgeois <<paquetazo>> and the government of Nicolas Maduro, that is our position.
Now, what do we think of Donald Trump’s threats and interference? Or those coming from Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil? Or from Macri of Argentina? Or from the bourgeois presidents in the Lima Group? No! No! We reject all of these efforts to carry out foreign intervention in Venezuela. We reject the pretensions of Donald Trump to intervene in Venezuela, his threats to send troops to Venezuela! These threats are completely unacceptable! We call on the workers and the people of Venezuela to mobilize independently in a sustained effort to defeat the government of Nicolas Maduro and to reject any foreign intervention, be it from China, from Turkey, from Iran, from the Lima Group, or from the United States.
Indeed, we are well acquainted with the history of invasions by the United States in Latin America and throughout the world. We know about the US invasion of the Dominican Republic, of Nicaragua, the invasion of Cuba, the invasion of Granada, these were inexcusable. We say that the United States, which has supported governments like that of Pérez Jiménez, Videla, Pinochet, Trujillo, and the Samozas in Nicaragua, which supported Apartheid in South Africa, which supported the genocides committed by the State of Israel against the Palestinians, really does not have any moral authority to intervene in Venezuela or anywhere else in the world. We know the results of their invasions, that these have resulted in destruction and death for the peoples attacked by Yankee imperialism.
There are many parents here without food for their children, without medicine, but the US has suggested offering humanitarian aid of only a hundred million dollars. That is a paltry sum for a population of 30 million people, it is only intended to raise expectations among the needy. And the [Maduro] government says that it does not want humanitarian aid, saying instead that it will buy the medicine, but why does it want to buy these from the United States? We working people wonder, why not buy these drugs from China or Cuba, or from any other country? The situation is extremely critical. Working people in Venezuela are living through a terrible crisis, to respond we have supported and called for mobilizations, protests, and for these to be independent, so that through these actions we can defeat the capitalist <<paquetazo>>, the anti-worker and anti-popular measures imposed by the Maduro government.
Maduro, like Chávez before him, has presented himself as an “anti-imperialist,” and many on the left point to Venezuela’s public disputes with the United States in international affairs as a confirmation of this characterization, but also as one of the more important reasons to defend Maduro. It seems to us that the support of Chavez and Maduro to Assad’s genocidal regime was the cause of much of the confusion in the left of the United States over the Syrian democratic revolutionary struggle. What are your opinions on these issues?
The government of Chavez and the government of Maduro are not socialists, they are not anti-imperialists, they are farces. In Venezuela, the multinational oil firms—imperialism–operate through joint ventures in the Orinoco oil belt, and the Venezuelan government offers these companies oil, which [one government after another] has been doing for more than a hundred years, and skilled labor at wages of only seven dollars per month. It delivers our mineral wealth to Chinese and Canadian companies, sacrificing biodiversity, destroying indigenous communities–there are massacres in those areas–to deliver the gold to these multinationals.
At the international level, undoubtedly, the Chávez and Maduro governments supported criminals such as Khadaffi in Libya; they supported Mubarak in Egypt, Assad in Syria, men who really are butchers, criminal governments, executioners of their own people, men who also privatized their industries–which had been nationalized through popular struggles in those countries. Those governments have also followed policies of class collaboration relied upon imperialism for support, as has the government of Nicolas Maduro. I repeat, this is a rightwing government, the “Socialism of the XXI Century” is a farce; this is a government of class collaboration, it is a government that makes deals with multinationals, with imperialism, to guarantee the most brutal exploitation of the Venezuelan workers, that criminalizes our independent unions, that criminalizes the right to strike, that criminalizes protest by young people and workers. Maduro supports the genocidal government of Assad in Syria for the same reasons, because he is not Left, much less socialist, much less anti-imperialist. A government that applies a brutal <<paquetazo>> of anti-worker and anti-union measures should never be called “Left”.
Are there political forces capable of directing an independent course of Maduro and Guaidó? What are some of the organizations, trade unions, left organizations, etc., to whom we should follow up? What would the politics of the independent working class in Venezuela look like? What alternative policy do you propose?
Well the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSL, Partido por el Socialismo y la Libertad), of which I am a member, participates in the United Revolutionary and Independent Class Current (C-cura, Corriente Clasista Unitaria Revolucionaria y Autonoma) where we are fighting for a class policy, a policy to build an alternative to Chavismo and Guaidó, to the pro-imperialist right. We make specific proposals, we call for removing Maduro through the independent mobilization of the popular sectors, of working people. Given the crisis, we propose demands that respond to the needs of our class: we demand that the oil be one hundred percent Venezuelan, with no joint ventures, without multinationals, and that all of the oil revenues be used to purchase medicine and food, to meet the crisis of scarcity and lack of medicine. We repudiate the payment of the foreign debt and the joint ventures that compromise our sovereignty. We call for a PDVSA directed by its technicians, by its workers, by its professionals, with autonomy. We call for renationalizing the heavy industries of Guayana, and for a thorough agrarian reform in order to produce food in this country. We are for the mobilization of the workers, for a government of the working class and the popular sectors in Venezuela, with socialism, with workers’ democracy–this is fundamental–and we reject foreign intervention, we reject any imperialist intervention on Venezuelan soil. This is our proposal as the PSL in the discussion within C-cura. We support organizing among the workers and the youth and the peasants, we are for renationalizing our country’s oil, against the sale of our mineral wealth, against the destruction of the Venezuelan jungle, which is being carried out to hand over gold to multinationals, and we stand in defense of the independence and self-determination of Venezuela, for our national sovereignty, for a quality education and free university, and for the right to wages that are indexed to the basic basket of goods—we reject these starvation wages, we reject the conditions of semi slavery–and we propose that oil revenues be used to alleviate the suffering that the people of Venezuela endure. There can be no doubt, to achieve these tasks, it is necessary to defeat the government of Maduro and his neoliberal <<paquetazo>>.
There are preparations for marches in the United States to reject Trump’s threats to intervene and the sanctions he imposes. The leaders of these marches are not raising any criticism of Maduro. What is your opinion? How can activists in the United States contribute better to build solidarity with popular struggles for democratic rights and basic needs in Venezuela? What proposals do you have to build a solidarity movement? Please specifically address the issue of how you think solidarity activists should approach Chavism as an international political current on the left.
I think it is quite progressive to organize mass marches to reject Trump’s threats to intervene and the sanctions he imposes on Venezuela. These actions are very important. Now, the leaders of these protests should also know that the Maduro government is not a Left government, it is not an anti-imperialist government, it is a government that gives up our oil to imperialism through mixed enterprises, just as Chávez did. It is a government that imposes austerity, that has a brutal capitalist economic plan, that has privatized and allowed prices to skyrocket, and it is a government that maintains a cap on wages, that criminalizes protest and imprisons activists and youth, that shoots protestors, that has killed activists for protesting against the <<paquetazo>>, for protesting against restrictions on democratic freedoms, for protesting against the policies that impose hunger. These measures, the crisis and the repression are why more than 3 million Venezuelans have left this country, they are fleeing the brutal measures and the lack of democratic freedoms. It is very important that activists in the US get informed about this reality, and they can do so through our website, http://laclase.info, so that they can see that in Venezuela there is a revolutionary socialist, anti-imperialist left that is neither with the Maduro government nor with the pro-imperialist right, currently led by Guaidó. There is a Left that is fighting from the unions, from the youth, to become an alternative precisely to both of the two gangs that wish to control the oil revenues and to continue imposing austerity. If we look at Maduro’s economic plan and the Guaidó proposed “Country Plan”, the economic proposals are the same, more of the same, economic privatizations and starvation wages for the workers. There is no difference. In this sense, we believe that we must support the struggles, to disseminate the struggles being waged by the real Left, the revolutionary left, which is not with Maduro, because Maduro is not from the Left, his is a bourgeois government that imposes austerity on the workers, that binds workers in a state of semi-slavery in agreements that benefit the multinationals; It is necessary to denounce these starvation wages, to denounce the persecution of activists and fighters.