Interview by Oakland Socialist [07/02/2019] | Cover photo: Left protest march in Venezuela. Man in front is holding sign saying “if the people don’t march, they will be killed by hunger.”
Rodrigo Banus, from the Argentinean webpage SintoniaDemos interviews Simón Rodriguez Porras, member of Venezuela’s left opposition and the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSL).
What is the situation of the majority of salaried workers in Venezuela? In addition to the oil industry, in cases where there is registered employment, what are the salaries in dollars and what can a person or family afford with them?
The government has been applying an inflationary adjustment, especially in the last five years, reducing the minimum wage from about $300 a month to less than $10 a month. In addition, it has tended to equalize wage scales downward, around the minimum wage, ignoring collective bargaining agreements. Thus, more than 80% of Venezuelan salaried workers earn below the internationally recognized extreme poverty line, since they do not reach one dollar a day.
These remunerations imply a regime of semi-slavery because they do not even cover a daily meal for a month. The basic basket is between 15 and 20 times the minimum wage. Due to hyperinflation, this proportion changes from week to week.
Is there currently a misunderstanding between what were welfare policies like the first missions, and what today it is only food rationing, or does it continue to exist at least because of the coverage of food for people who because of their labor situation or other could not have access to basic goods? Are there Venezuelans completely outside of all aid and access to food?
The old missions have receded in scope due to the government’s brutal reduction of social spending in order to cover foreign debt payments. Imports were also cut by more than 80% and GDP was halved. The government’s effort has focused on distributing boxes with some food at subsidized prices, through a mechanism known as CLAP, which is supposed to be universally accessible, for all people who register for a census to that effect. However, the distribution of such food is used for political extortion, workers and people of the popular sectors are threatened with being taken out of the census if they defend their rights in protests or do not vote in fraudulent elections. Moreover, this mechanism does not allow a family to cover its food needs, as distribution is clearly insufficient, and there is ample documentation of corruption in the purchase of low-quality food in Mexico and other overpriced countries.
The mass media in general tend to focus on Caracas as the epicenter of economic and political activity, how is the situation in the rest of the country? Is there any reason to think that Maduro’s policy was progressively strangling Venezuela’s food production capacity?
The situation in the interior is worse than in the capital. In a large part of the country there is a shortage of gasoline, electricity cuts are frequent, domestic gas is not available, and there are problems with access to water.
Several decades ago, Venezuela abandoned its agricultural vocation by becoming an oil country, subsidizing imports, including food. But that trend was exacerbated to levels never seen before during the chavista period. Instead of carrying out an agrarian reform to promote production in unproductive latifundia, a tiny amount of land was distributed to small landowners without technical accompaniment, and the currency was overvalued, liquidating most of the scarce national food production, favoring the import of finished products and capital flight. The advance of organized crime and the proliferation of military checkpoints on national highways where transporters are extorted are also elements that make food production more expensive and difficult.
What is the state of refineries in Venezuela? Is Chavismo leaving an obsolete oil industry, that even with a change of government would become useless to lead the country towards growth, or is it a problem of bad administration and low salaries? Why are there people who want to abandon their jobs at PDVSA?
Venezuela’s oil wages are the lowest in the world, forcing thousands of workers from all areas to resign and seek work abroad. In addition, Chavismo imposed a savage disinvestment policy that led the industry to reduce its production from three million barrels a day to one million barrels a day. We went from being an exporter of refined products to having a negative trade balance in refined products, we imported more than we exported. The workers who have denounced these criminal policies, such as the revolutionaries of the C-cure movement and the Socialism and Freedom Party headed by the general secretary of the federation of oil workers, José Bodas, have been persecuted, criminalized and fired in many cases by the corrupt PDVSA leaders and the government.
Most of the production is no longer in the hands of the state company but of mixed companies with transnationals like the yankee Chevron, which has become a real feast of imperialist oil plundering. It would require large investments in the oil and petrochemical industry to recover production, hence the need to nationalize the oil industry and apply a rational investment policy with resources that are currently squandered or directly plundered by the Chavista bourgeoisie and the transnationals.
Is it true that security forces along with other elements of the bourgeoisie live clearly better than the rest of Venezuelan society? Is this group today the main support of the government? In the case of an agreed transition between Maduro and Guaidó, would this group consolidate its power?
Clearly Venezuela is a capitalist society with a truly abysmal social gap between the bourgeoisie and the working class. There are shopping malls and luxury restaurants where one meal can cost the same as a worker’s monthly salary. The bourgeois can buy luxury and fashionable imported goods, have private security and live in fortified mansions. This is the case for both the Chavista bourgeoisie and the traditional big businessmen, that, although they also ultimately accumulate capital on the basis of seizing oil revenues, they are politically more akin to the right-wing opposition.
The military leadership is part of the new Chavista bourgeoisie. They are owners of companies that sign contracts with the state, carry out imports, control the state food distribution networks, have a mining company, a television channel and even run PDVSA.
Yankee intervention and Guaidó’s politics, in addition to betting on continuing the strangulation of the economy with oil sanctions so as to produce as much misery and suffering as possible for the Venezuelan people, focus on bribing the military with the promise of total impunity for crimes related to human rights, corruption and tax crimes. The military continues to support Maduro and the regime that emerged from his self-coup in 2016, when Maduro annulled the functions of the parliament, controlled by the opposition, and suspended constitutional guarantees. But the sanctions of past January will plunge the country into much greater chaos in a few weeks. As left-wing opponents, we categorically repudiate them.
What is the relationship between private and state unions in Venezuela? Are strikes suppressed with the same force as protests in the country? What expectations do the bureaucracies have in this crisis, and what do combative leaderships in the country think?
In 2018 there were big workers’ protests and some strikes, several of them repressed militarily. Currently there is a great conflict related to education in several states of the country. The government has dozens of workers as political prisoners, among them the general secretary of the Ferrominera del Orinoco union, Ruben González, and the worker Rodney Álvarez, kidnapped by the government seven and a half years ago without the right to trial. This is yet another demonstration of the anti-worker character of Maduro’s capitalist government, beyond its false socialist discourse.
The combative and left-wing sectors of the workers’ movement, which participate in the Intersectorial of Workers of Venezuela, try to promote an independent policy so that it is the workers and the popular sectors who defeat the civil-military regime with their own methods of struggle, like the general strike, closing the way to the criminal intervention of Trump, the European Union and the right-wing governments of the region like Duque, Bolsonaro and Macri. Who governs Venezuela should be decided by the Venezuelan people, not by the Chavista military, much less by the Yankees.