Venezuela's vengeful dictator
On the surface, it's a little puzzling for a communist supremo to go after a labor union leader. After all, aren't communists the self—proclaimed vanguard of the proletariat? And more to the point, aren't unions full of communist leaders anyway? The answer to both is yes. But only in a liberal democracy.
It's quite different under a working communist dictatorship. In the Russia of Lenin, or the Poland of Jaruzelski, the destruction of labor unions in the name of "the people" was the earmark of consolidating communist power. Few groups suffer more than independent labor unions when communists roll in. This fact was very well understood by the late Lane Kirkland, a great union man who quietly aided Poland's Solidarnosc freedom fighters as leader of the AFL—CIO during the Reagan years.
Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is turning his gunsights on Venezuela's independent labor union leaders. His pretext is in the long—snuffed embers of a state oil company strike two years ago, a huge and terrible affair that cost Venezuela $9 billion in oil revenues due to the production stoppage, and caused a lot of pain here in the U.S., with the suspension of 15% of our oil imports as we prepared to go to war with Iraq. Chavez drove 18,000 workers to strike when he unseated existing leaders and installed ignorant party hacks to lead the once—meritocratic organization. At the time, it was a state company whose professionalism made it Latin America's equivalent to Mobil Oil. And the workers wanted to save it.
By the end of the strike, 9,000 highly skilled engineers, managers and even people working in the wrong buildings were fired. They were among their country's best and brightest, highly skilled chemical engineers, geologists, managers and scientists. Chavez hated them and their strike so much he literally read their names off on his own radio show (he is that vulgar and vindictive), to personally fire a number of them. He also published all their names in newspapers. And he blacklisted them all from ever working again in the oil industry. And, this not being enough, he ripped off their pension savings.
But it still wasn't enough. Bloomberg reports that just days after Chavez packed the supreme court with his cronies, their first item on the agenda was to go after the fired oil strike leaders yet again. Chavez's court voided an earlier court ruling dismissing charges against eight strike leaders and reinstated them. And they are terrible charges indeed — inciting civil rebellion, inciting civil disobedience, interrupting gasoline delivery among others — which could easily send these oil—union leaders to prison for 24—years. And it is all but certain that it will. Other oil—strikers who haven't been charged say more arrests are likely and some of them are preparing to leave the country now. There's no question for them about the ill wind blowing.
With the strike long over and many of the fired workers unable to get work ever since, this is Chavez's cold—dish revenge. He has little to gain from this, but he wants them in jail badly. And will prosecute until he finally gets them there.
But it could mean more. He may also see these proven union leaders as a threat to his ever—consolidating power. Venezuela's opposition is largely leaderless and Chavez intends to ensure that remains so with these vindictive charges. A victory on this supplies room for his power to grow. Chavez is also sending a message to other potential opponents that his memory is long, his power is unlimited and his punishments are draconian.
It's about absolute power, not justice. The Venezuelan dictator is using power because he can use power, and right now his power is unlimited. The dominant media in the United States continue to ignore the rise of a ruthless dictator right across the Caribbean from our shores, one enriched by oil billions, aligned with our worst enemies, and with a knife poised at our economy's jugular vein. He is a major threat, and Jimmy Carter, who validated his phony electoral "mandate," is complicit, and our media are asleep.
Where are the truth—tellers?