NocturniaGodess aka Samirah (nocturniagodess) wrote in globalizethis,
NocturniaGodess aka Samirah
nocturniagodess
globalizethis

AFL-CIO in Venezuela

Deja Vu All Over Again

By KIM SCIPES

Massive mobilizations, strikes, street conflict, hysterical mass
media, social and economic disruption: Chile in 1972-73 Venezuela in 2002-04.

The AFL-CIO is once again on the scene, this time in Venezuela, just as it was in Chile in 1973. Once again, its operations in that country are being funded by the U.S. government. This time, the money is being laundered through the quasi-governmental National Endowment for Democracy, hidden from AFL-CIO members and the American public.

Once again, it is being used to support the efforts of reactionary
labor and business leaders, helping to destabilize a democratically-elected
government that has made major efforts to alleviate poverty, carried out significant land reform in both urban and rural areas, and striven to change political institutions that have long worked to marginalize those at the lowest rungs in society. And also like Allende's Chile, Venezuela's government under president Hugo Chavez has opposed a number of actions by the U.S. Government, this time by the Bush Administration.


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is a former mid-level Army officer,
proud
of his indigenous roots and with an avid interest in addressing the
exclusion of those on the lowest rungs of society. When he helped
lead a
coup against the government in February 1992, the effort was
unsuccessful.
Defeated and captured, Chavez was imprisoned but later pardoned.

Following his release from prison, he helped create a movement with
an
electoral component, and was elected President in December 1998, with
56
percent of the vote. His closest competitor received 39 percent.
According
to Professor Steve Ellner, one of the most knowledgeable observers of
the
situation of Venezuelan workers, an important part of Chavez'
popularity
with the poor stems from his belief that "the plight of the poor
took
priority over the protection of private property."

Chavez and his efforts are contradictory: although he advocates
including
the poor in the political process, he has done so in a top-down
manner. His
movement is ideologically unfocused and internally contradictory. It
has
not focused on building organizations to empower the poor. It has
appealed
to the poor to mobilize to support his government's efforts.

In many ways and over a number of years, the poor have responded,
most
notably by overturning the April 2002 coup attempt, led by
reactionary
labor leaders, top business leaders, and the business federation that
had
deposed Chavez and tried to exile him by force. (This is similar to
what
recently happened to President Aristide in Haiti.) A split within the
military-Chavez commands tremendous respect in the ranks with the
military-foiled his kidnapping and kept high-level officers from
suppressing the mass mobilization. Chavez was returned unharmed to
the
Presidential Palace when millions of people surged against the
putschists.

But social conflict has continued ever since. Most notable was the
63-day
strike led by senior management in Venezuela's oil industry between
late
2002 and early 2003. This strike, with accompanying sabotage, caused
a
shattering 27 percent drop in the Gross Domestic Product in the first
trimester of 2003, resulting in great social and economic turmoil,
and
depriving the government of massive amounts of money that it had been
using
to fund social programs.

The war against the government has continued ever since, with the
AFL-CIO's
American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS) deeply
involved.

ACILS-also known as the Solidarity Center-has overseen all of the
AFL-CIO's
foreign labor operations since 1997, centralizing a previously
decentralized set of regional bodies that had long worked in Africa,
Asia,
Europe and Latin America. These organizations, which played a key
role in
the Cold War, had a terrible affect in the developing regions of the
world.

There is a consensus that ACILS' work under President John Sweeney
has been
considerably better than foreign operations carried out under
previous
AFL-CIO presidents George Meany and Lane Kirkland. But the continuing
lack
of transparency, accountability and even simple reporting to AFL-CIO
members about ACILS has generated concerns among activists about what
the
organization actually does in the many countries in which it
operates.
Solidarity Center Director Harry Kamberis' background is not a
typical
labor background and looks suspiciously like CIA, which also adds to
activists' unease. (See my report in Labor Notes, February 2004.).

Most of ACILS' funding comes from the National Endowment for
Democracy
(NED), not the AFL-CIO. The NED was created by the Reagan
Administration in
1983. One of the authors of the enabling legislation has said that
NED was
to do at least some of the work previously done by the CIA, albeit
publicly: its talk appears progressive, but its actions are
reactionary.
One of the NED's initial directors was that well-known democrat,
Henry
Kissinger, Richard Nixon's point man in the campaign against Chile's
elected president, Salvador Allende.

NED is funded by the U.S. Government, through the State Department,
but
operates "independently" from any on-going governmental
control. This
enables the U.S. Government to deny any responsibility for NED's
activities, and NED can claim it is an independent non-governmental
organization (NGO), not a governmental one, and thus not subject to
governmental scrutiny or oversight.

NED has been long active across Latin America. It has been active in
Venezuela, the fifth largest oil producer in the world, since 1992.
According to accounts gathered from NED itself, NED provided
$4,039,331 to
Venezuelan and American organizations working in Venezuela between
1992 and
2001: 60.4 percent of that, or $2,439,489 was granted between
1997-2001. Of
that $2.4-plus million since 1997, $587,926 (or almost one-quarter)
went to
ACILS for its work with the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV
in
Spanish). In 2002, the last year for which details are available, NED
pumped in another $1,099,352, of which ACILS got $116,001 for its
work with
CTV. Altogether, ACILS received $703,927 between 1997-2002 for its
work in
Venezuela alone. [During 2000-2001, ACILS received $8,889,009 from
NED for
its worldwide operations.]

The AFL-CIO gives a different accounting. Stanley Gacek, the
Assistant
Director of the AFL-CIO's International Affairs Department, writing
in the
Spring 2004 issue of New Labor Forum, claims "... our total
solidarity
program with the CTV amounted to less than $20,000 in support of the
Confederation's highly successful internal democratization
process...."

Yet what has been that work in Venezuela for which ACILS claims it
was paid
only $20,000 but which NED reports as costing over $700,000? The
AFL-CIO
claims its efforts have concentrated on enhancing internal democracy
of the
CTV, a notoriously non-democratic labor center. The CTV has had a
relationship with the AFL-CIO (meaning the government-funded American
Institute for Free Labor Development or AIFLD) for more than
30-years, and
has been a pillar of pro-American, anti-communist unionism in the
region.
Some have tied it with the CIA. For 30 years, CTV was controlled by
Democratic Action (AD), one of the nation's two longtime ruling
parties.
Despite highly publicized attempts at internal reform mounted in
2001, AD's
control over CTV only intensified.

The CTV was largely discredited in Venezuela during the 1990s because
of
its unwillingness to develop viable alternatives to the government's
neoliberal policies (i.e., before Chavez). In his chapter on
"Organized
Labor and the Challenge of Chavismo" in a 2002 book he
co-edited, Steve
Ellner details six reasons for the CTV's loss of prestige: it failed
to
consult members; it abandoned any mobilization strategy; it allowed
the
government to gut historical worker benefits; it followed party (AD)
dictates rather than developing independent positions; it failed to
develop
a consistent analysis of neoliberalism and globalization; and it
maintained
"resistance to internal reforms designed to strengthen and
democratize the
movement."

The CTV underwent internal reform in 2001 but, according to Steve
Ellner,
those CTV Executive Board elections were marked by widespread
violence and
fraud. The pro-Chavez people won some representation, but the fraud
kept
them from gaining the ability to influence policy. At the same time,
both
the elected President and Secretary General were members of AD,
something
that had never happened in the previous 30 years: previously, AD had
occupied the presidency but not the Secretary General position. As
Ellner
notes in a personal communication, "AD made well sure that it
would
maintain absolute control of the CTV."

It is questionable whether this internal reform resulted from AFL-CIO
advice, or from the Chavez administration's challenge to its
established
procedures. In any event, without such changes, the CTV's
marginalization
from Venezuelan society would undoubtedly increased. Despite the
internal
reform-including a direct vote for the CTV's executive board by a
number of
sectors of Venezuelan society -CTV leadership has remained adamantly
opposed to President Chavez.

According to a report to be published in New Labor Forum by Robert
Collier
of The Newspaper Guild/Communications Workers of America (CWA) in May
2004,
the CTV has worked with FEDECAMARAS, the nation's business
association, to
carry out general strikes/lockouts of in December 2001, March-April
2002,
and December 2002-February 2003. Collier reports that according to
many
published reports and interviews that he has conducted in the
country, that
"... the CTV was directly involved in the [April 2002] coup's
planning and
organization."

Professor Hector Lucena, another labor observer, reports that these
April
actions were led by the CTV and joined by FEDECARAMAS. Christopher
Marquis
of The New York Times reported on April 25, 2002, "...the
Confederation of
Venezuelan Workers led the work stoppages that galvanized the
opposition to
Mr. Chavez. The union's leader, Carlos Ortega, worked closely with
Pedro
Carmona Estanga, the businessman who briefly took over from Mr.
Chavez, in
challenging the government." Further, Collier reports, "For
months before,
CTV Secretary-General Carlos Ortega created a tight political
alliance with
FEDECAMARAS leader Pedro Carmona, and they repeatedly called for the
overthrow of Chavez." In short, Collier concludes that "...
in Venezuela,
the AFL-CIO has ... supported a reactionary union establishment as it
tried
repeatedly to overthrow President Hugo Chavez-and in the process,
wrecked
the country's economy."

These accounts differ from the April 27, 2002 statement by the
AFL-CIO
titled, "The AFL-CIO and Worker Rights in Venezuela." In
this statement, we
find "... there is no evidence that the CTV or its leaders went
beyond the
democratic expressions of dissent."

When the coup took place, Carmona was installed as President on April
12.
The July-August 2002 issue of NACLA Reports describes how Carmona
disbanded
the National Assembly, repealed a series of popular reforms passed by
Chavez, reinstated fired management at the national oil company
(PDVSA),
and fired all the judges of the Supreme Court.

Ignoring the labor wing of the opposition, Carmona appointed a
cabinet of
business leaders, military men and conservative politicians.
According to
Collier, it was only after this betrayal by Carmona did the CTV
condemn the
coup. David Corn, writing in The Nation of August 5, 2002 confirms
this:
"The CTV did denounce Carmona-but not until Carmona, on the
afternoon of
April 12, announced his decree to shutter the National Assembly and
the
Supreme Court."

Gacek offered another account in his New Labor Forum article (to
which
Collier is responding), writing that, "The CTV publicly
condemned the April
2002 coup, never recognized the short-lived regime of Carmona and,
unlike
the Catholic Church, refused to endorse Carmona's decree dissolving
the
National Assembly." However, authors Ellner and Rosen report,
based on
Hearings of the Special Political Commission of the National Assembly
that
were broadcast on TV on May 10, 2002, that "[CTV leader] Ortega
had
publicly called for the immediate dissolution of the Assembly on
April 12,
prior to the announcement of Carmona's decree" (emphasis added).

In a personal communication on March 6, 2004, Ellner elaborated on
events:
"The CTV promoted a march which was designed to topple the
Chavez regime
and everybody knew at the time that the idea was to create chaos so
that
the military would intervene." Going further, he explained that
"Opposition
leaders openly called on the military to overthrow Chavez, and the
strike
leaders-not only Ortega but the supposed 'moderates' like Manuel
Cova,
Alfredo Ramos, Pablo Castro, Rodrigo Penson, Froilan Barrios-none of
them
stated at least publicly that they were opposed to a military
coup."

ACILS' work in the country has not been limited to rationalizing and
minimizing the role played by CTV leadership in the April 2002 coup.
A
series of quarterly reports on work in Venezuela from the Solidarity
Center
to NED have come to light through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
requests. They have been posted on a web site http://www.venezuelafoia.info
by the Venezuela Solidarity Committee/National Venezuela Solidarity
Network.

Excerpts from the January-March 2002 quarterly report by the
Solidarity
Center to NED are illuminating. "The CTV and Fedecamaras, with
the support
of the Catholic Church, held a national conference on March 5 to
discuss
their concerns, perspectives and priorities regarding national
development
and to identify common objectives as well as areas of cooperation.

The conference was the culminating event of some two months of
meetings and
planning between these two organizations. The joint action [producing
a
"National Accord" to avoid a supposedly "deeper
political and economic
crisis"] established the CTV and the Fedecamaras as the flagship
organizations leading the growing opposition to the Chavez
government"
(emphases added).

The report continues: "The Solidarity Center helped support the
event in
the planning stages, organizing the initial meetings with the
Governor of
Miranda State and the business organization, FEDECAMARAS, to discuss
and
establish an agenda for such cooperation in mid-January." The
report
continued to detail more of their efforts, concluding with the
comment
that, "The March 5 national conference itself was financed by
counterpart
funds."

Less than 30 days after the March 5 conference, the CTV and
FEDECAMARAS
launched a national general strike to protest the firing of oil
company
management, and the coup attempt-in which CTV and business leaders
played
central roles-took place.

It is possible to argue that these and other meetings in which
Solidarity
Center representatives participated had nothing to do with the events
surrounding the coup attempt. However, suspicion was aroused by the
International Affairs Department's continued unwillingness to provide
reports of the Solidarity Center's work, let alone detailed reports
of
these specific meetings-as noted above, Solidarity Center reports to
NED
have been posted on the web.

Concluding that ACILS played no role in the turmoil that rocked the
country
would require us to ignore the central role being played by CTV and
FEDECAMARAS leaders in that turmoil-leaders with whom Solidarity
Center
representatives were in regular contact. It would also require us to
ignore
the $587,926 that was provided by NED to ACILS between
1997-2001--$154,377
in 2001 alone-to pay for work with the CTV.

[NED quadrupled its budget in Venezuela to $877,000 in the period
shortly
before the coup, according to Marquis of The New York Times. In
addition to
the $157,377 to ACILS, NED provided $339,998 to the international
wing of
the Republican Party; $210,000 to the international wing of the
Democratic
Party; and presumably another $171,125 to the Center for
International
Private Enterprise, the international wing of the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce.
It is bad enough that ACILS gets money from NED, but it is much worse
that
they work to carry out the NED program.]

Then there was the December 2002-February 2003 strike/lockout that so
devastated the economy. ACILS was granted $116,001 on September 13,
2002 to
continue its work with the CTV for another six months-in March 2003,
the
grant period was extended another year. Further, according to Ellner
(personal communication), "...no one in the CTV
leadership-absolutely no
one-publicly spoke out against the way the [December-February] strike
was
being handled." The "leftists" that Gacek referred
to-Barrios, Ramos, Cova,
Castro, etc.-"... actively participated [in] and supported the
strike."

Along with this, Ellner writes, "... the opposition has, in my
mind, not
modified its tactics in significant ways since 2002, and the CTV
continues
to be a key actor currently in Venezuela" (emphasis added).
Gregory
Wilpert, writing on Z Net, identifies the CTV as well as FEDECAMARAS,
almost all opposition parties and nearly all of the private media, as
comprising "the hard-core opposition." Juan Forero, writing
from Caracas
for The New York Times on March 11, 2004, in an article about how NED
efforts are trying to destabilize Venezuela, reports that leaders of
the
CTV, along with leaders of the AD and two other parties, "...
have been at
the forefront of the anti-Chavez movement" (page A-3).

Thus, despite any claims to the contrary, ACILS has been and
continues to
be intimately involved in the on-going efforts by CTV leadership to
overthrow the government. And thus, as ACILS itself admits, gains
made "are
threatened by the attempts of some members of the CTV leadership to
embark
on a political agenda, and engage in political alliances, that have
at best
questionable support from the membership." Further, "The
political
opposition is viewed with suspicion by the urban poor and has offered
no
substantive alternative to the government's program (ACILS Grant No.
2002-433.0, p. 6) (emphases added).

Interestingly, during the 1990s, "The CTV failed to reach beyond
the
organized working class by defending the interests of this lower
stratum of
the population" (Ellner: "Organized Labor and
Chavismo"). Yet in this 2002
grant request for $116,001 to NED, ACILS claims, "The CTV has
the technical
and political capacity to propose programs that will support
organization
and representation of workers in the informal sector..." a
sector CTV has
not cared about for a very long time. I think it is safe to conclude
that
ACILS is developing CTV's political program-not its members-in a
direction
that CTV heretofore has refused to go. ACILS is not a passive
follower but
appears to be intimately involved in creating CTV's direction and,
accordingly, shares direct responsibility for its results.

The parallels with 1972-73 Chile are overwhelming. Just like in Chile
in
1972-73, the AFL-CIO, through ACILS, is clearly engaged in an effort
to
destabilize a democratically elected government that disagrees with a
number of positions of the US Government.

This destabilization effort is not singular, but is one component of
a
multiple-track endeavor that includes supporting a peasant
organization
that opposes land reform; an educational organization that has
suggested no
education reforms; an organization seeking to incite a military
rebellion;
a civic association that has worked to mobilize middle class
neighborhoods
to "defend themselves" from the poor; a civil justice group
that opposes
grassroots community organizations because they supports the Chavez
government; a "leadership group" that supports the
metropolitan Caracas
police, whose behavior has become markedly more repressive over the
past
year; and a number of other anti-Chavez organizations, each which
have
received recent funding from NED.

While there have been significant changes in foreign operations
policy that
has developed under the Sweeney Administration, the information from
Venezuela indicates that these changes are quite limited, and
certainly do
not apply to unstable situations where the existing social order is
being
challenged from progressive forces. Despite the improvements that
have been
made, ACILS has reverted to the worst practices of what were thought
to be
by-gone years-and the people who run it don't want AFL-CIO members or
the
public to know.

But there are three questions that beg for answers from ACILS, Harry
Kamberis, and the AFL-CIO leadership in general. First, how do these
efforts to overthrow a democratically-elected president-a president
who is
actively trying to meet the needs and aspirations of the poorest 80
percent
of the population-help meet the needs of these working people?
Second, how
does working to destabilize the elected government of Venezuela help
workers and their families in the United States? And third, if your
projects such as in Venezuela are so good for American working
people, why
are you trying so desperately to keep U.S. trade unionists from
accurately
knowing what you are doing in these countries? Why, indeed?

For the most developed account of the AFL-CIO's role in destabilizing
Chile
in 1972-73, see my article in the Summer 2000 issue of Labor Studies
Journal titled, "It's Time to Come Clean: Open the AFL-CIO
Archives on
International Labor Operations." This has been posted on-line in
English by
LabourNet Germany at http://www.labournet.de/

For a discussion of resolutions for the AFL-CIO to "clear the
air" that
developed, at least partially stimulated by the above article, and
how
AFL-CIO International Affairs leaders have basically ignored them,
see my
"AFL-CIO Refuses to 'Clear the Air' on Foreign Policy,
Operations" in the
February 2004 issue of Labor Notes at http://www.labornotes.org/

Additional Resources:

For an important compilation of documents regarding the National
Endowment
for Democracy and its efforts to destabilize Venezuela--all obtained
through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by journalist
Jeremy
Bigwood and posted on a web site by the Venezuelan Solidarity
Committee/National Venezuela Solidarity Network, go to
http://www.venezuelafoia.info.

Included in here are an important set of reports from ACILS to NED
about
its work with CTV--and these obviously were never expected to see the
light
of day. For these, go to the http://www.venezuelafoia.info site, and on
the
left hand of the page, in a box under National Endowment for
Democracy
(NED), click on "ACILS-CTV." These are extremely important
documents. (The
documents on this web page are those referred to by Juan Forero in
his
article that appeared yesterday, "Chavez Condemns US, Citing
Efforts to End
His Rule" in The New York Times, March 11, 2004: A-3.)

Another excellent web site, including analysis of developments in
Venezuela
is http://www.venezuelaanalysis.com. Gregory
Wilpert's reports have been
quite helpful in understanding the situation.

Still another excellent site is that called "Venezuela
Watch" on ZNet:
http://www.zmag.org/ This has a number of
articles--most are quite good to
excellent--concerning developments over the past two years on
Venezuela.

Another recent labor-related piece is "The Question Remains:
What is the
AFL-CIO Doing in Venezuela?," by Alberto Ruiz on ZNet.

For an article by Stanley Gacek, Assistant Director of the AFL-CIO's
International Affairs Department, detailing how he, and presumably
the IAD,
sees the situation in Brazil and Venezuela, see his "Lula and
Chavez:
Differing Responses to the Washington Consensus," which was
published in
the Spring 2004 issue of New Labor Forum, and can be found on-line at
http://forbin.qc.edu/

Stan Gacek complains that some critics are even wondering why ACILS
is even
operating in Venezuela...duh! He is referring, at very least to an
article
I published on ZNet on May 2, 2002: Kim Scipes, "AFL-CIO and
Venezuela:
Return of Labor Imperialism, or a Mistaken Reaction"
http://www.zmag.org/(yes, they misspelled my
last name).

You also might want to reference my Feb 2004 article in Labor Notes
about
how the AFL-CIO has refused to address issues raised by the
California
State AFL-CIO concerning their international labor operations: Kim
Scipes,
"AFL-CIO Refuses to 'Clear the Air' on Foreign Policy,
Operations" at
http://www.labornotes.org/. There are a set
of references after the article
(not including the ones presented here), with links directly to each
of
them, and these references are annotated.

An excellent chapter in a recent book--not on-line--that gives an
in-depth
look at the Venezuelan labor movment is Steve Ellner, "Organized
Labor and
the Challenge of Chavismo" in a book that Ellner co-edited with
Daniel
Helliger, VENEZUELAN POLITICS IN THE CHAVEZ ERA: CLASS POLARIZATION
AND
CONFLICT, Boulder, CO: Lynne Reinner Publishers, 2002.

Some older articles that provide useful information:

David Corn, "Our Gang in Venezuela" (about the National
Endowment for
Democracy--not the most sophisticated analysis, but provides some
good
information): http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20020805&s=corn.


Greg Wilpert, "Why Venezuela's Middle Class (for the most part)
Opposes
Chavez," dated October 27, 2002 on ZNet: http://www.zmag.org/content/.

Mike Lebowitz, "Venezuela's National Union of Workers,"
dated April 2, 2002
on ZNet: http://www.zmag.org/content

There have been three recent articles on line about recent efforts to
destabilize Venezuela. All three give particular attention to the
reactionary role being played by the private news media (mass media)
in
that country:

Bill Berkowitz, "Venezuela at the Crossroads," dated March
5, 2004. It was
on Alternet last week and was quite informative:
http://www.workingforchange.com/.

Dario Azzelini, "The Destabilization Script as Applied to
Venezuela," dated
March 5, 2004, on ZNet (not yet posted on Z's Venezuela Watch):
http://www.zmag.org/content.

Gregory Wilpert, "How To Turn a Government into a Pariah:
Venezuela's
Matrix," dated March 8, 2004 on ZNet (not yet posted on Z's
Venezuela
Watch): http://www.zmag.org/content/

For an important evaluation of the mass media's role in the April
2002
coup, by the International Federation of Journalists, see
"Missing Link in
Venezuela's Political Crisis: How Media and Government Failed a Test
of
Journalism and Democracy," Report of the IFJ Mission to Caracas,
June
10-12, 2002: http://www.ifj.org/pdfs/venezuelajuly02.pdf.

Kim Scipes, PhD, is a former member of the Graphic Communications
International Union as well as the American Federation of Teachers
and the
National Education Association.

This essay originally appeared in Labor Notes.
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