The main reason for this update is the article included below, by Gregory Wilpert, 
regarding events in Venezuela. 

As to ZNet...for some reason bandwidth use has doubled over the past two weeks. This 
has caused some strain, which will be alleviated this week with new technology. It is 
a good problem to have! Thanks for all the use!

On the site, as usual, we have many new articles, etc. We have updated our offerings 
from Le Monde Diplomatique for our shared program in which they feature some material 
from ZNet each month, and we feature some of their material. Diplo, as it is fondly 
called, is an excellent monthly periodical originating in Paris but put out in English 
and many other languages around the world. 

There is also a new petition worth taking a look at, and perhaps signing -- indeed, we 
have signed it. It is at http://www.zmag.org/antiwarsigners.htm

You may notice, if you pay really close attention to ZNet top page design, that we 
have moved our World Social Forum Coverage up the page. How come? Well, the WSF will 
occur from January 23 to 28, which is in about five weeks. Z/ZNet is very active in 
this international effort, and will host about sixty presenters doing about 35 events 
-- all under the broad label, Life After Capitalism. This will feature attention to 
vision and strategy regarding all sides of life, including projects, movements, and 
approaches from all over the world presenting, exploring, and debating one another's 
views to determine commonalities and differences. LAC, as we callit, will be a kind of 
"conference within the conference" and we have high hopes for the results. For 
ZNeter's, one big benefit of this work will be a new subsite on ZNet to be called 
"Life After Capitalism." It will present as much of the content generated for LAC at 
the WSF as possible and thereafter it will continue to pursue the many issues and 
agendas flowing from the efforts. So, watch for increasing WSF attention and LAC 
attention on ZNet in coming weeks.

Here, then, is the Venezuela report...


Coup D'Petrol in Venezuela
By Gregory Wilpert

Caracas. Exactly one year after the opposition's first "general strike," on December 
10, 2001, which launched the campaign to oust the democratically elected president of 
Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, the opposition is engaged in its fourth "general strike" and 
has come very close to finally achieving its goal. The fourth employer-sponsored 
general strike, which began on December 2, seemed to have a strong start, as traffic 
resembled a Sunday and many stores and practically all private schools throughout the 
country were closed that day. However, by the second day it was clear that the strike 
would not last. Still, the opposition continued to extend the strike for an additional 
day every day, each time finding new reasons to continue the strike, even though it 
was clear that the strike had very little ongoing support beyond a few large 
businesses, such as McDonald's and other fast food chains, the supermarkets, and the 
private schools. The opposition, which consists of the main Chamber of Commerce 
Fedecameras, the union federation CTV, the coalition of opposition parties and 
organizations gathered under the "Coordinadora Democratica," and the private mass 
media kept claiming that the strike was a resounding success nonetheless.

The opposition's fortunes turned, however, when it pulled its trump card on the fourth 
day of the strike: the managers and administrative workers of Venezuela's oil company, 
PDVSA. Following a suspicious break-in at a manager's home and the government's raid 
of a tanker captain's home, managers and other white-collar workers of PDVSA staged a 
protest in front of the oil company's headquarters. The National Guard immediately 
broke-up this strike with tear gas and plastic bullets because the headquarters had 
several months earlier been declared a "security zone" and off limits to 
demonstrations, since it is of vital economic interest to the country. Despite PDVSA's 
president's continuous efforts to negotiate with dissident managers, these decided 
that it was time for them to join the strike, given the recent events. The management 
and white-collar worker strike, however, did not gain much momentum until tanker 
captains and dock workers joined it.

The opposition received an additional and tremendous boost when the opposition's 
leaders and the media took advantage of a terrible tragedy, in which a gunman opened 
fire on a peaceful opposition rally and killed three and wounded about 30 others. 
Opposition leaders immediately argued that the government was responsible for this 
atrocity. For the next two days the media continuously repeated the images of the 
chaos and confusion and of the dead and wounded that were recorded immediately after 
the shooting. The gunman was apprehended at the scene of the crime and within two 
hours of the shooting, amateur video footage surfaced that supposedly showed the 
gunman in the presence of pro-Chavez mayor Freddy Bernal a day earlier. 

Investigators of the crime, however, have said that there is proof that the gunman, 
Joao de Goveia, a Portuguese national, entered Venezuela from Portugal the day before 
the shooting, but well after the footage of the amateur video was taped. In other 
words, either the video image is not of de Gouveia or the video might have been faked, 
which would not have been too difficult, since the image is very grainy and dark 
because it was filmed in the middle of the night. Apparently, de Goveia was living and 
working in Venezuela, but had been abroad for a while, just before the shooting.

As is usual in such high profile cases, the truth will probably never be known beyond 
a reasonable doubt, since there are too many interests at stake and too many people 
willing and in the position to forge evidence or testimony. Still, there can be little 
doubt that this attack was of absolutely no benefit to the government, since it 
rekindled a strike that was faltering. As a result, it provided a big boost to the 
opposition's campaign to oust President Chavez.

Opposition leaders' taking advantage of the attack and the relentless media campaign 
of the five private television stations and eight or so major newspapers, which 
consistently present only one perspective for interpreting all events that take place 
in Venezuela, upset many pro-Chavez Venezuelans even more with the media than they had 
already been. On the eighth day of the strike, "Chavistas" surrounded the headquarters 
of all of the major television stations in the capital and of several in the rest of 
the country, staging loud pot-banging "cacerolazos." (The opposition had already 
pioneered such protests on a regular basis at the building of the state-run television 
channel, ever since the two-day coup in April, but this never received any media 
attention, not even from the affected station.) After a couple hours of pot-banging, 
the demonstrators withdrew, at the behest of pro-Chavez legislators and OAS general 
secretary Cesar Gaviria. To the media, these protests were additional proof that 
Venezuela is a totalitarian country, of which Chavez is the dictator. Journalists 
argued that their lives were threatened, even though it was quite clear that these 
were peaceful protests. Still, the director of one TV channel even went so far as to 
argue that the protests constituted "genocide."  One unoccupied station outside of 
Caracas did get looted, for which Chavistas blamed radical elements of the opposition, 
since witnesses say that there were no protests at that station that night.

Once again, these protests provided the ammunition the opposition needed to justify he 
continuation of the strike. While the strike has been relatively ineffective in the 
general population and especially among the poor, it has had its most devastating 
effect in the state-owned oil company, PDVSA. With the complete shut-down of 
Venezuela's main oil refinery, which is also one of the largest in the world, the 
walk-out of key dock workers, and the anchoring of tankers off of Venezuela's main 
ports, the supply of oil has been halved, from 3 million barrels per day (bpd) to 1.5 
million bpd. Meanwhile, PDVSA's president, Ali Rodriguez, announced that a continued 
stoppage of oil production and shipments would seriously harm the Venezuelan economy, 
which is losing around $50 million per day as a result of the strike. Also, nearly all 
of Venezuela's economic activity depends in one way or another on the steady supply of 
oil from its own refineries, such as gasoline for the transportation food to cities or 
of supplies to factories, for the filling of airplanes that land in Venezuela with jet 
fuel, or for the generation of electricity. Rodriguez also warned that Venezuela would 
lose international oil customers and could default on debt payments, if oil production 
was not restarted soon. So far the restriction of oil supplies has had most of its 
impact on the lack of gasoline at many gas stations, especially in the country's 
interior, leading to long lines at gas stations throughout the country, due to 
consumer fears that their local gas station would soon run out of gasoline. 

As of this writing (Dec. 16), the government claims that it has by and large managed 
to regain control over the oil production and shipping process, with the help of the 
military, so that oil supply should be back to normal within a few days. The 
opposition, however, denies this and warns that serious industrial accidents could 
result because unqualified personnel are taking control of the installations.

Both the opposition and the government are keeping up their efforts to mobilize their 
supporters through large mobilizations. On December 7 the government organized a large 
demonstration at the presidential palace, which attracted several hundred thousand 
supporters, at which Chavez promised that just as he had defeated the opposition in 
the seven elections of 1998 to 2001, he would defeat them again in the current 
confrontation. The opposition, for its part, organized a massive demonstration of its 
own, also attracting hundreds of thousands of its supporters, on December 14th. These 
demonstrations proved, once again, that both the government and the opposition enjoy 
widespread popular support. Of course, the private media in Venezuela does not reflect 
this and covers only opposition demonstrations, leaving the impression to 
non-participating observers that only the opposition has popular support.

It would seem that where the opposition's efforts to oust Chavez via a non-stop media 
campaign, large demonstrations, a coup, and four "general" strikes have largely 
failed, the management take-over, or coup, of the oil company might succeed. The 
scenarios for doing so are still murky, though. Many among the more radical elements 
of the opposition, to which the main actors behind the "general strike" belong, such 
as Fedecameras President Carlos Fernandez, CTV President Carlos Ortega, and Caracas 
Mayor Alfredo Peņa, seem to be hoping for another military coup attempt. These three 
continuously issue calls to the military to "abide by their mission," to "defend the 
constitution," and to avert Venezuela's "castro-communist dictatorship." The more 
moderate elements of the opposition, such as CTV general secretary Manuel Cova and 
NGO-leader Elias Santana of "Queremos Elegir," seem to placing their bets on a 
negotiated settlement for early elections. However, the OAS-mediated negotiations have 
so far stalled and it is far from certain that they will reach any kind of agreement 
before Christmas. What is for sure, however, is that the opposition and a significant 
number of Venezuela's businesses prefer to commit economic suicide, in its efforts to 
oust Chavez, and to drag the country down with it.

Gregory Wilpert is a sociologist and freelance journalist living in Venezuela. He is 
currently working on a book on the Chavez presidency, which will be published by Zed 
Books in 2003.

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