While I was in Venezuela a number of comrades asked me about some
manifesto against “Chavez’s attacks on trade union rights” and also
about the controversy over a letter Noam Chomsky had signed which the
bourgeois media had used in their campaign in defence of “human rights”
While I was
in Venezuela a number of comrades asked me about some manifesto against
“Chavez’s attacks on trade union rights” and also about the controversy
over a letter Noam Chomsky had signed which the bourgeois media had used
in their campaign in defence of “human rights” in Venezuela.
constant campaigns of the bourgeois media in Venezuela and
internationally against the Bolivarian revolution are already known and
their main arguments have already been answered. These two campaigns
however merit a specific answer because they are aimed particularly at
left-wing supporters of the revolution, attacking it precisely for not
being left wing. The idea that is being presented is that president
Chavez is orchestrating a campaign to smash trade unions and attack
trade union rights, but in reality this is far from the truth.
Now, some irrelevant ultra-left groups internationally have taken it
upon themselves to translate the appeal into French and English.
one point, Chirino was one of the most popular trade union leaders in
Venezuela and became a member of the national coordination of the newly
formed National Workers’ Union (UNT). However, his sectarianism played a
key role in the break up of the 2nd Congress of the UNT and
he has since abandoned the camp of the Bolivarian revolution and joined
the counter-revolutionary opposition.
In the 2010 national
assembly elections, Chirino’s tiny organisation stood some candidates in
the list of the Patria Para Todos party (PPT) with ridiculous results.
The PPT is a small social-democratic party, which was part of the
Bolivarian movement for a number of years but broke with the PSUV in
2010 and attempted to present itself as a “third way” between the chavista camp
and the reactionary opposition. In reality, everyone could see that
this was just a trick and as could be predicted, by early 2011, the PPT
had already joined the main organisation of the counter-revolutionary
opposition, the MUD. It is a complete scandal that Chirino’s
organisation, which claims to be Trotskyist, stood in the PPT lists in
September 2010, and it shows clearly how their ultraleftism has taken
them right into the arms of the ruling class.
They have now
organised a “national and international” campaign denouncing Chavez’s
alleged “policy of the criminalisation of struggles, the violation of
trade union autonomy, the intimidation of journalists who are acting on
the democratic right to inform society, and put a halt to the impunity
with which armed gangs affiliated with the government to act against
workers and trade union leaders who are fighting for their rights." In a
previous article I already dealt with the issue of the conflicts in the
trade union movement in Bolivar and the violence they have unleashed.
union activists and revolutionaries all over the world should certainly
support and defend workers’ struggles in Venezuela, as we have done in
every single case (Invepal, Inveval, Sanitarios Maracay, Mitsubishi,
Inaf, Gotcha, the Aragua UNT leaders killed, to name just a few). In
some cases workers in struggle in Venezuela are under the attack of the
bosses and reactionary elements within the state apparatus (judges,
police, etc). In some of these struggles the state bureaucracy
(ministers, managers, directors, etc) act against the workers and in
support of the capitalists.
However, the overwhelming majority of
workers in struggle consider themselves as part of the Bolivarian
movement and are active members of the PSUV. They do not see Chavez as
their enemy and on a number of occasions Chavez has responded favourably
to workers in struggle, by expropriating occupied factories,
encouraging workers to take other factories over, appealing for the
formation of workers’ councils, introducing workers’ control,
renationalising privatised companies, putting an end to outsourcing,
Most workers in Venezuela, if they have a criticism of Chavez
is not that he is dictatorial, but rather that he has been too soft and
lenient with the reactionary coup plotting opposition that have now
become Chirino’s new friends.
To say that Chavez has a policy of
criminalisation of struggles and violation of trade union autonomy is at
best a gross misrepresentation of the truth. But what is really
scandalous and reveals the real nature of this particular campaign run
by Chirino’s small ultra-left sect is the kind of people whom they have
had signing the original appeal.
They include Victor Maldonado,
who is a prominent capitalist and a right-wing opponent of the
revolution. Maldonado is the executive director of the Caracas Chamber
of Commerce, a well-known reactionary, the basis of whose attack on
Chavez is because “Chavez is against private property”!!! (see for
instance: here and here). Not exactly a friend of workers’ rights!
signing the appeal prominently is Froilan Barrios, a disgusting
turncoat, who is a member of the EC of the reactionary and bureaucratic
CTV trade union. Also a former “Trotskyist” like Chirino, Barrios was a
member of the leadership of the CTV when this organisation played a
crucial role in the capitalist coup in April 2002 and when it organised
support for the bosses’ lock out in December 2002. The list is completed
with some opposition “civil society organisations” funded by US
By all means, let’s support Venezuelan workers in
struggle, against the capitalists, imperialism and also against the
“Bolivarian” bureaucracy at all levels. But let’s not unite with the
reactionary pro-imperialist opposition under the hypocritical banner of
“trade union autonomy” and “human rights”.
Chomsky and “human rights”
recent campaign against the Venezuelan revolution which did the rounds
in the media recently was the one around a letter by Noam Chomsky to the
Venezuelan authorities asking for the release of judge Afiuni on
“humanitarian grounds” (see letter here). Chomsky then gave an interview to the New York Times and to the British journalist Rory Carroll for the Guardian/Observer (see here).
Carroll has a long history of opposing the Venezuelan revolution
publicly and he makes no apologies about it (for a detailed criticism of
Carroll’s misreporting on Venezuela see Derek Wall’s Carroll in Wonderland).
This time Chomsky complained bitterly that his words had been twisted,
taken out of context, important parts of the interview left out, all to
create the wrong impression that he had broken with his previous support
for the Venezuelan revolution. The scandal was such that the Guardian was forced to publish a full transcript of the interview.
this is not just a case of the bourgeois media manipulating what
Chomsky said. Let’s first look at the details of the case surrounding
the arrest of judge Afiuni (for a full account of the case see: A Few Facts about the Case of Judge Aﬁuni, by Venezuelan Supreme Court Justice Francisco Vegas Torrealba).
2009, judge Maria Lourdes Afiune was judging a ﬁnancier named Eligio
Cedeño who was involved in several corruption cases. He was charged with
embezzlement of millions of dollars from bank customers and of
collaborating with corrupt officials in the foreign exchange agency
CADIVI by getting permission to import millions of dollars’ worth of
computers, but then bringing in only empty containers and keeping the
preferential price import in dollars to himself. His accomplice in some
of these dealings was arrested in Panama and after being handed over to
the Venezuelan authorities confessed to the whole affair, thus
incriminating Cedeño. Cedeño’s attorneys used all sorts of delaying
tactics to prevent the trial from coming to a conclusion.
December 2010, judge Afiuni herself “walked Mr. Cedeño out of the
courtroom and escorted him with two other employees of her court to the
internal parking lot for judges, where Cedeño boarded a motorcycle that
was let into the lot under Aﬁuni’s instruction.” She then, after
having set him free and given him the means to escape, went back to the
courtroom to write up the ruling to set him free. The prosecutors were
not present during any of these proceedings, contrary to law. Cedeño
then fled to Miami.
Judge Afiuni was then suspended pending
further investigation. The case was a public scandal and people were
enraged by the callous way in which she had acted. President Chavez made
some very strongly worded statements to the effect that corrupt judges
should not be allowed to escape free from their actions. Surprisingly,
because the judicial system in Venezuela is notoriously reactionary and
corrupt, judge Afiuni was arrested and put in jail pending trial for
bribery. While in jail she became ill and as a result she was moved from
prison to house arrest.
The Venezuelan opposition, always so vocal in complaining about corruption, has turned her into a cause celebre,
presenting her case as one which allegedly proves the lack of
independence of the judiciary in Venezuela and how independent-minded
judges are under threat and get arrested for their political views.
is a clear-cut case of a judge accepting money from a known swindler in
exchange for allowing him to flee justice. It reveals the extreme
corruption throughout the judicial system.
Workers, peasants and
ordinary people in Venezuela would clearly understand this case because
they suffer the abuse of the justice system on a daily basis. As in any
other capitalist country, but perhaps in a more extreme way in
Venezuela, the poor get caught in the web of “justice” while the rich
pay their way out to freedom. Most of those who were involved in the
April 2002 coup walk the streets of Venezuela free and are currently the
main leaders of the opposition. When state prosecutor Danilo Anderson
attempted to bring them to trial he was killed by a bomb under his car.
murderers of scores of peasant and worker activists killed for
political reasons by hired guns of the bosses and the landlords have
never been brought to justice. Those who are responsible for the killing
of Mitsubishi workers have never been put on trial, while the judge has
now accepted a case against leaders of the Mitsubishi workers which may
see them land in jail for a crime they never committed.
is what Venezuelan workers and peasants, the revolutionary people are
concerned about, not some abstract “independence of the judiciary” which
at the end of the day only means independence from the interests of
working people and complete subservience to the interests of the ruling
Did Chomsky familiarise himself with the details of the
case before making an appeal for judge Afiuni to be set free (without
being put on trial, we presume)? Why did he choose to believe the
version of the story offered by the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy
at the JF Kennedy School for Government of Harvard University? This is a
completely bourgeois institution. The former director of the Carr
Centre, Michael Ignatieff (who went on to become leader of the Liberal
Party in Canada) developed the idea of “benign imperialism” and said
that the US had the responsibility of “a global hegemony whose grace
notes are free markets, human rights and democracy, enforced by the most
awesome military power the world has ever known”. This is the idea of
“human rights” that permeates the thinking of the ruling class. What
they really mean is the protection of the right of private property and
the right of multinationals to have free access to markets and sources
of raw materials without any hindrance, and if their rights are being
threatened, then military intervention to enforce them is justified.
did Chomsky choose to collaborate with the Carr Centre? Why did he
agree to give an interview to Rory Carroll, who is well known for
twisting the truth in order to attack the Bolivarian revolution? He has
written extensively about the role of the media in “manufacturing
The only answer we can find is that he is so mesmerised
by concepts which are apparently “neutral” and “universal”, like “human
rights”, “separation of powers”, the “independence of the judiciary”,
that he chooses to completely ignore the class character of these and
falls right into the trap of the ruling class.
The reason why they chose Chomsky for this latest attack on the Venezuelan revolution is clear from the article in the New York Times
when it says: “Mr. Chomsky’s willingness to press for Judge Afiuni’s
release shows how the president’s aggressive policies toward the
judiciary have stirred unease among some who are generally sympathetic to Mr. Chávez’s socialist-inspired political movement.” The image they want to present is that even those who support Chavez’s socialism, are put off by his smashing of the sacrosanct independence of the justice system.
argues that “a move toward clemency with Judge Afiuni would be a step
towards the importance of maintaining a properly functioning justice
system.” As a matter of fact, if judge Afiuni were to be left free
without a trial it would only reaffirm the known fact that a judge can
let go a corrupt banker friend of his or hers and nothing happens.
Impunity rather than justice would be strengthened.
Chomsky was at
best naïve and at worst reckless. One expected more from him, but
perhaps it is his “libertarian” ideas that pushed him into the camp of
the ruling class and counter-revolution in this case.
If he wanted
to raise his worries about the justice system in Venezuela, he could
have asked for a full investigation into the death of Danilo Anderson,
or the three assassinated leaders of the UNT trade union in Aragua, the
bringing to justice of those responsible for the killing of dozens of
peasant activists in the struggle for land reform, or perhaps he could
campaign on behalf of Julian Conrado arrested by the Venezuelan
authorities nearly two months ago at the request of Colombia and who has
not yet been charged with anything, allowed visits or access to a
lawyer and who is being held in an unknown location. He suffers from a
serious prostate illness.
Judge Afiuni is awaiting trial under
house arrest for accepting bribery to help a corrupt banker escape
justice and we do not see any reason why the labour movement or
progressive people around the world should worry too much about her
fate, other than to make sure that she is actually brought to trial.