In Venezuela, the Chief of Police of the Republic, Luisa Ortega Díaz, has said in an official statement that those who undermine public tranquility and order in order to produce institucional instability, destabilize the government or subvert the democratic system will be put on trial, and added that those who act against public tranquility and order will face 12 to 24 years in prison. Ortega Dia made these statements after the protests against the new Education Law proposed by the government of Hugo Chavez, and after the employees of the Metropolitan Disctrict who protested for their rights were repressed, with 11 of them imprisoned, accused of “blocking the free flow of traffic” by marching through the street”. IT is worth remembering that Ortega Diaz is the same character who a few weeks ago proposed a law in the National Assembly against Media Crimes, which was later retired for being undemocratic. This law proposed nothing other than to “regulate bad news” to protect the state and, ultimately, the interests of the bourgeoisie and the dominant layers of society, from the actions of the works and the exploited sectors of society.
The most recent repression of the protesters against the education law, supporters of the right-wing opposition who questioned the law , as we would expect, from the right, even had repercussions outside of Venezuela, and the same rightwing has taken advantage of the laws which limit basic rights, like that of protest, in order to attack the Chavez regime once again. However, what neither the right nor the government are saying is that in the last three years the workers movement and the people have – directly or indirectly – been the main target of repression by the bourgeois regime; both at the hands of the national government, which uses the state forces, and the right-wing opposition in those states where it governs, using the same repressive forces and sometimes hitmen, with many murders of workers having taken place.
This use of hitmen has been financed both by landowners who line up with the opposition, and capitalists from both the opposition and chavista camps. As we in the LTS have already condemned, they are looking, via repressive measures, to discipline the workers and even to teach a lesson to the most advanced workers with most dedication in their struggles. In this sense, the state has for some years been reorganizing a whole section of the country’s laws in order to contain the growing protests. We are talking about a whole series of reforms to laws which have been and are being carried out with the objective of criminalizing the traditional methods of protest of the working class and the people. According to some of these new (or old, but with reforms and actualizations) laws, stopping the production of a factory of company (private or public) or obstructing a road in order to pressure the political authorities, for example, would be punishable crimes. Thanks to these laws there are already more than 2000 cases of working class, peasants, indigenous or community based protesters under trial for protesting.
No repressive law is favorable to the working class and popular struggle. The Chavez government, which is always talking against capitalism and in favor of a participative democracy, has no worries about resorting to laws from 1916 redacted during the dictatorship of Juan Vicente Gomez against the workers and peasants, like the Penal Code, which in Article 358 establishes that: whoever obstructs a passage of circulation of any means of transportation, opens or closes the routes of these passages, makes false signals or undertakes any action with the objective of creating the danger of a catastrophe…will be punished with jail for 4 four to eight years. This law is today implemented democratically, and just as forcefully as when it was new.
In short, for the capitalist bosses and the political authorities it is a danger and a true catastrophe that the subordinated classes are taking courage and deciding to publicly demonstrate their anger. In this sense then, it tries to cut back, limit and even put an end to, basic rights of the workers movement and people to protest for their demands.
The right-wing opposition has shown itself neither slow nor lazy in these turbulent times. At the same as they denounce the repression, they cover up that in those states and cities where they currently govern they also resort to the same repressive laws and state forces, and also use quasi-paramilitary thugs against the people as occurred recently in the state of Carabobo. And if any doubt remained about the repressive dynamic of the right-wing opposition, it is worth remembering the most emblematic example, which included murders: the first 48 hours of the coup of April 2002, where this same rightwing did not hesitate in launching a witch-hunt showing in only a few hours the true colors of the capitalist dictatorship. It has reached such an extent of shamelessness that Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of the metropolis (of Caracas), famous for the repression he would carry out when he occupied positions in government during the “puntofijo” regime (bipartisan agreement which governed Venezuela from 1958 to 1999), is today a standard-bearer for democracy, after the repression of the march by the rightwing which they organized against the new Education Law in order to defend private education.
But we are categorical, that regardless of whether we are talking about protests organized by the right-wing opposition, that revolutionary socialists do not legitimize the strengthening of authority and the repressive capacities of the state to criminalize protest on behalf of the bourgeois state, because that same weight always falls, and what is more it falls strongest, on the struggles of the working class and poor. We do not accept any attack on democratic rights or repressive attacks, unlike the chavista currents who turn over to common sense, or can even look on approvingly, when the right is repressed. But visions like this do not only overlook the vital importance which democratic rights have for the workers’ and people’s struggle, but they also allow the right to cynically claim the flag of democracy as “their own”. On the contrary, it is necessary to repudiate repression on the part of the state against the most combative sectors of the workers and peasants, showing concretely who are the hardest-hit by any strengthening of the law and reduction of democratic liberties like the criminalization of protest.
It is urgent and vital for trade union, workers, peasants, popular, student, human rights and left-wing organizations to set in motion a struggle to stop the new set of laws which criminalize protest and use ever more the repressive forces of the state, which always crack down hardest on the popular masses. There is a chance for the broadest front possible of all the organizations not involved with the pro-imperialist right, which from our point of view should be led by the workers in struggle and their organizations, calling for the mobilization of the whole working class, the only class that can take this struggle to its conclusion and not fall under the spell of either the national government or the right-wing opposition which today poses as democratic. The struggle against repression and impunity is in our hand and the strength which we can have if we are united. No more repression of workers in struggle. Freedom and clearing of the names of all social fighters. Trial and punishment for those directly and intellectually responsible for the murders of workers and poor peasants. We need to develop a wide campaign of democratic, working class, peasant and popular mobilization, and take it to the end.