We reproduce here a translation of an interview with Simón Rodríguez Porras, of the Venezuelan Party for Socialism and Freedom. It originally appeared here in Spanish
1- What is the situation of the majority of salaried employees in Venezuela? In addition to the oil industry in cases, where there is registered employment, what are the salaries in dollars and what do they achieve for a person or family?
The government has been applying an inflationary adjustment program, especially in the last five years, reducing the minimum wage from about $300 per month to less than $10 per month. Additionally, it has tended to equalize wage scales downwards, around the minimum wage, ignoring collective bargaining agreements. In this way, more than 80% of Venezuelan wage earners earn below the internationally recognized extreme poverty line, because they do not even make a dollar a day.
These wages imply a regime of semi-slavery because they do not even cover a daily meal for a month. The basic basket of goods exceeds between 15 and 20 times the minimum wage. Because of hyperinflation, this proportion changes from week to week.
2- Originally the “missions” were welfare policies. Have they now become just food rationing, or is there still at least coverage for food for people who because of their employment status or other reasons could not access basic goods? Are there Venezuelans completely out of all help and access to food?
The old missions have receded in their scope due to the brutal cut of social spending on the part of the government to sustain the payments of the external debt. Imports were also cut by more than 80% and GDP was reduced by half. The government’s effort has focused on distributing boxes with some food at a subsidized price, through a mechanism known as CLAP, which is supposed to be universally accessible, for all people who register in a census for that purpose. However, the distribution of such food is used for political extortion, workers and people of the popular sectors are threatened with taking them out of the census if they defend their rights in protests or do not go to vote in fraudulent elections. For the rest, this mechanism does not allow a family to cover their food needs, since the distribution is clearly insufficient, and corruption is widely documented in the purchase of low quality food in Mexico and other countries with surcharges.
3- The mass media in general tend to focus on Caracas as the epicenter of economic and political activity. How is the situation in the rest of the country? Are there reasons to think that Maduro’s policy was progressively strangling Venezuela’s food production capacity?
The situation of the interior is worse than that of the capital. In much of the country there is a shortage of gasoline, power cuts are common, cooking gas is not available, there are problems with access to water.
Venezuela abandoned its agricultural vocation several decades ago by becoming an oil country, subsidizing imports, including food. But that tendency was exacerbated to levels never before seen during the Chavista period. An agrarian reform was not carried out to promote production in the unproductive latifundia, but a small amount of land was distributed to small owners without technical support, and the currency was overvalued, liquidating most of the scarce national food production, favoring the import of finished products and the flight of capital. The advance of organized crime and the proliferation of military checkpoints on national roads in which carriers are extorted are also elements that make food production more expensive and difficult.
4- What is the status of refineries in Venezuela? Is Chavismo leaving an obsolete oil industry, which would make a change in government useless as far as creating economic growth? Or is it a problem of poor administration and low wages? Why are there people who want to leave their jobs in PDVSA?
Venezuela’s oil wages are the lowest in the world, which has forced thousands of workers in all areas to resign and seek work abroad. In addition, Chavismo imposed a wild divestment policy that led the industry to reduce its production from three million barrels per day to one million barrels per day. We went from being an exporter of refined products to having a negative trade balance in refined products, we import more than we export. The workers who have denounced these criminal policies, such as the revolutionaries of the current C-cure and the Socialism and Freedom Party led by the general secretary of the oil workers’ federation, José Bodas, have been persecuted, criminalized and dismissed in many cases. These are framed in a situation where a planned economy tried to overcome the pitfalls given by a certain form of the development of the productive forces.
Most of the production is no longer in the hands of the state-owned company but rather of mixed companies with transnationals such as the Yankee Chevron, which has become a real orgy of imperialist oil looting. It would require large investments in the oil and petrochemical industry to recover production, hence it is necessary to nationalize the oil industry and apply a rational investment policy with resources that are currently squandered or directly plundered by the Chavista bourgeoisie and the transnationals.
5- Is it true that the security forces together with other elements of the bourgeoisie live clearly better than the rest of Venezuelan society? Is this group today the main support of the government? In any case of transition agreed between Maduro and Guaidó, would this group consolidate its power?
Clearly, Venezuela is a capitalist society with a social gap between the bourgeoisie and the truly abysmal working class. There are shopping centers and luxury restaurants where a lunch can cost the same as a worker’s monthly salary. The bourgeois can buy luxury imported products and the latest fashion, have private security and live in fortified mansions. There are both chavista bourgeois and traditional big businessmen who, although they also ultimately accumulate capital based on seizing oil revenues, are politically more akin to the right-wing opposition.
The military leadership is part of the new Chavista bourgeoisie. They own companies that contract with the State, import, control state networks of food distribution, have a mining company, a television channel and even direct PDVSA.
The Yankee intervention and the policy of Guaidó, in addition to counting on finishing the strangulation of the economy with oil sanctions, calculated to produce the greatest misery and suffering possible to the Venezuelan people, focuses on bribing the military with the promise of total impunity for related crimes with human rights, corruption and tax crimes. So far that coup policy has not worked, the military continues to support Maduro and the regime emerged from his own coup in 2016, when Maduro annulled the functions of the opposition parliament and suspended constitutional guarantees. But the sanctions of January this year will plunge the country into much greater chaos in a few weeks. As opponents of the left, we categorically repudiate them.
6- What is the relationship between private and state unions in Venezuela? Are strikes being repressed with the same force as protests in the country? What expectations do bureaucracies have in this crisis, and what do they think combative directions in the country?
In 2018 there were large workers’ protests and some strikes, several of them repressed militarily. Currently there is a great teachers conflict in several states of the country. The government has dozens of political workers prisoners, including the secretary general of the Ferrominera del Orinoco union, Ruben González, and the worker Rodney Alvarez, kidnapped by the government seven and a half years ago without the right to trial. A further demonstration of the anti-worker character of the capitalist government of Maduro, beyond its false socialist discourse.
The militant and left-wing sectors of the workers’ movement, which participate in the Intersectorial of Workers of Venezuela, try to promote an independent policy so that it is the workers and the popular sectors that defeat with their own methods of struggle, such as the general strike, Civic-military regime, closing the way to the criminal intervention of Trump, the European Union and the right-wing governments of the region such as Duque, Bolsonaro and Macri. Who governs Venezuela should be decided by the Venezuelan people, not the Chavez military, let alone the Yankees.
Oaklandsocialist comments: It has been the position for some time that the Venezuelan regime represented a form of bonapartism – in other words, a regime that has partially risen above the major classes in society. In its earlier years, it used the oil income to redistribute wealth downwards. That was of course positive and made it massively popular, but even then, it was not under the control of the working class itself. Then, as the price of oil collapsed, the same regime had to reverse course. As the crisis worsened, it used capital/currency controls to try to prevent massive capital outflows.