feature: Latin America

Submitted by AWL on 7 December, 2002 - 10:18

Where there's oil...

By Gerry Byrne

"Where there's muck there's brass" used to be the slogan of manufacturing capitalists. You might equally say: "Where there's oil there's blood." With threatened war and continuing destabilisation in the Middle East, global capital wants to keep an eye on the next largest oil-producing region, Latin America.

Venezuela is the world's fourth biggest oil-producer and a main oil exporter to the US. Oil revenues are Ecuador's largest export earner. Colombia, already the US's seventh largest oil exporter, has vast unexplored sources of oil and natural gas, which has led to atrocities and forcible removal of the people who live in these areas.

Ecuador: Left wins but appeases the IMF

There was some jubilation when Col Lucio Gutierrez, candidate of the left and the indigenous Ecuadoreans, won the presidency with 54% of valid votes, against 46% for his opponent, Ecuador's richest man, the banana billionaire Alvaro Noboa.

Gutierrez campaigned on a platform of fighting corruption and poverty, but is keen not to appear too threatening to international capital. He campaigned in military uniform, proclaiming himself "centre-left" and a devout Christian. ""My government is going to be one of national unity," said Mr Gutierrez. "It will include honest businessmen, honest bankers and social movements."

He promised to keep all existing contracts and agreements.
As president-elect, along with incumbent Gustavo Noboa (no relation to Alvaro) he has agreed to restart talks with the International Monetary Fund for a stand-by loan.

Two months ago, the Noboa administration broke off negotiations with the IMF, complaining the loan conditions were too stringent!

Gutierrez has said the IMF might demand tough and unpopular measures, like fuel price rises and public spending cuts, but that he would not agree to policies which would harm Ecuadoreans.
He was backed by indigenous groups, unions and many of the 60% of Ecuadoreans who live in poverty, against the three traditional political parties who control the legislature and have sworn to oppose him.

He has pledged to fight corruption and to provide cheap housing and free health care, but he must also generate a budget surplus to pay off $14bn of public debt. To get a sense of what that debt means: Ecuador's population is 13m, and average annual income $1,200. So to pay off the debt requires more than the combined annual income of the entire population.

Venezuela: bosses call a "general strike"

Venezuela is in the grip of its fourth "general strike" this year. A very peculiar general strike, supported by the bosses' organisation, Fedecameras, which was implicated in the abortive coup attempt earlier this year in April.

There is a propaganda war over how successful the "strike" or general lock-out is, with Manuel Cova, secretary-general of the Venezuelan Confederation of Workers (CTV) claiming that 80% of the workforce was adhering to the strike. Labour Minister Marìa Iglesias, meanwhile, reported 80% of workers showed up at their jobs on Monday.

Media reports from the Venezuelan interior indicated that the strike was observed by most privately owned manufacturers and retailers, and by the education, health, construction and transport sectors. However, activities continued normally in the petroleum and natural gas industry, in heavy manufacturing and in electrical, telecommunications and water services. In Caracas, ground and subway transportation remained in operation, though the capital reflected the country's political polarisation.

The streets of the city's largely middle-class eastern districts were deserted, while in the lower-income west, there was a hubbub of activity. And the main avenue downtown was transformed into a big food market, organised by the government and protected by the military.

Colombia: peace with the death squads, war on the unions

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, having placed large areas of the country under effective martial law under the Zones of Rehabilitation and Consolidation (strategically established in oil-rich areas in which Occidental, Chevron, Harken and Repsol currently hold contracts) has opened peace negotiations with the paramilitary AUC (United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia). AUC is held responsible for Colombia having the highest murder rate of trade unionists in the world, with over 200 assassinated in the last year and tens of thousands being issued with death threats.

This has not stopped opposition to Uribe's austerity measures, including 30% public sector wage cuts. In September, combined efforts by government employees, peasants and students brought much of the capital to a standstill and displayed powerful resistance in cities across the country. In Bogota, 150,000 government employees staged a 24-hour strike, closing oil refineries, airports, hospitals, courts, schools and government offices. Throughout Colombia, more than 100,000 peasants ignored military and paramilitary threats and marched against the economic reforms and the implementation of the FTAA.

Zanon: a year of occupation
By Paul Hampton

Zanon is a ceramics factory in Neuquén, south-west Argentina. Workers took over the factory on 1 October 2001after the management attempted to sack nearly 50% of the workforce.
Four months after the start of the occupation the workers re-established production. They are now able to pay themselves wages of $800 per month - everyone gets the same amount. There are about 150 workplaces under occupation in Argentina. The Zanon workers have faced several attempts to evict them, which they have successfully prevented.

Two workers are currently on a speaking tour of Europe at the invitation of Italian trade unions. They are speaking at a public meeting at Conway Hall in London on Thursday 12 December at 7.30pm. The meeting is called by the Argentine Solidarity Campaign.

Mexican trade unionists' tour success

The recent visit by two Mexican trade unionists, Josefina Ponce and Gabriela Cabrera, from the Kuk Dong-Mexmode independent union SITEMEX was a great success.

The women spoke at the No Sweat conference on 23 November. In the days before the conference they met young British union organisers to exchange information and experiences at a GMB-sponsored meeting in London, attended a reception hosted by Battersea and Wandsworth TUC, and spoke to a number of journalists from the English and Spanish-speaking media.

In the days after the conference the two women made a short speaker-tour of colleges and towns. They were well received at Sheffield, Edinburgh universities and 130 attended their meeting in Durham University.

In Sheffield they spoke at the Trades Council, and 90 students and workers attended at T&G-hosted meeting in Edinburgh.

In Newcastle Gaby and Josefina met the mayor before speaking to 35 trade unionists and students.

The Newcastle organisers described the visit as "a huge success". Jill Hall, the organiser of the Durham meeting, said: "It was a fantastic evening and I was really pleased to see so many people there."

No Sweat is now making arrangements to send a union-student activist delegation to Mexico in August 2003 to establish firmer links with independent Mexican workers' organisations and to report on sweatshop conditions in the Mexican maquila sector.

No Sweat: PO Box 36707, London SW9 8YA. Tel: 07904 431959.

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