November 27th 2007, by Kiraz Janicke - Venezuelanalysis.com
Caracas, November 27, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has warned powerful Venezuelan business federation, Fedecamaras, against attempts to destabilize the country or attempt a coup in the lead up to the constitutional reform referendum on December 2, after the president of Fedecamaras, Jose Manuel Gonzales, made a call last week to do whatever it takes to stop the reforms from being approved.
In April 2002, business leaders from Fedecamaras played a central role in the military coup that briefly removed Chavez from power. Then president of Fedecamaras, Pedro Carmona Estanga declared himself the illegitimate president of Venezuela before being ousted 48 hours later by massive popular demonstrations together with sections of the military. Some members of Fedecamaras are still under investigation for their role in the coup.
"If the president of Fedecamaras [Jose Manuel Gonzales] persists in his threats towards the Bolivarian government, I will confiscate all the businesses they have," Chavez told more than 800 employers at an event "Employers for Yes to the reforms" in the Hotel ALBA Caracas yesterday.
"Fedecamaras makes this threat without reason, well they have reason, but it is political, not economic," he added.
Chavez also responded to criticisms from Fedecamaras and opposition economists that the reforms will lead to "economic chaos," saying the opposition was responsible for economic chaos when they organized the oil industry shutdown in an attempt to oust him from office, which caused an estimated $10 billion damage to the economy in 2002-2003.
However, he said, Venezuela has made significant economic achievements since then and pointed to fifteen consecutive quarters of sustained economic growth in both the state and private sector, the highest in Latin America. Venezuela's economic expansion looks set to continue with economists predicting a growth rate of between 8-9% at the close of the year.
"The economic growth of Venezuela today is in the top few countries of the planet," Chavez affirmed.
While inflation is also the highest in Latin America, running at nearly 17%, sparked by high government spending, it is significantly down from 36 percent in 1998 when Chavez first came to power, and 100 percent in 1996.
At US $283 a month Venezuela also has the highest minimum wage in Latin America, up from US$30 a month in 1996 and unemployment under the Chavez government has also almost halved from 15 percent in 1999 to 8.3 percent for June 2007, its lowest level in more than a decade.
Differences within the business sector surfaced last week in view of Fedecamaras' pronouncements against the Chavez government and the proposed constitutional reforms as the Fedecamaras section in the state of Bolivar voted to separate from the national business federation.
The decision was made unanimously during an extraordinary assembly of Fedecamaras Bolivar on November 23, convoked to debate a document emitted by the national executive, which they say contradicts the true aims of the business federation and transforms it into "a biased partisan in the service of politics against democratic order and peace of the Republic."
The president of Fedecamaras Bolivar, Senem Torrealba renounced his post as the principal director of the national federation, saying, "We mark our distance from Fedecamaras national because it has deviated from its objectives and its role as a business federation to meddle in activities of the political sector."
"We make a call to the national direction of Fedecamaras once more. We assume, like we could see in 2002, the institution is deviating,"
Separate from his position as leader of Fedecamaras Bolivar, Torrealba also expressed his agreement with the policies of the Chavez government and the pending constitutional reforms.
Alberto Cudemus, president of the Venezuelan Federation of Pig Farming (Feporcina), also made a call for a new business federation separate to Fedecamaras that is respectful of the National Constitution and Venezuelan Law.
Speaking at the event in the Hotel ALBA Caracas, Cudemus continued, "We are here because we have broken with the paradigm of the past, because we have demonstrated our nationalist disposition to assume risks, capacity to adapt ourselves to the changes of the new reforms."
"The traditional leaders have failed employers and the country by their direct participation in perverse politics from the arena of the institutions and business organizations. The traditional businesses have lost all credibility, they promote stoppages, generate conflict contrary to the interest of the country and are being punished by small businesses, by those businesses that generate employment and benefits with social responsibility," he added.
Alejandro Uzcátegui, president of Businesses for Venezuela, (Empreven), (formed after Fedecamaras led the industry shut down in December 2002), which represents 321,000 micro businesses and 2,000 larger companies throughout the country said a small group of employers can no longer impose their will over the majority.
According to Uzcátegui, "reactionary sectors say that the government of Hugo Chavez does not respect private property," however, he said the national government has granted 200 billion bolivars in micro-credits to more than 20,000 micro-businesses for legal, financial and administrative training.