A statement by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network
December 10, 2008
The Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network condemns the murder of Venezuelan trade unionist Simon Caldera, who was shot in Aragua state on December 4. Caldera was a leader of the pro-revolution Bolivarian Construction and Industry Union.
Caldera is the fourth trade unionist to be murdered in one week in Aragua. His murder follows the shocking killings of three pro-revolution militants from the National Union of Workers (UNT) - Richard Gallardo, Luis Hernandez and Carlos Requena - on November 27. All four were victims of drive-by shootings.
The assassination by hired killers of activists organising oppressed people to win their rights has mainly been used in recent years by large landowners against supporters of land reform in Venezuela. More than 150 land reform activists have been killed since the revolutionary government of President Hugo Chavez began its land reform policies in 2001 – policies that benefit impoverished campesinos at the expense of large landowners.
Such murderous actions are an attempt by the rich elite to use violence and terror to protect their interests against the advances of a powerful movement of the oppressed in Venezuela. Under the revolutionary leadership of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela now has the highest minimum wage in Latin America and many pro-worker laws have been implemented.
The capitalist bosses' attacks on these union activists follows the elites’ defeat at the ballot box. On November 24, more than 5 million people voted for the pro-Chavez candidates in the regional elections, winning 17 out of 22 states and more than 80% of municipalities in a poll that was understood as a virtual referendum on constructing "socialism of the 21st century".
In Aragua, the anti-worker, pro-capitalist governor Didalco Bolivar lost the elections to a member of Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). This vote clearly indicated the people’s desire for change in a state where the police have a history of repressing workers' struggles.
The Bolivarian revolution has made enormous steps forward in tackling poverty and securing basic human rights for the majority in Venezuela. However, the murder of these activists makes it clear that there remains in Venezuela powerful counter-revolutionary forces willing to use any means to destroy the movement of the oppressed and maintain their own privileges.
Gallardo, Hernandez and Requena were all participants in an industrial dispute involving the Colombian-owned Alpina food processing company, leading to speculation that the attack was carried out by right-wing Colombian paramilitaries hired by the company. The day before, the Alpina workers had also been attacked by the police.
Workers in Aragua responded to the killings immediately, with 17 trade unions taking to the streets and blocking major highways in days of protests.
Speaking at the inauguration of the new governor of Aragua, Chavez called for a full investigation into the killings, declaring: "In Venezuela we cannot permit the installation of this perversion, these hired assassinations." Chavez also said that the Aragua police force must be completely transformed and threatened to nationalise any company that violated workers' rights.
These responses of the working people in Aragua and the revolutionary Chavez government show the determination of the Venezuelan people to defeat such violence.
All trade unionists and other supporters of workers' rights and social justice should stand with the Chavez government and Aragua’s workers to condemn in the strongest possible terms the use of such terrorist acts against the people, and to demand that those responsible face justice.
The AVSN offers its condolences to the families and comrades of the four murdered trade unionists — killed for their courageous struggle for working people’s rights. This tragedy only strengthens our determination to build greater international solidarity with the Venezuelan people and their Bolivarian revolution.