Support Venezuela’s right to sovereignty! Sign-on Statement

Stop ExxonMobil’s theft from the poor!
Support Venezuela’s right to sovereignty!

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United States oil giant ExxonMobil Corporation has launched a major attack on the Venezuelan people’s right to independence and self-determination.

In January and February, ExxonMobil used the courts in Britain, the US and the Netherlands to get injunctions that freeze up to $12 billion in assets of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), in those countries. The British injunction, granted on January 24 without any prior notice to PDVSA, will be heard again on February 22. The US injunction was upheld by a February 13 ruling of the US Federal Court.

ExxonMobil’s economic thuggery is an attempt to undermine and reverse the Venezuelan government’s decision last May to nationalise ExxonMobil’s 41.7% stake in the Cerro Negro project in the Orinoco oilfield. The nationalisation was part of the revolutionary government’s efforts to recover Venezuela’s sovereignty over its natural resources. ExxonMobil rejected the Venezuelan government’s offer of compensation, instead using the legal system in various First World countries to punish the country. In contrast, France’s Total and Norway’s Statoil have agreed to accept from Venezuela close to $1 billion compensation for part of their holdings in the oil project.

ExxonMobil is the world’s largest oil company, and was a key “stakeholder” in the US’s bloody invasion and occupation of Iraq. The corporation’s attack on Venezuela is a continuation of its aggressive response to any government daring to assert its nation’s right to own and control their natural resources. More fundamentally, the attack also aims to destabilise Venezuela and undermine the socialist revolution being constructed by the Venezuelan people.

PDVSA accounts for some 90% of Venezuela's foreign exchange and half of its federal tax revenue, and it is the crucial source of funds for the Venezuelan government's programs that provide free education and health care to the poor. In 2006, the state-owned oil company spent $13.3 billion on such programs, up from $6.9 billion in 2005 and more than double the $5.8 billion it invested in new domestic gas and oil projects.

ExxonMobil’s actions have angered poor Venezuelans, who have held protests around the country. As oil workers’ union leader Luis Carvajal said: “This transnational has exploited our wealth, has exploited our workers and violated our rights. All the workers in the Orinoco oil belt support the nationalisation.”

Venezuela supplies about 10% of the US’s oil. On February 14, PDVSA halted oil supplies to ExxonMobil and the government is now considering suspending oil supplies to the US. As Venezuela's energy minister, Rafael Ramirez, has emphasised, the interests of the Venezuelan nation are more important than any corporation, and Venezuela will not back down from its policy of full oil sovereignty.

In light of these events, we the undersigned:

•Support the Venezuelan government’s efforts to defend and extend the Venezuelan people’s common ownership and control over Venezuela’s natural resources, and defend the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela’s right to assert its social, political and economic sovereignty.

•Condemn ExxonMobil’s economic blackmail against Venezuela and call for it to immediately withdraw its legal campaign against PDVSA.

•Reject as illegitimate and immoral the British, US and Dutch courts’ order to freeze PDVSA’s assets. Only Venezuela, through its own courts and in accordance with its own Constitution, has the right to decide the ownership and control of the resources in its territory. So-called “international arbitration” on Venezuela’s resources via courts in the First World countries is colonialism.

•Stand in solidarity with the protest actions of Venezuela’s people, trade unions and social organisations against ExxonMobil and the US government’s economic and political thuggery, and commend the words of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “They will never rob us again, those bandits of ExxonMobil”.

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Serious Attack on Venezuela by Oil Companies

Big Oil's Victory in Venezuela

ExxonMobil has won a court battle to freeze $12 billion in assets of Petroleos de Venezuela as compensation for nationalization of projects.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has repeatedly seized assets of international oil companies operating in the country as part of his socialist revolution. Now, Big Oil is striking back.

ExxonMobil (XOM) said on Feb. 7 that courts in Britain and the U.S. had granted its requests to freeze more than $12 billion in assets of Venezuela's state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). ExxonMobil is seeking compensation for the nationalization of two oil projects in the country that are together worth several billion dollars.

"The freezing order prohibits PDVSA from disposing of its assets worldwide up to a value of $12 billion," ExxonMobil spokeswoman Margaret Ross said in a prepared statement. The company "has also obtained attachment orders from courts in the Netherlands and Netherlands Antilles against PDVSA assets in each of these jurisdictions up to $12 billion." All court orders are subject to appeal, she said.

Bad Timing for PDVSA

A Petroleos de Venezuela spokeswoman confirmed the company had been informed of ExxonMobil's actions, but she declined further comment. Western oil executives in Venezuela said the orders would make it difficult for PDVSA to transfer assets as pending arbitration battles heat up.

ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips (COP) have said they invested more than $3.5 billion in their Venezuelan heavy-crude oil ventures. Both ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips filed arbitration requests last year with the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes. Arbitration is still in its preliminary phases, and a final decision could be years away. "What Exxon did makes perfect sense. They want to make sure that there is something they can get," says James Williams, who heads the London (Ark.)-based WTRG oil consultancy firm. "They are trying to make sure that Chávez doesn't do an end run, that he doesn't seek to circumvent the process by selling assets."

ExxonMobil's actions couldn't have come at a worse time for PDVSA, which is struggling to raise money as part of its $77 billion investment program to more than double the country's oil production to 5.8 million barrels a day by 2012. Venezuela is hoping international oil companies will provide about a third of the funds.

Seizing Stakes from Six Oil Giants
Venezuela's move to assume majority control of the projects was the latest example of emerging oil producers placing greater demands on global oil giants, many of which struck exploration and production deals years ago when oil prices were much lower. Russia has pushed BP (BP) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSA) to agree to less favorable terms on large projects in Siberia and the Far East.

The Orinoco Belt, a basin near the Orinoco River, is believed to hold up to 235 billion barrels of crude. Global oil companies were awarded contracts in the 1990s to take extra-heavy crude, which has the consistency of tar, and refine it to higher, more profitable blends for export. Venezuela began changing its royalty agreements with the oil companies in October, 2004. At that time, companies were paying 1% of the value of oil extracted from the ground. That was unilaterally raised to 16.67%, and then to 30%.
Last July, Venezuela forced six oil giants, including ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, to hand over equity stakes of 60% or more in four important ventures to PDVSA. Four of the companies, including Chevron (CVX), BP, France's Total (TOT), and Norway's Statoil (STO), agreed to the handover. The seizures included ExxonMobil's Cerro Negro affiliate and its profit-sharing venture to develop the La Ceiba oil field.
While ConocoPhillips retained a minority interest in a venture developing an offshore natural gas field, Exxon sold its 49 branded gas stations in Venezuela last June and has no other operations in the country.

PDVSA's Financial Position
Venezuela is counting on developing its heavy oil reserves to boost its overall oil output. Oil production has declined 25% since Chávez took office in 1999, in large part because he fired more than 20,000 experienced PDVSA engineers and executives after they joined a 2002-03 walkout seeking Chávez's removal from office.

Although PDVSA is benefiting from high oil prices, it is also being asked by Chávez to funnel many of its revenues to government-run social development programs. In 2006, the oil company spent $13.3 billion on such programs, up from $6.9 billion in 2005. That figure is more than double what the company invested in oil and natural gas projects. (No figures are available for 2007.)

Questions about PDVSA's financial health were raised on Feb. 7 by the newspaper El Universal, which reported that the company took on $13.1 billion in new debt last year. The company's overall debt now stands at $16 billion, the newspaper said, citing PDVSA documents. The government-owned company has to make payments of $2.9 billion this year.

Fallout for Citgo?
It is unclear what impact, if any, the freeze will have on PDVSA's major U.S. investment, oil refiner and distributor Citgo. The state oil company bought a 50% share in Citgo in 1986 and acquired the remaining half in January, 1990. As a wholly-owned subsidiary of PDVSA, Citgo is privately held and does not reveal earnings or profits. However, PDVSA currently supplies around 10.5% of U.S. oil imports. When asked if the freeze on PDVSA's assets in the U.S. would affect Citgo's operations, Fernando Garay, the company's spokesperson, said: "We have no immediate comment."

PDVSA's physical assets in the U.S. include three crude-oil refineries owned by Citgo and 43 petroleum product terminals it owns or operates throughout the country. Citgo's refineries, located in Lake Charles, La.; Lemont, Ill.; and Corpus Christi, Tex., are capable of refining a total of 749,000 barrels of crude daily and typically process around 300,000 barrels a day of Venezuelan crude oil. In 2006, Citgo sold nearly 12.4 billion gallons of gasoline through approximately 8,000 Citgo-branded retail service stations operated by independent owners.
Over the past two years, Chávez has periodically threatened to cut off oil supplies to the U.S. and has criticized President George W. Bush, calling him the "devil." However, Chávez, who has curried favor throughout Latin America and the Caribbean by selling oil to friendly nations at a steep discount, for the past three years has ordered Citgo to donate millions of gallons of heating oil to poor Americans, calling it "humanitarian aid."

Since November, 2005, Citgo, in a program promoted as "From the Venezuelan Heart to the U.S. Hearths," has donated more than 60 million gallons of heating oil to be distributed free to needy Americans in 18 states and Washington, D.C., through Citizens Energy, a nonprofit group run by Joseph Kennedy II. This year, the program will donate another 45 million gallons to a quarter-million households in 23 states. Citgo is also the largest corporate sponsor of the Muscular Dystrophy Assn.

Wilson is a special correspondent based in Caracas, Venezuela.
With Geri Smith in Mexico City.

The Struggle Continues: Support the Mohawks of Tyendinaga and Shawn Brant

Canada’s Original Sin
by Jonah Gindin

In my lifetime, First Nations struggle has forced itself upon public consciousness in Canada, against all odds. That is no small feat in a country that is still an active Colonial power.

That may seem like an antiquated term, but consider that Canada is actively engaged in the subjugation of indigenous nations in this country (in addition to the peoples of Haiti and Afghanistan abroad). The theft of Native land, and the intentional destruction of Native culture has resulted in a two-tiered society in which Native peoples are 7 times more likely to be the victim of violent crime than non-natives, native women are 5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted (most often by non-native men), native youth are 6 times more likely to commit suicide, and over half of native people living on reserves in Canada are without adequate housing or safe drinking water.

A recent study shows that on some reserves, the suicide rate is as much as 800 times the national average, while on others there has not been a single suicide in 15years. The difference? Resistance. On reserves where suicide is not a problem, Native peoples are actively fighting to preserve traditional lands, culture and asserting their right to self-government.

On reserves where it is an epidemic, the community is defeated, not currently engaged in this kind of active struggle. So resistance to colonialism is literally a question of survival for Native peoples in Canada. Most of the time, however, we never hear about Native communities’ daily struggle for dignity and survival unless we happen to be driving on the road/rail line, working in the building/etc.., affected by a protest. Over the last two years that has begun to change. 2006 and 2007 saw a general increase in the intensity and frequency of native protest, and a corresponding inability for the media and the government to keep these protests from public view.The struggle on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory is emblematic of the way Canadian authorities (provincial, federal, civil, military) deal with native demands for justice, so here’s a lightning-quick overview: The Culbertson Tract was stolen from the Mohawks in 1832. In 2003, the federal government acknowledged that the land belongs to the Mohawk people, but while the government stalled in negotiations a portion of the Culbertson Tract itself was literally being trucked away by quarry operator Thurlow Aggregates at a rate of more than 100,000 tonnes per year. In response, members of the Mohawk community occupied the quarry in March. Meanwhile, the provincial and federal governments play “pass the buck,” and refuse to take any meaningful steps toward returning stolen land. Their preferred course of action is repression.

Shawn Brant is a spokesperson for the Mohawks of Tyendinaga. He is currently facing charges for participating in the rail and highway blockades. The Crown wants Shawn to spend 12 years in a federal penitentiary. Shawn is just one member of a community that has taken a brave and historic stand in defense of its sovereignty. The targeted harassment of Shawn is the government’s attempt to say this is the isolated work of one marginalized radical. The fact is that Tyendinaga participated in and supported the blockades and the reclamation of the quarry as a community, and it will continue this struggle whether Shawn is at home with his family where he belongs, or locked up in prison.

Last Spring, in the lead up to the June 29th National Aboriginal Day of Action, Shawn called on non-native people in this country to establish a new relationship with native peoples. But despite the fact that several polls conducted around the time of the highway blockades showed non-native approval of native land rights at over 70 per cent, and approval of direct action such as rail blockades at over 50 per cent(!), we as non-natives failed to live up to Shawn’s invitation.Sue Collis, a long-time anti-poverty and native-rights activist and Shawn’s wife put it best when she spoke at an event in Toronto last year. “The question is what is the non-Native community going to do, because the government at Queen’s Park and the government in Ottawa - that’s not Mohawk government, that’s not First Nations government, that’s the government of the Canadian people.”

This is more than merely a ‘human rights’ or ‘moral’ or even just a ‘social justice’ issue. This is Canada’s original sin, upon which every other injustice committed in its name is compounded. Whether you are primarily concerned with homelessness and poverty in this country, Canadian-supported sweat-shops abroad, military occupation, or general issues of equality, First Nations struggle is a logical starting point. Not only that, it is also the most dynamic form of resistance to injustice today. Look around you, and ask yourself who is resisting with as much conviction, integrity and consistency as First Nations peoples? We have much to learn from these struggles, and much to gain in supporting them.

Return the Land Now! Drop the Charges Against Shawn Brant!

Want to know what you can do?

•Have your class write a letter of support. Send it to support.tmt[at]

•Invite a trained facilitator from the Tyendinaga Support Committee to give a presentation to your class or to teachers at your school on the issues surrounding Shawn Brant’s trial and the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory quarry reclamation. Write to

•Make a donation:
Tyendinaga Legal Defence Fund
c/o 10 Britain Street
Toronto, ON
M5A 1R6
Funds raised will be split between Shawn Brant’s legal costs, and the purchase of materials needed to winterize the Quarry in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

•Stay informed by checking the website for regular updates, new information and upcoming actions and the Tyendinaga Support e-mail list:

Join the Free Shawn Brant Facebook group.

•In Toronto, join the Tyendinaga Support
Committee: support.tmt[at]

Sign the petition
*Thanks to the excellent materials generated by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, and by the Tyendinaga Support Committee, from which this article draws heavily.

25 Women Receive Diplomas From Popular Construction School

Chávez Strikes Back at the Local Level
By Ron Ridenour for Axis of
Jan. 28, 2008

Today in La Victoria, Venezuela, the Ministry of Housing and Habitat (MHH) graduated 25 [Venezuelan] women from the “Popular Construction Schools”, created as a grass roots quality control system for new housing construction.

"Before our revolution began, only men knew about engineering and constructing houses. Today, you are the first women in the state of Aragua, who have learned the knowledge of construction, and will soon learn the sense of ownership,” Zunilde Jugardo said at the graduation ceremony.

These young and middle-aged women, nearly all mothers, have just completed a 16-week course to learn about the quality construction of homes.

They will watch the construction of their own residences, and those of 146 other families in this city in the state of Aragua one hour west of Caracas. Their task is to assure that the proper quantity of materials is used and that a high quality of work is performed.

The Ministry of Housing and Habitat (MHH) is responsible for these “Popular Construction Schools”, created as a grass roots quality control system. The Ministry finances the housing projects, Mission Villanueva, for those who are most needy. They also hire the construction builders.

Given a long history of poor quality of construction, in many cases, and of skimming materials—resulting in pre-mature deterioration of buildings—the grass roots Urban Land Committees (CTU-Comites de Tierra Urbana) are learning how to be qualified “vigilantes”.

The CTC decides who has first priority for housing, and through the CTC some future homeowners decide to take the quality control courses. The MHH pays these students 300 Bolivars ($140) a month for the 16-week course.

Today, Calixto A.U. Tovar, national coordinator of the Popular Construction Schools, came from Caracas to assist in presenting the diplomas to the proud women, dressed in revolutionary red blouses and caps.
(photo by Ministry of Housing and Habitat)

Several hundred thousands of new houses have been built or are in the process in various parts of Venezuela. The prices are reasonable with low-interest credit. The first five years are free of payment for many. A census of how many houses have been built and should be built by the end of the year is to be announced next month, Tovar told Axis of Logic.

Zunilde is the woman who proposed “India Urquía” as the name for these new houses. Urquía was the wife of an Indian fighter against the invading Spanish colonialists. Zunilde proposed this idea to President Hugo Chavez as a symbol of unity of all the bloods of Venezuela, all of which run through the veins of Chavez and Zunilde.

The 171 houses are expected to be finished this November when city and state elections will be held.

This housing program is one example of the response by central government to forestall the undermining of popular support by the counter-revolutionaries. The outcome of the November, 2008 mayoral and state governor elections will determine the direction of the revolution.

Many people, including those who have supported President Chavez in the past, have been disappointed by the lack of progress made in maintaining local infrastructure, disruption of food distribution, and corruption at the local level. Here in La Victoria, Mayor Rosa Leon, an aspirant of the new party, PSUV (Popular Socialist Unity of Venezuela) is up for re-election. The PSUV will have its founding congress in two months. There are nearly six million aspirants nationwide. The governor of the state of Aragua, Didalco Bolivar, a member of Podemos, which broke with the Chavez referendum process last December, is also up for reelection.