Libertador’s Chums win 35 prizes in one month

Venezuela’s children-at-risk are now martial arts champs

Dear Friends,

When two of our members were in Venezuela last December, 2007, they saw children who were rescued from rubbish dumps, and given a new lease on life through new programs designed by the mayor of Liberatador and his team.

There are huge dumps receiving thousands of tons of rubbish daily from many municipalities near and in Libertador. They cause major problems of social and environmental contamination. Argenis Loretto, the mayor of Libertador and one of the architects of the community councils, explained the programs to rescue children working in these garbage dumps, many of whom were on drugs.

A centre for vulnerable children was established, called Liberatdor’s Chums. All the 300 children that came there had worked in the dumps, which are run by criminal mafias and are very dangerous. 98% of these children are now no longer attached to the criminals and are back in school. The children in this centre do karate, in which they win world-level medals, and music: an orchestra and a choir with 20 participants. (For our full account, see the last item in this posting or go to the CVEC blog:

We have just received word that the Libertador’s Chums have won 35 prizes in one month. Following is a translated article received as a news release from the municipality of Liberator press office.

Libertador’s Chums win 35 prizes in one month

Arduous and constant endeavour has brought its rewards to the martial arts artists of the Libertador’s Chums School.

In the national championship of kickboxing on July 19, the team of 20 competitors won 20 prizes, including in boxing, Eastern weapons, breaking solid objects, and personal defense.Then on August 16 the school took part in an international competition in Caracas, with teams from Portugal, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere, and gained a total of 15 prizes.

Among the winners was William Guevara, 17 years of age, who won the lightweight boxing championship competing against much more experienced competitors. Another winner was Angelica Escalona, who holds the pan-American record for breaking solid objects and also won a trophy in use of Eastern weapons.

Their teacher is Carlos Jaen, twice world champion in karate.

The Libertador’s Chums School teaches more than martial arts. It offers a social program that aims at the child or adolescent’s social inclusion and personal training activities that discover his or her potential.
August 27, 2008
Eyewitness Report: December 2007
Rescuing rag-picking children from a rubbish dump:

There is a huge dump in an urban area receiving 2,000 tons of rubbish daily from many municipalities besides Libertador. This causes major problems of social and environmental contamination. We have programs to rescue children working in the dump, many of whom are on drugs. Now they have a space and an orchestra of their own. The music is very effective as a way of expressing violent feelings through the drums and also of giving them a feeling of solidarity. e also have a group called “underground drums” (tambura clandestina” – young women with pots and pans.

Chamos (“chums”) del Libertador: This is an activities centre for vulnerable children. All the 300 children that come here worked in the dump, which is run by criminal mafias and is very dangerous. The trucks thunder past just outside the centre; the dump is located in the middle of the city. 98% of the kids are now no longer working there and are back in school. In this centre they do karate, in which they win world-level medals, and music: an orchestra and a choir with 20 participants. Martial arts serve to release violence and strengthen the youth spiritually and physically. The children learn all branches of martial arts and have competed in national and international games. Women lead in taking on some of the most difficult forms of martial arts just as they do the process as a whole. We witness a performance by an orchestra of 20 children playing drums and brass. The music is in the style of a samba band: very dramatic, with highly complex rhythms and sophisticated coordination among the band members. The skill level is high.

About 30 children give us a martial arts demonstration. They are skilled and courageous; but also mutually supportive, appreciative, and affectionate. Their facilities are very elementary: A cement shelter with bare walls, some cast-off mattresses, a few martial-arts weapons, and some scrap construction materials (very hard to come by), which they demolish with great flair.

Yukpa People Want Legal Title to Its Ancestral Lands

Landowners Attack Venezuelan Indigenous Clamoring for Land Rights in Zulia
August 18th 2008
by James Suggett

Mérida, August 17, 2008 (—A Venezuelan indigenous community belonging to the Yukpa ethnic group, which is demanding legal title to its ancestral lands, was attacked last week by hundreds of armed aggressors. According to the Yukpa, the aggressors were hired by elite landowners to evict the indigenous population from the vast, largely idle pastures in the region known as the Sierra de Perijá near Venezuela’s northwestern border with Colombia.

The attacks were the latest and largest in a string of attempts to intimidate and terrorize a Yukpa community since they intensified their land recuperation efforts efforts over the past year by occupying 14 privately owned estates known as Haciendas.

Last month, prominent estate owner Alejandro Vargas and four others, armed with handguns and machetes, attempted to assassinate the Yukpa cacique (chief) who is leading the occupations, Sabino Romero, and in the process killed Romero’s elderly father.

“They arrived quietly and hit me over the neck with their guns and hit me in the back. They grabbed me by the hair and dragged me and asked for Sabino, yelling dirty words and saying they are going to kill me,” testified Guillermina Romero, Sabino’s daughter, to alternative media groups who were the only journalists who visited the scene.

According to the Venezuelan constitution, ratified by popular vote in 1999, and an Indigenous Peoples Law passed in 2005, the government has the obligation to grant indigenous communities legal title to their ancestral lands.

However, government figures show that out of 67 cases that have been opened by the federal Land Demarcation Commission, 59 remain stalled. Yukpa leaders say the government quietly placed the controversial land demarcation initiative on the political back burner last year, presumably in order to minimize conflict in the runup to this November’s regional and local elections.In addition, land demarcation officials demand geographical and agricultural information that can only be obtained with the cooperation of the powerful and violent hacienda owners. Thus, Yukpa leaders say they have no choice but to trespass on the lands that were stolen from their grandparents over the course of the 20th Century.

As tension mounts, the government led by President Hugo Chávez faces the decision of whether to expel the Yukpa in defense of private property in this semi-fuedal zone or comply with its own land titling initiative by giving collective land titles to the Yukpa, compensating the current owners, and protecting the Yukpa from mercenary attacks.

The National Guard, which did not respond to any of the recent mercenary attacks, has now mounted batallions within a kilometer of the occupying Yukpa community and awaits orders from the state. National Intelligence officials also arrived last Monday, according to alternative media sources at the scene.

According to Guillermina Romero, after Alejandro Vargas shot through the small door of a Yukpa home where he thought Cacique Sabino was hiding in July, he told the Yukpa that pleading to the National Guard or local government will do no good because “I pay all of them.”

Anonymous National Guard officials told independent journalists Monday that the troops expected to receive orders to clear the indigenous communities from the haciendas Tuesday.

The same day, María de Los Angeles Peña, a director of the federal student loan program Fundayacucho and long-time ally of the indigenous struggle, gave a rousing speech in the National Assembly in support of the Yukpa. A simultaneous blitz of well-coordinated alternative media reports throughout the week brought national attention to the issue, and the Yukpa have not been evicted.

The Chavez government has yet to indicate a clear stance on this particular struggle. Last Monday, Chávez declared to an Indo-American Youth Conference in Caracas that “in this historic moment… the indigenous should continue being part of the vanguard.”

“There will be no socialism in these lands of America if we do not incorporate the most profound tradition, cultures, lifestyles, and communitarian modes of production of the aborigines,” proclaimed Chávez.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Nicia Maldonado, denied that there were hundreds of mercenaries who attacked the Yukpa, and said it was really a group of 50 mercenaries. Maldonado reiterated the government’s “intention” to “return the lands which historically correspond to indigenous peoples,” and pledged to visit the lands in dispute to “clarify” the situation.

The minister was accompanied by five Yukpa caciques who oppose the land occupations led by Cacique Romero. They denounced Romero for deviating from “the legal path,” and said Romero’s ecologist allies from the city, who have participated in the occupations, are “the most responsible for the events that have occurred.”

“We live in peace and harmony… It is not our custom to invade,” said Cacique María Teresa Yasphe. “We want to resolve this in peace… respecting the White Man’s law, sitting down with caciques, functionaries, estate owners, and the minister to dialogue.”

Several such meetings have already taken place in Yukpa lands since 2005. In October of that year, an hacienda owner was filmed making what many Yukpa see as another broken promise to “define the indigenous territories so we are all in agreement.”

The caciques allied with Minister Maldonado praised the national government for bringing popular social programs known as “Missions” to the Yukpa, promoting literacy, and bringing modern health care to their communities. Romero, however, envisions a more autonomous path of development protagonized by the Yukpa themselves, and does not agree that the Yukpa have invaded or broken the law.

“The landowners have taken control of lands which by law pertain to us,” said Romero. While the landowners continue deforesting the region to make pastures for their cattle, “we are rescuing crops, cacao, corn, sugar cane, avocado and coffee,” he asserted.The National Cattle Ranchers Federation (FEDENAGA) defended the elite hacienda owners last week by calling the conflict with the Yukpa a “national emergency.”

Aiming for a weak spot of the Chávez administration, which has struggled to combat food shortages and price inflation over the past year, FEDENAGA officials reported that milk production has been reduced by 5,000 liters per day as a result of the occupations.

Regional and local authorities from both opposition and pro-government camps who support the expansion of coal mining in the delicate watershed region have consistently opposed the empowerment of Yukpa, Barí, and Wayúu indigenous communities in the area.

The Yukpa, precariously trespassing on their own lands, have expressed fear that if they are evicted, they will never be allowed to return. As they rely on Venezuelan alternative media for support, it is now the government’s turn to act.

Printed: August 25th 2008,
License: Published under a Creative Commons license (by-nc-nd). See for more information.

Venezuela's Analysis of Bolivian Referendum Results

Venezuela Pledges Strengthened Alliance with Bolivia
James Suggett, August 11
Mérida, August 11, 2008 ( The Venezuelan government congratulated Bolivian President Evo Morales for a successful national referendum Sunday in which Morales’s presidency was ratified by a record 63.1% of the vote. As a show of support, Venezuela, a close ally of the Morales administration, pledged to finance, along with Iran, a cement construction company to help the Bolivian government build housing and economic infrastructure.

“The President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez Frías, together with the Venezuelan people, celebrates the victory achieved by the valiant Bolivian people today,” declared the Venezuelan Foreign Relations Ministry in a statement Sunday.

President Morales and Bolivia’s state governors were submitted to a referendum on their terms in office Sunday. The referendum was a compromise between the government and a separatist movement in Bolivia's wealthiest, most natural resource-rich eastern provinces to establish once and for all whether the federal government, national constitution, and regional leaders are legitimate.

Morales, Bolivia’s first ever indigenous president who was elected in 2005 with 53.7% of the vote, received more than 63% of the vote in his favor Sunday. He received overwhelming support in the western highlands where the indigenous majority of Bolivia is concentrated.

The rural populations in the separatist eastern provinces also voted overwhelmingly for Morales. In the Santa Cruz province, for example, Morales received 33.8% of the vote in the province’s capital, while in the rural areas of that province he received 58.3%.Morales told a crowd of supporters Sunday that the ratification of his term “consolidated the process of change,” and said his government would “continue recovering natural resources and the consolidation of nationalization.”

The mandates of the separatist governors of Bolivia’s four eastern provinces, Santa Cruz, Tarija, Pando and Beni, were also ratified Sunday. In the rest of the country, three governors were recalled; two of them opponents of the Morales administration, and a Morales ally was ratified.

The governor of Santa Cruz called his ratification “the people's mandate” and told a crowd of mostly non-indigenous supporters that the autonomy movement would now move forward against the “dictatorship” of President Morales. Opposition governor Manfred Reyes, who was ousted by the people of Cochabamba province Sunday, refused to step down.

President Chávez, whose presidential term was ratified by popular vote in an opposition-initiated recall referendum in 2004, contacted President Morales personally Sunday to express the “firm intention of the Bolivarian Government to continue accompanying the democratic and cultural revolution advanced by our brotherly people of Bolivia.”

Venezuela and Iran agreed Saturday to grant Bolivia $225 million to create a state-run cement enterprise, according to Bolivia’s vice minister of medium and large businesses, Eduardo Peinado.

“The plant will have the capacity to produce 700 tons of cement per year, and this will be destined principally for the construction of roads and houses for Bolivians,” said Peinado. He added that in Bolivia there are several private cement companies that are controlled by the elite opposition to the government, which seeks to sequester strategic resources in order to destabilize the country.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro assured that Morales's victory would help strengthen the economic cooperation between Bolivia and Venezuela in the context of the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA), a fair trade bloc in which Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Dominica participate as an alternative to the free trade agreements pushed by the United States.

“The empire seems to not understand the processes of change that are going on in Latin America, especially South America, which are aimed at a profound transformation away from the economic model toward the social model,” declared Maduro Monday after celebrating the referendum results he deemed to be “a ratification of the democratic, peaceful path.”
The Chávez administration faces a separatist movement in Venezuela’s principal oil-producing state of Zulia, whose governor, Manuel Rosales, was the opposition candidate who Chávez defeated in the 2006 presidential election. According to pro-Chavez Zulia state legislators, separatist leaders have met with the leaders of separatist movements in both Bolivia and Ecuador with consultation from the United States.

In a press conference on Monday, President Chávez called the Morales victory a “victory of our America, a victory against imperialism.”

Forging Working Class Unity

Encouraging Steps Forward for Venezuela's Union Movement
Federico Fuentes

“As a product of four weeks of meetings between the different currents in the National Union of Workers (UNT), together with important union federations, we have democratically decided, in consultation with the grassroots, that [on September 19-21] we will hold a national congress.

“By no later than February next year, we will go towards a transparent, democratic process of internal elections.”

This important announcement was made by Stalin Perez Borges, a UNT national coordinator and leader of the Marea Socialista (Socialist Tide) current, at a press conference convened by the promoter’s commission for the congress on July 15. It comes after crippling divisions have severely weakened Venezuela’s union movement — at a time when President Hugo Chavez has called for the working class to be at the forefront of the push to construct a “socialism of the 21st century”.

Present at the press conference were UNT national coordinators, leaders of the majority of union currents, representatives from numerous national and regional federations as well as from 12 regional union centrals from across Venezuela.

These announcements mark an important step forward in forging working class unity and come at a time of an upturn in struggle as well as further steps towards union democratisation.

Formed out of the struggle by the workers to defeat the bosses’ lockout in December 2002-January 2003, which aimed to overthrow the Chavez government, the UNT brought together the pro-revolution unions and federation. It quickly became the dominant central in the country, surpassing the corrupt pro-capitalist Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) that had backed the lock-out.However, internal divisions led to its second national congress, held in 2006, splitting in two and the UNT ceasing to function at a national level.

Divisions further deepened with the appointment of Jose Ramon Rivero as labour minister in early 2007, who used his position to favour the current from which he came, the Bolivarian Socialist Force of Workers (FSBT), and attack the others.

However, a series of recent events has opened up a new phase.

One of the most significant was the government’s decision to re-nationalise the Sidor steel works, one of the most important in Latin America, after an 18-month struggle by its work force.

Perez Borges explained to Green Left Weekly that “the historic victory of the Sidor workers, who demonstrated in practice the results of unity” had been fundamental to opening up new space.

Not long after, Rivero was replaced as labour minister by Roberto Hernandez. Rivero sided with Sidor’s multinational owners, and, just before his sacking, had also publicly backed plans by the FSBT to split the UNT to form a new federation.

Since then, plans have been underway for a number of important elections within union federations. The lack of democratic elections for union leaderships has been a key source of tensions between the different currents and discontent among the rank-and-file.

In the teachers’ union, the slate of the Bolivarian Educators (which supports relaunching the UNT), won national elections by a wide margin against the slate of the FSBT.

Moreover, in the important public sector federation, with elections four years overdue, nearly all the currents together with the labour ministry have been able to agree to hold elections on October 1. At the same time, they have reopened discussions on their collective contract, which expired over a decade ago.

Only the FSBT has refused to be a part of this process.

Important elections are also set to be held shortly in the United Steel Industry Workers’ Union (SUTISS), the union of Sidor workers, and a newly formed federation of petroleum workers that unites the four main unions in that sector.On July 29, the FSBT is set to organise a workers’ mobilisation to accompany it in legalising its new central, announced without any discussion with the other union currents, and which initially had the support of the presidents of 12 major union federations.

“These events are not coincidental” explained Orlando Perez from Bolivarian Educators, whose victory has cost the FSBT one of its allies in its project for a new central, at the press conference.

“Since the re-election of President Chavez [in December 2006], within the revolutionary movement an internal struggle has broken out. The different positions are due to this ideological struggle, which cannot just be defined as between the government and the opposition. It has to do with what type of socialism we support.”

“We are at a crossroads, and it is incumbent on us to push for unity, despite our differences, we have to apply a criterion of unity in diversity, in order to build instruments of the workers: unions, federations and a central.”

Angel Navas, recently re-elected president of the Federation of Electrical Workers, Fetralec — another federation that the FSBT had initially counted on to support its project — stated that the recent announcements marked “an important step forward in effort to find unity”.

Navas argued that everyone should first put their efforts into building the central, within which differences could be debated. This could help realise “the dream of workers for a powerful central that supports this process and supports the workers in releasing their social creativity and who want to transform themselves and their country”.

Ramon Piedra, from the Cruz Villegas current that is aligned with the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), announced that they had decided to move towards dissolving their separate central, the United Confederation of Venezuela Workers (CUTV), in order to push for the maximum unity of the workers’ movement.

“If there is something that this revolution needs”, argued Orlando Chirinos, a UNT national coordinater and leader of the CCURA current, “it is a central that can win the hearts and minds of … millions of workers.”

Felix Martinez, representative of the soon to be legalised united federation of automobile industry workers added: “What we need is unity, within a central there can be differences, but we need unity in order to raise the consciousness of the workers. Division does nothing to help raise the consciousness, organisation and mobilisation of the working class.”

Replying to the statements made by the president of the Venezuela Confederation of Industries, Eduard Gomez Sigala, that one of the major causes of insufficient production was labour conflicts that are “increasing in number”, and caused by unions “trying to impose their revolution”, Marcela Maspero, UNT coordinator and head of the Workers in Revolution Collective, said that the real cause was the exploitation of workers by the capitalists.“We are clear that what unites us is that we agree with the socialist project. The path is socialism and the working class … has to be the spearhead of this process.”

All those present called on all the other national coordinators of the UNT, as well as unions and federations, to come to the discussion table and be part of the new unity process.