The ghost of privatisation is increasingly visible in Venezuela. With an economy in a state of severe crisis, beaten down and besieged by US sanctions, the Bolivarian government's response has been to grant more and more concessions to capital. Whether in policy decisions or in official discourse, the private sector is presented as the actor which will solve the Venezuelan crisis.
The increased opening up of the economy to the private sector [under the banner of “strategic alliances”] occurs through several mechanisms.
One is deregulation, with the elimination of exchange or tariff controls, through which the government claims it can stimulate investment. Another is to involve private companies directly into state activities, such as the Local Food Production and Provision Committees (CLAP). Finally, there is the partial or complete privatisation of state assets, from transport companies to the oil industry.
Tatuy TV spoke with Aroldo Perez about the [so-called] "strategic alliance" which is occurring at the Pedro Camejo Company in Portuguesa State. Perez is a spokesman for the Río Buchí Commune and, together with the commune, is fighting to demand transparency about the situation and the recovery of the company.
Concerning the alliances with the private sector, Perez denounced that "there is a tendency to privatise" which is justified by the economic situation and the US blockade.
"These ‘strategic alliances’ threaten the original [politico-economic] project of empowering the people,” he explained. The move is “being justified [by the government], and we watch it with great concern," he continued, pointing to the fact that the interests of the bourgeoisie are antagonistic to the struggles of the people.
Equally, Perez had no hesitation in calling the policy of alliances with the private sector "a betrayal” and rejected the idea that there is no alternative.
"We recognise that there is an economic war going on, but we the people also have strength, we have experience, and we can assume the responsibility of running these firms. There is time to correct these actions which may have consequences for the immediate future for the Bolivarian Revolution," he said.
The case of Pedro Camejo
The Pedro Camejo Socialist Company was created in 2007 by Commander Hugo Chavez. Through different agreements with companies in Argentina, Brazil, China and Iran, the company looked to equip small and medium-sized farmers with agricultural machinery. Alongside land redistribution, the goal was to boost sovereign food production in the Venezuelan countryside.
In the company, the recent economic crisis has been reflected by a pattern of divestment and bankruptcy that opens the way to privatisation. This cycle only increases the problems for small farmers, with investment and financing directed towards large agricultural and agro-industrial producers.
"The company is already privatised,” Perez said. “For example, in case of the facilities in Turen, Portuguesa State, a private surveillance company was brought in and the people can no longer access the property.” He also stated that there is currently no auditing of the machinery which is being passed over to the new owners.
Perez also noted that the case of the company in Portuguesa State is not unique. Under the concept of "decentralisation," many state assets are being transferred to local governors, which then open them up to private actors. Domestic gas is one example of this with the creation of joint ventures such as the Nevado Gas Company in Merida State.
Likewise, in addition to the Pedro Camejo Company, other firms in the region are being transferred into private hands, such as the Santa Elena Sugar Plant.
Another important case is that of the Pedro Camejo Company in Lara State, where authorities are considering the privatisation of the company's national headquarters.
In Portuguesa State, the "alliance" has been made with an entrepreneur close to the governor, who owns large quantities of land and machinery. For security reasons, Perez chose not to name the actors involved but he did mention that the new owners intend to restore the machinery and provide the same services, but that the prices would be completely unaffordable for small-scale farmers.
A particularly symbolic aspect of the privatisation of the Pedro Camejo Company is that the murals on the walls of the premises were painted over, and that the bust of the national hero and independence fighter Pedro Camejo was removed, according to Perez.
"It's a message: erase everything Commander Chavez built," he concluded, while appealing to President Nicolas Maduro to review this strategy.
Rescuing the company
"Our fundamental goal is to get [Pedro Camejo] back into the hands of the people," Perez said conclusively. He stressed, however, that all actions will be taken "within the framework of the constitution.”
"We are a responsible people, who assume social struggle with maturity," he explained. The current fight is to bring the communes and campesino movements together in defence of what is a fundamental instrument for agricultural production. The Pedro Camejo workers' union is also involved.
Given that decentralisation is often accompanied by the liberalisation of labour conditions and redundancies, the workers’ union is also set to join the fight to recover the company, although nothing has been announced yet.
"The union, the communes, and the campesino movement are all united on the issue. The unity of all the currents of the organised people is vital to defend what historically belongs to us," he emphasised. "We are one class, and we identify with each other through a common purpose and project."
Perez insisted that the first step should be to review the legal basis of the agreements being established with the private company. Next, and keeping the company's rescue in sight, popular movements propose setting up work groups with the governor’s office to accompany the process and ensure maximum possible transparency.
The communal spokesman acknowledges that the management of state-owned enterprises has often suffered from bad decision making, and goes on to question the "principles and values" of the people assigned to leadership roles. At the same time, he notes that the people also have "co-responsibility" in the current situation, and that one of the challenges for the revolution is to "turn these mistakes into victories."
The fledgling Communard Union, Perez argued, creates favourable conditions for the struggle, and has a responsibility to "rescue the Chavista revolutionary spirit.”
It is an organisation which seeks to bring different manifestations of popular power together into a national political platform, and several communes that integrate it have a history of fighting for the ownership of the means of production.
Finally, Perez insisted that the Pedro Camejo Company "must go back to the original objective, as Commander Chavez defined it, which was to provide small and medium-sized campesinos with the tools to have an effective, quality and technical crop production." "Pedro Camejo is fundamental to the development of the Bolivarian Revolution," he concluded.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.
Translation by Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis.