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Venezuela: Aluminum Processing Plant Summons Workers to Take up Arms

By Pascal Fletcher |

Caracas, 17 May 2005 | If “imperialism” threatens, then drop your tools and grab your weapon, a Venezuelan state-owned aluminum corporation is telling its workers. Added to exhortations aimed at improving efficiency and production, the employees of the Alcasa foundry —in southeastern Venezuela— are receiving lessons from the management on how to form “commando” groups prepared for a “people’s war” to combat the “counterrevolution.”

A communiqué dated 12 May from the president of Alcasa, the former leftist guerrilla fighter Carlos Lanz, gives the workers instructions aimed at supporting a “political-military” strategy.

Among the operational and organizational alignments being enumerated is a “a military line made up of masses, concentrated on street fighting, barricades and blockades against occupying forces, employing all means and resources available to the people.”

“Policy calls for the use of assault rifles. National defense is a task for all of the people,” says the document, with letterhead bearing the logos of the Ministry of Basic Industries and Mining, Alcasa, and the state aluminum consortium, a part of Corporación Venezolana de Guayana (CVG).

Officials from Alcasa said that the memo, a copy of which Reuters obtained after it was published in a local daily, Correo del Caroní, was distributed to all workers.

"Revolutionary" Agenda

The instructions form part of a national initiative by the government of President Hugo Chávez to establish a military reserve made up of 1.5 million soldiers meant to defend the fifth largest exporter of crude oil in the world in case of an invasion.

Chávez, originally elected in 1998 and who survived a coup d’état in 2002, accuses the United States—the country’s principal petroleum customer—of planning an invasion and wanting to overthrow him and kill him.

The United States calls these allegations “ridiculous.”

Reserve squadrons are being trained at the state-owned corporation Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and other large state enterprises such as Alcasa.

Lanz, who spent seven years in jail for his part in the notorious three-year kidnapping of US glass factory executive William Niehous, was named in February president of Alcasa, which was operating at loss.

The corporation, the smaller and the older of the country’s two state-owned aluminum plants, has suffered labor and production problems for years. Lanz has promised to solve the problems by means of co-management schemes which allow employees to participate in decision making.

Chávez says that this system, together with workers' cooperatives, establishes the foundations for the "new socialism" which he intends to apply to the country in order to displace capitalism, which he calls unviable and evil.

Commando Units

The Minister of Basic Industries, Víctor Álvarez, who appointed Lanz, has ordered a revision of all foreign investments in the basic non-petroleum state corporations, including aluminum and gold projects.

He affirms that he wants to bring the sector in closer alignment with Chávez's social agenda, which seeks to help the poor and bring greater social development benefits,

The strategic oil sector is experiencing a similar revision, with increases in taxes and changes in contracts.

Some analysts fear that this nationalistic project involving industrial corporations may scare away foreign investors, something the government discards.

The Alcasa internal memo, with the slogan "all power to the workers," further suggests the establishment of “small commando-type units, capable of handling a basic weapon: assault rifles, rocket launchers, or in their place, larger scale explosives, mines, traps, etc.”

But he did not reflect upon Alcasa’s production goals for this year, after the enterprise had been hit by a workers’ protest in December.

The corporation previously said this year that it had raised its production in 2004 to 191,850 tons, from 172,156 tons in 2003, and that it expects to return to its full production capacity of 210,000 in 2005.

Lanz also said that Alcasa expects to proceed with a foreign-financed project to construct a fifth production line for 255,000 tons, which will permit it to raise its production up to 465,000 tons in 2007.

Translation by W.K.

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