Sunday, March 28, 2004

The circus is coming to town 

Carlos Ortega claims he will be returning to Venezuela from his comfy "exile" which alternates between Costa Rica and Miami.

In case you are wondering who Carlos Ortega is here is a brief overview. Ortega was the head of Venezuela's largest union confederation, the CTV. The CTV is a notoriously corrupt confederation that makes the Teamsters look saintly by way of comparison. Worse still, it is not really a worker controlled labor federation but rather a pseudo union that is controlled by what was formerly Venezuela's major political parties, Accion Democratica or AD for short. As such, its function was really the traditional function of a union which is to seek higher wages and better working conditions for its members. Rather it served to help the AD electorally, ensure labor tranquility (ie having a strong bosses controlled union to prevent real unions from developing), and as a fountain of easy money for the "labor leaders" who ran it. The corruption of the CTV is notorious and well documented and will be gone over in future posts.

So why is Mr. Ortega in "exile"? Because back in December 2002 he led a "strike" which had as its aim the toppling of Venezuela's democratically elected president, Hugo Chavez. The strike, which was more of an employer lockout than anything else, was a collaborative effort between the so called labor federation CTV, the Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce (Fedecamaras), and the top brass of the state oil company PDVSA. Now, when was the last time the US Chamber of commerce and the AFL-CIO called a strike together?

This "strike" probably never had the support of more than a quarter of Venezuelan workers. Throughout the "strike" most industry, utilities, public transportation, the public education system, and retail shops functioned normally. However, as the "strike" did have the support of a large number of oil workers who not only went on strike but destroyed and damaged many key oil installations before leaving their posts the "strike" was successful at shutting down the Venezuelan oil industry for the better part of two months. Given the importance of the oil industry to Venezuela the economic consequences were severe with losses estimated at about $10 billion.

Approximately two weeks into the strike it was declared illegal by the courts. However, given the leaders determination to overthrow Chavez and their disdain for legal niceties they pressed ahead with the strike. The strike ultimately collapsed for lack of public support. However, the fact that it was pursued illegally lead to a court order for the arrest of Carlos Ortega who promptly left the country.

From abroad he has pretty much lost any relevance to the current situation in Venezuela. And that the strike was such an abject failure certainly did nothing to enhance his popularity or credibility. Should he ever return to Venezuela I am sure he will be dealt with by the Venezuelan judicial system. But I am not holding my breath waiting for his return.


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