Venezuela: Corporate giant threatens social gains

ExxonMobil, the world's largest oil corporation, has launched an attack on the government of socialist President Hugo Chavez and the process of social change, known as the Bolivarian revolution, that aims to eradicate poverty and develop Venezuela's economy along pro-people lines.

ExxonMobil has succeeded in securing injunctions that freeze US$12 billion worth of assets of Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA held in banks in both Britain and the Netherlands.

The move relates to nationalisations in May last year affecting all the investments of private oil corporations operating in the Orinoco oil belt — home to the world's largest reserves. The government offered the corporations the right to enter into joint ventures with PDVSA that gave the Venezuelan state at least 60% control.

The government offered to fully compensate private interests for the takeovers and most affected corporations have come to an agreement with the government. Only ExxonMobil has responded by launching a legal assault in retaliation at Venezuela's attempts to ensure it controls its own resources.

The May 2007 nationalisations were an extension of the Chavez government's policies of protesting and extending its control over natural resources, especially oil.

The government has claimed that the $12 billion ExxonMobil is asking for is more than ten times the maximum value of its investments. Chavez, speaking on his weekly TV show, Hello President, on February 15 called on the Venezuelan people to unite to defend Venezuelan sovereignty.

According to a February 16 Venezuelanlaysis.com article, Chavez argued: "We have the reigns in our hands, and we won't ever let go of them again."

With close to half of government revenue deriving from oil revenue, such polices have been crucial to facilitating a massive increase in social spending.

Chavez explained that ten years of revolutionary government had reduced poverty by 40%, according to a February 20 Bolivarian News Agency report, down from 67% in 1997 to 27% in 2007.

Chavez pointed out that the unemployment rate had more than halved in that time, from 15% to 7%. Access to drinking water had increased from 82% of the population to 95%, while access to sanitation increased from 68% to 82%.

One of the major gains associated with the Chavez government's pro-poor policies, largely a result of redistributing wealth that previously flowed to oil giants like ExxonMobil, is in the area of health.

According to a February 20 Venezuelanalysis.com article, Chavez explained at the inauguration of the new Dr Osio de Cua Hospital in the state of Miranda that "Venezuela is one of the countries that has the highest investment in health in the American continent".

Chavez also "simultaneously inaugurated, via video link up, some 288 new health clinics and 14 new Integral Diagnostic Centres ... as well as a new High Technology Centre and 11 new Centres of Integral Rehabilitation", the article reported. The government is constructing 16 new specialised hospitals.

Chavez explained that spending on health care had risen from 2.8% of GDP in 1997 to 6% in 2007. The number of doctors per 100,000 people had risen from 20 to 59.3 over the same period. The number of primary health-care clinics increased from 4804 to 11,373, and the number of consultations through the National Health System increased from 3.5 million to 54 million.

The Venezuelanalysis.com article reported that, "Significantly, the percentage of citizen access to primary health care has increased dramatically" from 21.5% to 95% over the ten-year period. The infant mortality rate dropped from 23.4% to 12.4%.

The Dr Osio de Cua Hospital, which cost $15.3 million to construct and will cater for an estimated 135,000 people per month, will also include a centre for 170 students as part of the government's program of "general integral community medicine".

This program aims to integrate health care into the lives of communities, and places "a special emphasis on training up doctors with a high level of social commitment to work in the poorer areas", according to Venezuelanalysis.com.

Stripped of legal jargon relating to the finer points of international arbitration law, it is these gains that ExxonMobil has in its sights with its freezing of PDVSA's assets.

The Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network has issued a call for an international week of solidarity with Venezuela from February 29 to March 7, around the slogans "Hands off Venezuela! Stop ExxonMobil's theft from the poor!". The week has been endorsed by the Venezuela Solidarity Network (USA) and Venezuela Aotearoa (NZ).

To add your organisation or name to the call, email jodybetzien@venezuelasolidarity.org. To add your name to an online sign-on statement, statement of protest, visit <http://venezuelasolidarity.org>.

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