“The old and corrupt Venezuelan political class must be demolished,” said Hugo Chavez on November 11, 2000. He referred to the Venezuelan Workers’ Confederation (CTV by its acronym in Spanish), the largest labor organization in the country. At that moment, the harassment against the Venezuelan trade-union movement began, the coordinator of the Venezuelan Program of Education-Action in Human Rights, Provea in Spanish, Marino Alvarado, says.
During the last 20 years, with Chavism in charge of Venezuela, Provea counted 130 trade-union workers subjected to legal proceedings for organizing protests, demanding decent wages, respect for collective bargaining, or even for denouncing the increase in the price of a subsidized bag of food, as happened to Dario Salcedo, a trade-union delegate from the Socialist Fishing and Aquaculture Institute
On 5 May, he was arrested by the Scientific and Investigation Police. Until today, his relatives still unknown the charges against him. In April, the leader claimed that the bag of food sold to him at the institute increased from 15,000 to VEF 1,500,000.
The policy initiated by Chavez only worsened under the Maduro regime, who began his political career as a union leader in the Metro de Caracas, the subway company in the capital city.
“Chavez once said that socialism doesn’t need unions and they should disappear. When Maduro came to power, we thought that as he was a civilian and a union worker, he would demilitarize Venezuelan society and give unions more participation, but the opposite happened. This is an anti-union government,” Alvarado said.
Initiated by Chavez, this pattern of persecution intend to intimidate and weaken the trade-union movement opposite to the regime, with measures involving the bodies controlled by the Executive: the Justice Supreme Court, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the intelligence services.
Besides, trade-union parallelism has been promoted with the creation of the Socialist Workers’ Central, which, according to Alvarado, enjoys privileges to renew its boards and make claims to the Ministry of Labor, unlike the other unions and workers’ central that not support the Maduro government.
Jail for his peers
At least, six union leaders have been illegally prosecuted in the military justice system, according to Provea’s report. Five belong to the construction sector and were arrested for demanding payment of wages in the vicinity of a military fort. They were held for three months in Santa Ana prison, Tachira state, and then tried in a court-martial that last two years. It was never possible to prove the commission of a crime.
The general secretary of the Ferrominera Workers Union, Ruben Gonzalez, is an example of the abuses committed by the government against the working class in the country. The labor lawyer, and director of the Studies Unions Institute, Leon Arismendi, maintains that even though the crimes charged against Gonzalez amounted to “disrespect to the authority and an outrage to the National Armed Forces”, this leader is being prosecuted for demanding, along with the workers of Ferrominera del Orinoco, respect for the salary tables, which were finally pulverizing in August 2018, when another currency conversion applied in Venezuela.
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On November 2018, officers from the Military Counter-Intelligence Services and the National Guard detained Gonzalez while he was traveling to the state of Bolivar, after participating in a labor mobilization in Caracas. Nine months later, he was sentenced by a military court to five years and nine months in prison and is being held at La Pica prison, in the state of Monagas. And although he suffers from high blood pressure and his family requested medical attention, rarely has he been brought for a check-up, or receive treatment for his disease.
This is not the first time Ruben Gonzalez has been imprisoned. From 2009 to 2011 he was detained in a police command for promoting a strike at the industry in Guayana. A judge of the criminal justice gave him seven years in prison, but after protests, the sentence was annulled, and he was allowed a trial while under probation, during which he was released.
Another steel union worker remains in prison for a crime that his colleagues claim he did not commit. In 2011, Rodney Gonzalez was arresting and charged with the alleged commission of the homicide against Renny Rojas Lopez, a worker of Ferrominera Orinoco, who died after union leader, Hector Maican, shots multiple time to hinder an electoral event, according to testimony given by some workers to the Commission of Inquiry from the International Labor Organization installed in Venezuela in 2019.
A plant supervisor in the Orinoco Steelworks, Elio Mendoza, has been in prison for two months, accused of “instigating hatred and defamation” against the president of the Justice Supreme Court, Maikel Moreno, for forwarding a Whatsapp message that said Moreno is a member of the gang The dwarfs.
The arrest of Tania Rodriguez, a former Ferrominera Orinocco worker, occurred almost at the same time. Although the charges against her were unknown, Rodriguez spread a message in which she mentioned the wife of Nicolas Maduro, Cilia Flores. On April 5, a court in Puerto Ordaz, Bolivar state, issued a measure of house-arresting for Rodriguez. She was fired in 2019 for denouncing irregularities inside the steel factory.
In November 2019, the Commission of Inquiry introduce the report about Venezuela and concluded that trade unions and employers are prevented from working by intimidation, threats, and persecution as soon as they wish to pursue an independent course of action. Based on the results of its investigation, the International Labor Organization Commission formulated a series of recommendations that Venezuela must implement before 1 September 2020.