El Nacional published an article today in which it revealed allegations that the National Bolivarian Militia, a military force made up of civilians, is pressuring government employees to attend a pro-regime rally tomorrow in Caracas. The allegation comes from Froilan Barrios, the head of an organization called the Frente Autonomo de Defensa del Empleo, el Salario y el Sindicato [Autonomous Front for the Defense of Employment, Salaries and Unions].
According to Barrios, his organization has received complaints in the last few weeks from employees at the state-owned PDVSA oil company and other government agencies that they have been “harassed by militias in their workplaces” in order to force them to attend the rally.
The government is using its persecution apparatus in the public sector, which employs 3 million workers. Through its militias, it wants to ensure the high attendance from its employees.
Calling the workplace political harassment “labour terrorism”, Barrios said that state workers have even been threatened with dismissal and criminal charges for “treason” if they take part in opposition demonstrations. Barrios said that there may be as many as 400,000 regime agents working inside state-run workplaces to monitor employees’ political lives and pressure them into participating in pro-regime events.
A worker at a government ministry who chose to remain anonymous told El Nacional that she has medical problems with one of her knees, and that in the past she has used a medical note to get out of participating in PSUV rallies. That policy has changed in recent months, the employee said, likely as a result of the regime’s increasing unpopularity. The worker said:
They don’t accept medical notes anymore. You have to go or you get fired.
The same worker told the newspaper that while her boss had been willing to excuse her from pro-regime rallies in the past, he is demanding that she attend the one tomorrow “because he is being pressured by his boss”.
Another worker told the newspaper that the fact that he is in a wheelchair exempted him from attending rallies in the past, but that he is being forced to attend tomorrow’s:
I became disabled after a car accident and at work I was exempted from participating in government rallies. Now my boss is demand that I go to the one tomorrow. Me being in a wheelchair didn’t affect [his decision] one bit.
Public employees have long faced pressure to participate in pro-regime rallies or otherwise keep their political inclinations secret under penalty of firing. In 2003-2003, millions of Venezuelans who signed a petition calling for a recall referendum on Chavez saw themselves discriminated at work after the government released the list to the public in an attempt to undermine the democratic process in the country.
Amid Rising Tensions, UN, Regional Leaders Call for Calm
Tomorrow’s demonstration in Caracas is expected to be one of the largest in the country’s history. With both sides of the conflict promising to fill the streets of the city with their respective supporters, the likelihood of violent confrontation between opposition and PSUV supporters is distinct.
Following Maduro’s announcement yesterday that he would raise and arm a 500,000-strong militia force to protect him and the Bolivarian revolution, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) issued a statement condemning the increased militarization of Venezuelan society. UNHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville reacted to Maduro’s announcement by saying:
What is needed in the context of this conflict is for tension to decrease, not increase, and more weapons on the streets means a higher likelihood that they will be used (…) giving weapons to civilians carries a lot of risk.
Jose Vivanco, the director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, called Maduro’s announcement regarding the arming of the militia “irresponsible” and “dictatorial”. In a press conference in Washington, D.C. held earlier today, Vivanco said:
This is related to the peaceful protests that the opposition as called for this Wednesday, when the authorities’ job is to facilitate dissidence and guarantee the security of demonstrators. But this isn’t possible in Venezuela, because it is a tyranny, not a democracy. The government, instead of facilitating [peaceful protests], calls for a parallel protest, which is extraordinarily irresponsible from a security standpoint.
On the regime’s use of armed civilian groups to attack protesters, Vivanco said:
This is the most absolute break in the rule of low. We don’t know of a similar example in Latin America where the government arms urban militias that operate with total impunity and have license to shoot.
The pro-regime civilian armed groups, known in Venezuela as colectivos armados, have killed at least two protesters in the last two weeks.
Earlier today, the governments of eleven Latin American countries issued a joint statement calling on the Maduro regime to respect the right to peaceful assembly in light of tomorrow’s demonstrations. The statement reads in part:
Our governments reiterate their rejection of violence. At the same time, and keeping in mind the marches that have been scheduled by the government and the opposition for April 19, we call on the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to guarantee the right to peaceful protest as outlined in the Constitution, and that it impede any violent action towards the protesters. We also call on the opposition to exercise its right to protest responsibly, in so doing guaranteeing that people are able to express themselves peacefully.
The statement was released jointly by the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.
OAS Calls Maduro’s Arming of Militias “Murderous Repressive Action”
The Organization of American States (OAS) released a statement today on the eve of tomorrow’s opposition protest. The statement calls Maduro’s plan to arm 500,000 militia members “a murderous and repressive action that incites violence”.
• The lack of respect for human rights and basic freedoms, given that every day the number of political prisoners and the accusations of torture rise;
• The systematic violations of the exercise of power under the rule of law in the last two years;
• The lack of periodic, free, fair elections based on universal suffrage and the secrecy of the ballot, neither in the case of regional elections, nor even in the more important case of the legitimization of the popular will to appeal to a recall referendum in 2016;
• The fact that the pluralist regime of political parties and organizations no longer has any guarantee since the moment that the regime arbitrarily declares from one week to the next disqualifications of political leaders;
• The lack of respect for the separation and independence of the political powers, neither de jure nor de facto. The powers of the National Assembly have been usurped and the dudicial [sic] branch responds to the designs of the Executive Power;
• The lack of transparency regarding the activities of the State;
• The fact that daily complaints of non-compliance are received and none of them are investigated, nor are they even denied;
• The fact that the irresponsibility of the government in public management has brought on the worst humanitarian crisis in the history of the country;
• The fact that social rights and freedom of expression and the press have been repeatedly violated
According to the statement, the OAS supports the efforts of Venezuelan citizens to restore democracy in their country through the peaceful exercise of their constitutional rights, and concludes:
It is not a question of solving imperfections in Venezuela, it is a question of recovering democracy, that should be the objective and according to that objective, the agenda does not allow for delay.
Sanchez Brothers Sent to Tocoron Prison
Alejandro and Jose Sanchez, two brothers who are members of the Primero Justicia (PJ) opposition party and who were arrested for taking part in an anti-regime march on April 13, have been ordered to remain in detention pending their trial in the infamous Tocoron Prison in Aragua state. The two are accused of instigating unrest and conspiracy.
Meanwhile, the Public Ministry announced today that so-called video evidence that Maduro presented during a television show allegedly implicating the two brothers in criminal activities was not provided to the president by authorities involved in the case, and that the videos are not part of the evidence being used to try the brothers.
Venezuelan authorities, including Maduro himself, will often present so-called evidence in ongoing legal proceedings against opposition supporters and political figures. The practice completely undermines due process rights that are in place to guarantee free and impartial trials.
The Sanchez brothers are two of the 144 political prisoners held by the Maduro regime. The Foro Penal Venezolano [Venezuelan Penal Forum], an NGO that tracks arrest and crime statistics, has tallied 538 protest-related unrest over the last two weeks, with 241 of those arrested still currently behind bars.
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