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sábado, 27 de abril de 2013

Venezuela: nao votou por mim? Ponha-se no olho da rua... (WSJ)

Venezuela Opposition Alleges Political Reprisals


CARACAS—Workers in Venezuela's bloated state bureaucracy who voted against the new government are accusing authorities of a witch hunt, a sign of rising tension as new President Nicolás Maduro seeks to secure his rule over a divided country.
In one case, Alberto Vento, a 58-year-old computer-systems engineer, said he was fired from his job at state-run Banco de Venezuela this month after seven years on the job, just days after the contested presidential vote narrowly won by Mr. Maduro, the hand-picked heir to the late populist Hugo Chávez.
Maduro led a ceremony Friday in Caracas to award low-income homes.
Mr. Vento said his firing was political. His co-workers knew he was an opposition supporter, he said, because he had long refused to put on the red shirts and attend pro-government rallies, even though employees were urged to do so.
"[The bosses] said they had reasonable doubt in me as a person and said that they only want people that are loyal to them politically," Mr. Vento said.
A spokesman at the bank didn't respond to repeated requests to comment. But government officials ranging from the oil minister to the attorney general deny any dismissal of public employees who cast ballots for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. The Work and Social Security Ministry said Wednesday night that it hadn't received any complaints of discrimination in the workplace.
For many Venezuelans, stories such as that of Mr. Vento's signal a possible return to the worst excesses of the Chávez era. After a national strike aimed at ousting his regime a decade ago, Mr. Chávez fired some 19,000 workers at national oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA. Likewise, thousands of others were denied benefits or jobs for signing a referendum to revoke Mr. Chávez in 2004.
The recent allegations also add fuel to a combustible environment, in which an emboldened opposition accused Mr. Maduro's government of stealing the April 14 election, leading to street fighting across the country that killed nine people, while the ruling party has lashed out at the opposition, whom it calls "fascists" and coup plotters.
Prisons Minister Iris Varela said in a news conference this past week that she has a jail cell ready for Mr. Capriles, suggesting the government wanted to arrest him. Lawmaker Pedro Carreno, a member of the ruling Socialist party, said lawmakers had formed a committee to explore whether Mr. Capriles should be prosecuted for the violence after the vote.
Meanwhile, opposition leaders say the government is backtracking on its word to carry out a vote audit. Late Thursday, Mr. Capriles threatened to boycott the audit, which the National Electoral Agency said would start this past week, and take his complaint to the Supreme Court if it wasn't a thorough process that included all of the relevant paperwork used in the vote tally.
The renewed face-off between Mr. Capriles and the government threatens to stoke street clashes again. Both sides have called their supporters to street demonstrations on May 1, the International Workers Day.
With Mr. Maduro facing a slew of economic and social problems to tackle as well as a weaker mandate than his predecessor ever had, some analysts have warned of a radicalization by the government of the 50-year-old former bus driver.
"We have always thought that political stability could be at risk under a Maduro administration, but political tensions have clearly increased those risks, and probably accelerated the deepening of economic problems," Eurasia Group, a risk consultancy, wrote in a Thursday note to clients.
Nearly 400 teachers in the populous state of Zulia, which Mr. Capriles won in the vote, are being forced to retire by their pro-government administrators for their political orientation, said Gualberto Mas y Rubi, head of a teachers' union in the western state.
He said that government officials had made a list of staff allegedly deemed to be against the government. Those teachers won't be allowed back in the new school year, he said. "They're causing chaos in our educational system," Mr. Mas y Rubi added.
Hector Orellana, a lawyer with the Zulia state education department, denied the charge, saying that labor laws prevent the government from firing public workers without an administrative procedure.
Housing Minister Ricardo Molina, however, was caught on video distributed on social networks and news websites telling workers at his ministry that he doesn't want government opponents working for him and will fire those who are.
"I don't accept members of fascist parties," Mr. Molina said in the video, which has been widely circulated on Venezuelan news sites. "I absolutely don't care what the labor laws say. In this situation, I don't care."
A spokeswoman at the Housing Ministry didn't respond to calls seeking comment. An Information Ministry spokeswoman said there was no official response to the video.
Venezuelan workers theoretically enjoy strong legal protection. It's illegal to fire employees without permission from a state labor inspector, and any firing can trigger a thicket of litigation. However, most courts are controlled by the ruling socialist party, and cases can wallow in the system for years.
Human-rights groups and unions have decried bullying of opposition-leaning workers. "The workplace stability of thousands of Venezuelans is in danger," said Inti Rodríguez, a member of Caracas-based human rights group Provea, which is preparing a report of abuses.
"It's in this government's nature to do that. Chávez did it," said union leader Orlando Chirino, who said he was fired from PdVSA in 2007 after campaigning against a referendum that would remove Mr. Chávez's term limits.
Mr. Chirino, a self-described Trotskyite who initially supported Mr. Chávez, leads independent union FADESS, which intends to file a complaint with the International Labor Organization to denounce official harassment.
In the Venezuelan city of Barquisimeto, a bank security employee said that his contract was terminated immediately after the elections because he was open with his pro-opposition political opinions.
Some workers also complained about veiled threats. Tibisay Castro, a nurse who works for the city of Guarenas, an exurb of Caracas, said she turned up to work a few days after the election only to find a gang of pro-government supporters on motorbikes outside the municipal offices. Ms. Castro is a longtime activist for COPEI, a Christian-democrat opposition party.
In a telephone interview, Ms. Castro said a nephew who supports the government quickly approached her and said: "Aunt, please leave, because things here are really ugly for you," she said. She added that she left the municipality and stayed at an undisclosed place because she felt herself in danger.
For Mr. Vento, getting fired from the state bank is a replay from 10 years ago. Then an employee of a PdVSA affiliate, he was fired during the purge that followed the industry strike. He then joined a private bank that later was nationalized by the Chávez regime.
He said he was considering legal action against the bank but knows that he already has a similar decade-old case pending against PdVSA, in which there has been little progress.
"My priority right now is finding a job. The situation in this country is difficult and I'm 58 so it's even harder for me to find work," said Mr. Vento.
Write to Kejal Vyas at kejal.vyas@dowjones.com and Angel Gonzalez atangel.gonzalez@dowjones.com
A version of this article appeared April 27, 2013, on page A8 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Venezuelans Allege Political Reprisals.

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