Nicolás Maduro began his political life as a leader of a bus drivers union in Venezuela, but the persecution of Venezuelan unionists during the eight years of his government has shattered the image of the “president of the working class”.
In an interview with EFE, the lawyer and member of the Union Coalition of Venezuela Emilio Negrín denounced that there are 151 union leaders, from various professional classes, detained in the country, 11 of whom were arrested this year.
“These are workers who are in a legal limbo because none of the criminal procedures established in the Constitution have been complied with. There are detainees who go a year without a preliminary hearing,” he said, explaining that they are often accused of incitement to hatred, criminal association and terrorism .
The NGO Foro Penal also stated that union leaders who challenge the regime are frequently targeted for arbitrary arrests. In an interview with Gazeta do Povo, the director of the Venezuelan human rights organization, Alfredo Romero, cited two cases that gained international repercussion: the arrests of Eudis Girot, president of the Unitary Federation of Petroleum Workers of Venezuela (Futpv), and of Robert Franco, leader of a regional union of teachers.
Girot, known for criticizing the mismanagement of PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company, was arrested in November last year. In jail, he wrote a letter alleging that he was arrested for raising his voice “against the criminal and anti-workers policies that subjected workers and people to hunger, misery and death.” His trial is due to start in August.
Professor Robert Franco was arrested in December last year in the state of Sucre, accused of “treason to the Fatherland”. Teachers unions that frequently protest for better salaries in Venezuela also call for Franco’s release and consider him a political prisoner.
Negrín told EFE that, in addition to the arrests, there are several reports of threats against union leaders, especially in the interior of the country, where the consequences of the Venezuelan crisis are more profound and there is a need to deal with daily shortages of electricity, water, gas, gasoline and public services.
The vast majority of political prisoners in Venezuela are citizens who do not belong to any party, but who have criticized the Venezuelan dictatorship at some point: there are arrested indigenous people, union members, soldiers accused of rebellion, residents who participated in protests against the regime.
The objective of the Nicolás Maduro dictatorship in arresting these people, who are mostly not linked to political parties, is to intimidate the population in order to avoid protests, reducing the chances of an opposition reaction.