Venezuelans fired for backing Maduro recall vote: Union

Eva Belloso`s boss fired her from her government job with a single, chilling line: "You know what you did."

AFP| Updated: Jul 19, 2016, 12:45 PM IST
Venezuelans fired for backing Maduro recall vote: Union

Caracas: Eva Belloso`s boss fired her from her government job with a single, chilling line: "You know what you did."

Indeed, she thinks she does. She signed a petition calling for a recall referendum against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

She is one of 1,250 government employees sacked for signing the petition, according to the trade union UNETE, which plans to file a discrimination case at the International Labor Organization demanding their jobs back.

"I had spent my entire professional life at SENIAT," the Venezuelan tax authority, said Belloso, a 51-year-old lawyer.

"We don`t deserve to be thrown out for exercising our rights after 20, 25, 30 years."

Maduro is fighting for his political survival as Venezuela teeters on the brink of economic collapse, devastated by the global plunge in the price of oil, its main export.

Tapping Venezuelans` outrage over food shortages, long lines, hyperinflation and violent crime, the opposition has gathered 1.8 million signatures to launch a referendum on removing Maduro, as provided for in the constitution.

The leftist president`s camp has vowed to fight them tooth and nail.

Maduro`s right-hand man, former legislative speaker Diosdado Cabello, called on government supporters in May to comb through the petition "signature by signature" for state employees.

"If there are squalid infiltrators, they have to go," he said.

Belloso said that left her no doubt about the real reason she was fired after 24 years.

"All the pieces fit," she said.

Miguel Monsalve tells a similar story after being sacked from his job at the National Electric Corporation (Corpoelec), where he had worked for 12 years.

"They didn`t tell us why. But when the fired workers started to talk among ourselves we all had a common denominator: we had signed" the recall petition, he said.

He said similar firings had also taken place at the state iron and aluminum producers. Human rights group Provea says police officers have been sacked for the same reason.The National Electoral Council has published the list of the petition`s signatories online, ostensibly for the purpose of verifying their identity the next stage in the process.

The fired state employees allege a darker motive. But the government denies targeting signatories for reprisals.

"That`s never been done. Anyone who knows the civil service knows there`s a very broad level of protection. It`s difficult to be fired, much less for political reasons. We don`t persecute here," said Labor Minister Oswaldo Vera.

But he said the matter was a subject of legitimate debate.

"If I don`t share my company`s viewpoint... how can you perform your best?" he said.

The opposition-majority legislature passed a motion last month condemning the allegedly political firings.

Even some traditional Maduro allies have spoken out.

In an open letter to the National Electoral Council, three former ministers who served under Maduro`s late predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez, condemned the firing of state employees for "exercising a consitutional right."

The letter which was also signed by a prominent, retired pro-Chavez general, Cliver Alcala, and other members of the newly launched "Platform in Defense of the Constitution" urged the electoral authorities to allow the recall vote to go ahead to prevent the "grave consequences" of mounting social unrest.

Chavez, the fiery leftist who led Venezuela from 1999 to 2013, himself faced a recall referendum in 2004, which he won with 58 percent of the vote.

In order for the latest recall vote to go ahead, electoral officials must validate at least 200,000 signatures on the petition. They are due to announce their ruling on July 26.

The opposition would then have to collect another four million signatures to trigger a referendum.

"People are afraid, but I know a lot of Corpoelec colleagues have said they`re going to sign" the second petition, said Monsalve.

"They say, `If they fire us, well, let them fire us.`"