Let us join forces to achieve the full freedom of workers and social activists

Photograph by Provea depicts a protest in february 2020 in Caracas, demanding freedom for Rodney Alvarez and Ruben Gonzalez. Gonzalez received a presidential pardon but Alvarez did not and is still in jail.

Note by Venezuelan Workers Solidarity: On August 31st of this year, after negotiations with Opposition leaders mediated by Turkey, the Venezuelan Government granted presidential pardons to 110 Opposition activists imprisoned or exiled for alleged acts of “conspiracy” and “incitement”. While sharing in the joy of seeing activists return to their homes, we have to point out the hypocritical and opportunistic rationale of the Government, which continues to hold prisoner scores of others workers and activists while carrying out brutal repressive police campaigns. This open letter, circulated by sectors of the left opposition and grassroots organizations gives us a closer reading of the “pardon” and reminds us of the dozens of workers who have been deprived of their freedoms for organizing and fighting.

We, signing below, are self-convened and conscious human rights activists, representatives of trade unions, organized communities and grassroots and political organizations, retirees and pensioners, environmentalists, indigenous people, feminists and individuals. We wish to express to the country and to all those who take on the fight in defense of their rights the ideas we share about the “gesture” of the presidential pardon the government of Nicolás Maduro granted to diverse opposition activists on August 31, 2020.

On the pardon, the crisis and the electoral process 

It is striking that the pardon is presented as the result of conversations held behind closed doors by representatives of the Government and fractions of the Opposition overseen by Henrique Capriles Radonsky (HCR), resulting in the announcement to the country of the release of 110 people deprived of liberty, persecuted, and politically disenfranchised. The secrecy that covers these negotiations becomes even more peculiar when we learn that they arose under the auspices of the government of Turkey, led by the authoritarian regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in coordination with the European Union (EU).

Seen in this way, the announcement of a pardon by the executive is an event that surprises the country, but it also appears as a smokescreen over the serious problems that afflict the population. Fundamentally, most of us barely live with a miserable salary in a context of generalized hunger. Workers, retirees and pensioners have been demanding for years living wages that cover the cost of the basic food basket, as guaranteed by Article 91 of the Constitution. Teachers and oil workers have announced mobilizations over wages, and in the case of oil workers, for the fulfillment of their now-worthless healthcare plan to protect their health and that of their families.

At the center of the government’s policy is the call for parliamentary elections on December 6th, subordinating everything to this primary objective. That is why we see that the negotiations with Capriles and the presentation of the list of pardons were made to wash the regime’s face and freshen up from the effects of Covid-19, and project a “free road” to the elections where it can achieve figures favorable to it.  

On the justice system

We do not question the list of people released, since in Venezuela procedural rights have been abandoned at all levels of the justice system. The irregular action of the security forces is a structural policy of the State, for the control of the population and the repression of all dissidents. All arrests are arbitrary these days.

In the list that we have collectively articulated below, there are workers and social fighters for whose freedom many of the undersigned have campaigned. We emphasize this aspect because we share the criteria of defending human rights, solidarity and defense of all those who have been criminalized for fighting.

This is the case for people in different parts of the country who have been victims of repression, when going out to defend their rights. After being detained, the violation of due process continues by the “justice” system, with the presentation of false testimonies, confinement in jail, isolation from relatives and friends, and oppression under the weight of State institutions, which prosecute them as criminals.

A sample of what the government does

Rodney Álvarez, a worker of the Ferrominera del Orinoco (FMO) ironworks has been held in prison for 9 years, accused of a crime he did not commit. He is accused of the murder of Renny Rojas in a workers’ assembly in 2011. Witnesses – and the factory’s security cameras – point to PSUV leader and union bureaucrat  Héctor Maicán as the culprit for the shooting. The State has never been able to prove that Álvarez is responsible for this infamy, but the mafias it serves needed a scapegoat for the murder. Despite exhortations from the International Labor Organization, Álvarez remains in prison beyond the time of a possible sentence, with judges and prosecutors attempting to persuade him to take the blame.

Twenty four oil workers have been imprisoned in Monagas and Zulia since 2017 [after a “purge” that sought scapegoats for the collapse of the oil industry]. In Zulia, Henry Sanchez, Adolfo Torres, Cesar Valera, Hector Roque, Juan Barreto, Juan Carrillo, Hirto Hurtado, Noris Perozo, Juan Gamboa, Luis Martinez, Adolfo Artigas, Halman Granados, Orlando Chacin and Oswaldo Gonzalez. In Monagas, Ana Ortiz, Frank Ruiz, David Malaver, Armando Serrano, Víctor Laucho, Gil Ramirez, Douglas Figuera, Armando Lara, Pavel Rodríguez, and Luis Mendoza. All have been held for the past three years without trial. Hearings have been deferred over twenty-two times, with clear violations of basic procedural rights. 

Nine Ferrominera del Orinoco workers were held in prison for three months after their arrest on November 27 of 2018. Douglas Alvarez, Yonney Monsalve, Alexis Perdomo, Endry Perdomo, Francisco Perdomo, Pedro Calzadilla, Argenis Da Silva, Tony Briceño and Jose Gregorio Jaime were detained after several days of protests in which they were intimidated by rifle-carrying National Guard units shooting at the air to disperse them. The detained workers were first brought to the infamous El Dorado prison, but common prisoners refused to allow their entry, claiming that these were “decent” people who should not be imprisoned there. The government had to temporarily confine them in a municipal police checkpoint. Their freedom remains conditional. 

At the ALCASA aluminum plant, Jesus Ramirez was arrested after a labor protest on October 29 of 2018. Ramirez remains in prison accused of “terrorism”, “theft of strategic material” and “damages to the national heritage” without any evidence. Jose Gil, a pro-government union bureaucrat told the workers to “find a way to stop the protests and we release the boy”, confirming the political grounds of the arrest.

In November of 2019, Roger Gonzalez, Eugenio Montes, Luis Rivas and Miguel Alvarez, workers at the Alimex food company in Lara, were arrested after presenting union documentation to start bargaining over wages. They have been held in home confinement as of this year.

PDVSA workers Marcos Sabariego and Gil Mujica have been detained since January 28, after raising labor demands at a labor assembly at the El Palito refinery in Carabobo.

Alfredo Chirinos and Aryenis Torrealba, PDVSA workers, were arrested on February 28 of this year. They were isolated for days, and Alfredo was tortured until he fainted, to extract a confession. Aryenis Torrealba has been the victim of cruel treatment and isolation. They are accused of treason against the Nation for allegedly passing information on the situation in PDVSA to the US government. Tarek William Saab, the government’s Attorney General, recently issued an opinion ratifying the government decision to keep them detained, stating “that the accused citizens are responsible for these events, which have caused enormous damage to the national oil industry, allowing the enemies of Venezuela to attack PDVSA’s operations as well as those of its strategic partners”. These statements were made after a meeting with family members and lawyers of the two workers, based on a public request made by Nicolas Maduro, and the first court hearing was announced for September 14 [over six months after their detention]. Fellow PDVSA workers have repeatedly declared the innocence of their colleagues.

Bartolo Guerra, PDV Marina worker in Puerto La Cruz, Anzoátegui, was arrested on May 9 after a meeting with management for denouncing the deterioration and precarity of work conditions and violations to their collective bargaining agreement.

Darío Salcedo, a union leader at state fisheries’ institute Insopesca, was detained on the fifth of May for expressing in an Whatsapp audio his disagreement with the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dante Rivas over the exorbitant prices of CLAP food [state rations]. Salcedo was imprisoned for over a month at the “July 26” detention center in Guarico, but was released on June 22 under a court-appearance regime.

Repression and censorship of healthcare workers

Since the beginning of the quarantine, workers in the healthcare sector have been under police pressure to keep quiet about the lack of medicines in hospitals, among other criticisms of the government administration. 

On March 17 of this year, Monagas healthcare workers Carlos Carmona, Julio Cesar Molinos and Maglys Mendoza were detained for denouncing terrible working conditions and lack of supplies in their respective hospitals and localities. Molinos, a union leader, was charged with “incitement to hatred”, causing “distress in the community” and criminal conspiracy, and is currently under a court presentation regime. The National Anti-Extortion and Kidnapping Command (CONAS), not finding Maglys Mendoza at her home, detained her 17 year old granddaughter and a 16 year old friend of the latter as a measure of pressure. The minors were released late at night. 

On April 4, the bioanalyst Andrea Sayago was arrested by an Intelligence Brigade of the Trujillo state police and placed under house arrest for sharing an image on Whatsapp of an order to carry out COVID tests [thus reporting on the possible existence of cases in the region before government acknowledgement].

Andreína Urdaneta, a medical resident at the Cabimas Hospital, was arrested on May 26 by the CICPC [Venezuelan criminal investigation police], under accusations of inciting hatred and offending the president, after she shared on Whatsapp an image critical of Maduro. Despite her release on June 9, she is still facing charges and is subject to court presentations.

Censorship on gasoline scarcity

Within the framework of the “Plan for the distribution and revaluation of gasoline”, the government, through its police forces, carried out a series of arrests of journalists for documenting and recording the opinions of users at service stations, among which are:

Radio producer Douglas Jose Ramirez and former Ciudad Ojeda councilman Jorge Amado Cortez were arrested on June 1st for recording a gasoline queue at a service station located in Ciudad Ojeda, Zulia, while reporting for their radio show.. At that time it was disclosed that they would be charged for “incitement to hatred” and “disturbance of public order”.

Carlos Ríos Villamizar, public official assigned to the National Urban Transportation Fund (Fontur), and Karelys Arroyo Carrasquel, a press worker at the IVC Networks channel, released a video showing a group of people protesting the irregularities and preferential treatment received by officials at the Texaco service station in Guatire, Miranda. They are accused of “incitement to hatred”, terrorism, disqualification of police institutions and of criticisms destructive of the fuel supply system established by the government of Nicolas Maduro,

Carol Romero was detained in El Junquito in Caracas on June 4th, when she was recording a protest by users in a gas station. Relatives denounce that she was “brutally beaten” by officers of the National Guard. Judicial silence has been arbitrarily imposed on her.

Dispossession of peasants

We have also registered complaints from dozens of peasants who have been arrested in Yaracuy, Barinas, Zulia, Portuguesa, Lara and Mérida, in the context of the dispossession of land carried out by police forces, members of the government and landowners. 

At the same time that the presidential pardon was being negotiated, six peasants of the Máximo Vizcaya Commune in Bruzual, Yaracuy, were arrested under false accusations by the FAES, They were immediately prosecuted without respecting procedural rights, receiving a 5-year sentence. Their relatives accuse the poultry production company Ebenezer group of benefitting from the persecution of the peasants.

The justice system is rotten

The regime of impunity in which the police and military forces operate, has allowed extrajudicial and illegal arrests to be made constantly, in order to intimidate and even extort those who exercise the protest to defend their rights. Police violence has become a daily reality throughout the national territory, hand in hand with the strengthening of police forces that act under para-institutional, criminal and violent mechanisms, such as the Special Actions Force (FAES) of the Bolivarian National Police (PNB).

The current government shows cruel premeditation in the use of  the justice system, showing that the violation of human rights is the norm. We, as workers, members of social and community organizations, and as people in struggle, cannot expect anything from the justice system. We must articulate ourselves in struggles and in the defense of our rights. The conditions we face require from us to meet all the factors that add up to popular struggles.

We are glad for all those prisoners released and allowed to return to public life by the presidential decree and the withdrawal of their charges. However, all the remaining political prisoners today have in their judicial processes sufficient causes for their immediate release without resorting to a pardon or amnesty. It is on us to continue exercising determined social pressure to achieve their full freedom. We always aspire to a restoration of procedural rights and a judicial system that guarantees them.

Our commitment is to unite the struggles

This initiative makes an inclusive call to grassroots unions, human rights organizations, feminist groups, workers’ unions, currents and groups, pensioner movements, and indigenous and peasant organizations, to integrate efforts to achieve the full freedom of those fighting for life, their wages, their land and their dignity.

We call for street protests and the use of social networks and the written press, to develop a forceful campaign for full freedom for all detainees, without political or ideological distinctions.

It is about defending the prisoners who are ours, the people’s. For them and for us, we call upon all to break the silence.

Let us, with our struggle, bring them back from the kidnapping and silencing to which they are being subjected to by the government and the bosses ‘parties’ preferences. The wall that the Maduro government has built around them is becoming more visible.

For us, only through organization and mobilization can we achieve full freedom.

Enough to the arbitrary detentions and violations of human, constitutional and procedural rights to the detainees.

Let’s break the silence against complicity and selective outrage.

We demand that all political prisoners be released.

We demand that all workers be released 

Below signatories:

* Organizations:

1. Wainjirawa Indigenous Intercultural Organization

2. Laguarura.org

3. Autonomous, Revolutionary, Unitary and Classist Current – CCURA

4. Las Comadres Púrpuras

5. #RompamosElSilencio Campaign 

6. Ruptura Universitaria. Mérida

7. Fotógrafos revelados

8. Working Group on Indigenous Affairs, Universidad de Los Andes, Mérida

9. Chair of Human Rights at the Universidad Centroccidental Lisandro Alvarado

10. SINTRAUPTAFBF Union, La Victoria

11. Committee for the Defense of the Cerro La Vieja, Sarare

12. Venezuelan Workers Solidarity (USA)

13. Liberty Group, Monagas

14. Ecological Politics Observatory of Venezuela

15. UNISON

16. Center for Investigation and Workers´ Education (CIFO)

17. Unitary Chavista Socialist League (Luchas)

18. Movimiento Voces – Caracas

19. Ruptura

20. La Libertaria Lara

21. Deslinde 2011

22. Mov27 La Voz Alcasiana

23. Solidarity Action

24. Libertarian Throats

* Individualities:

1. La Rosa, Juan Carlos

2. Marcos, Robzayda

3. Chirino, Orlando, national coordinator of the C-CURA union current

4. Bodas, José, general secretary of the Unitary Federation of Petroleum Workers of Venezuela (FUTPV)

5. García, Marcos, university worker, Secretary of Relations and Propaganda of the Workers’ Union of the Central University of Venezuela (SiNaTraUCV)

6. Hernández, Miguel Angel, national leader of the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSL), Venezuela

7. Espinoza, Antonio, Territorial Polytechnic University of Aragua state, leader of the PSL

8. Guerra, Armando, professor at the Universidad Politécnica Territorial de los Altos Mirandinos, leader of the PSL

9. Gaitán, Rolando, professor at the University of Carabobo, PSL member

10. Linares, Oscar, union delegate of Sirtrasalud, Capital District

11. Denis, Miguel

12. Gomez, Darío

13. Mora, Alcedo. Nueva Esparta

14. Valecillo, Yuri

15. Freitez, Nelson Barquisimeto

16. Useche, Corina. La Victoria, Aragua

17. Sutherland, Manuel

18. Pacheco, Oswaldo. PSL

19. Parra Queipo, Edgar. Zulia

20. Parra, José. Sarare, Lara

21. Gilly, Rodríguez Claudia. Caracas

22. Rengifo, Sathya

23. Quintero Weir, José Angel (Mexico)

24. Vázquez Heredia, Omar. PSL

25. Pérez Romero, Francesca

26. Blanco, Beatriz

27. Díaz, Maigualida. Mérida

28. Salazar, Leima. Monagas

29. Auger, Dave

30. Marín, Maria. Monagas

31. Anderico, Merlyn. Monagas

32. Rincon, Hector. Anzoátegui

33. Minkert Barlín, Cayetano Ramirez. Germany

34. Gómez, Ana T.

35. Tahhan Zenaida

36. Figueroa, Eladio

37. Buitrago Arévalo, Liliana

38. Torres, Javier. Bolívar

39. Galué Yamelis. Zulia

40. Reyna Ganteaume, Feliciano. Caracas

41. Rafael Ruiz, José

42. Rodriguez Gilly, Claudia. Caracas

43. Gonzalez, Luis. Mérida

44. Serrano, Luis. Monagas

45. Richard, Greti. Caracas

46. Useche, Corina. Aragua

47. Serrano, Gustavo. Monagas

48. Alarcón, Any. Sicilia, Italia

49. Fernandez Xili. USA

50. Figueroa, Eladio

51. Anderico, Merlyn. Monagas

52. Leal, Jefferson

53. Ruiz, Maria. Monagas

54. Yepez, Hernan. Bolivar

55. Cabello, Dipsy. Monagas

56. Gustavo Serrano. Monagas

57. Gómez, Omaris. Monagas

58. Cavallaro, Lourdes. Monagas

59. Carvajal, Eliecer. Monagas

60. Rosas, Alexandra. Monagas

61. Hernández, Yuneidys. Monagas

62. Rodríguez, Miraida. Monagas

63. Silva, Marianelly. Malmo, Sweden

64. Cermeno, Keiliuska. Monagas

65. Guerrero, Oribel. Monagas

66. Sanchez, Alexis. Monagas

67. Marcano, Ana. Monagas

68. Ruiz, Frank. Monagas

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