Juan Forero at the Washington Post reports,
Venezuelan union clashes are on the rise as Chavez fosters new unions at odds with older ones
Calling itself the most labor-friendly government in Latin America, President Hugo Chávez’s socialist administration has repeatedly increased the minimum wage, turned over the management of some nationalized companies to workers and fostered the creation of new unions.
But labor leaders and human rights groups say the government’s efforts have had a dark side. About 75 union members have been shot dead in the past two years as the new unions — many of them pro-Chávez — and traditional unions battle it out, making Venezuela among the world’s most dangerous countries for labor activists.
“The state is responsible for all these deaths,” said Orlando Chirinos, a former Chávez ally who helps lead a labor federation that has seen several members killed in this northern city. “When union leaders from parallel unions know of job sites, they sit there and wait — and they are all armed. Everyone knows. Why doesn’t the government send troops?”
Union leaders and the respected Provea rights group in Caracas say newly formed unions have turned to paid killers, targeting low-level activists and union chiefs alike.
Pedro Perez, a union activist here who was shot in March, said the violence stems from new unions trying to sideline old ones like his.
Power and money are the motives:
Most of the deaths have taken place in the lucrative construction industry. In exchange for jobs, workers are forced to pay kickbacks to union bosses.
With big profits at stake, and the state doing little to control the violence, the number of killings has tripled from 12 four years ago to 34 recorded in the 12 months ending in May, according to the Catholic Church’s human rights unit. Though Colombia, with its slow-burning conflict, has historically recorded the most union slayings in the world, Venezuela appears to have surpassed its neighbor in the past two years and registered more.
Since Chávez controls all branches of government and the judiciary, the thugs operate with impunity,
And unlike Colombia, where teams of prosecutors, investigators and judges have been deployed to resolve cases, Venezuela’s judicial system has brought only a handful of killers to justice, according to the human rights arm of the Organization of American States. The killings have also failed to garner much attention in Venezuela or with international labor groups.
While the country has a history of union violence, the new trend has to do with Chávez’s attempt to control one of the last remaining institutions in the country that does not bow to his whims: the unions:
Human Rights Watch, which carried out a study of Venezuelan labor, says the government intervenes in union elections and favors pro-government unions in negotiations, sometimes sidestepping larger, established unions for smaller organizations that support Chávez.
Union leaders here say the government is trying to ensure that unions are solidly pro-government, thus bringing practically all important institutions in Venezuela, save for the Catholic Church, under the state’s fold.
Read the rest of the article.
And a question: Where is Nancy Pelosi, the unions, and the Democrats who oppose the Colombia Free Trade Agreement on this?