THREE Venezuelan trade union leaders were freed on Wednesday, a week after being arrested for protesting at a state-owned dairy.
Union president Exio Urriola, general secretary Carlos Mora and complaints secretary Jimmy Merchan were freed after intervention by the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) and its union federation the National Front for Working-Class Struggle (FNLCT).
The workers’ leaders at the Lacteos Los Andes Hugo Chavez plant in Cabudare, Lara state, were arrested last Thursday after they organised a protest against management’s “inefficient and unproductive policies,” Paul Dobson reported for news website Venezuelanalysis.
They said the dairy and fruit plant, nationalised by the late president Chavez in 2008, was only operating at 20 per cent of its full capacity.
A shortage of raw materials contributed to a fall in production from 45,000 tonnes of food to just 5,000 tonnes, the union leaders said. The sharp drop added to a nationwide crisis of consumer goods availability that the government blames on US economic warfare and a rampant black market.
They said private firms including El Tunal, Procter & Gamble and Polar — the brewing and food giant accused of leading the economic war — had preferential access to foreign imports paid for with precious foreign exchange dollars.
The union also said its collective agreement with the state-owned firm had expired 20 months ago.
FNLCT general co-ordinator Pedro Eusse told Venezuelanalysis: “There is a general worry that there is a closed-door process being taken forward to reprivatise this industry.
“It is clear that they are criminalising a legitimate workers’ protest with the objective of destroying the morale of the trade union leaders.”
The PCV said the arrests were “part of an attack on those who legally exercise the defence of workers’ rights” and demanded the three trade unionists’ “unconditional release.”
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