Venezuela Opposition Accuses Government Of Post-Vote Vendetta

Venezuela's opposition is accusing state institutions of intimidating and threatening to fire employees critical of President Nicolas Maduro after a disputed election that stirred protests and a wave of violence.

* Pro-Capriles state employees say they are persecuted

* Government denies harassment, alleges opposition violence

* Close vote heightened Chavez-era political divisions

Venezuela's opposition is accusing state institutions of intimidating and threatening to fire employees critical of President Nicolas Maduro after a disputed election that stirred protests and a wave of violence.

Activists are outraged at two recordings that appear to show officials vowing to sack workers who support opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost a snap election to replace the late socialist president Hugo Chavez.

One opposition activist told Reuters she had received more than 2,000 complaints of workplace harassment, of which some 300 people said they had been fired for their political views.

Maduro allies deny the accusations, insisting Venezuelans should focus instead on charges that Capriles stirred up violent protests last week that killed eight people.

For many Venezuelans, it is a reminder of a list once used by Chavez's government to target opposition supporters.

"I will not accept members of fascist parties," Housing Minister Ricardo Molina said in a video of what appeared to be a meeting of ministry personnel.

"Whoever wants to be a member of (opposition party) Voluntad Popular ... can resign, because if they don't resign I'm going to fire them myself."

A ministry official said Molina had not responded and that for now his office had no plans to comment on the video.

Maduro kept Molina in his post when he unveiled a new cabinet on Sunday, a day after the video began circulating online.

The wave of discrimination charges came on the heels of violent opposition demonstrations demanding a full recount of the April 14 vote that Maduro won by less than 2 percentage points.

While officials say Capriles is responsible for the deaths, his camp believe the government has exaggerated the violence and included victims of common crime.


Opposition activist Delsa Solorzano says government agencies, public schools and state-run companies are using pictures on social networks or even stray comments critical of the government to target workers suspected of opposing Maduro.

She says she has received a flood of emails and calls from public employees, some of whom say they have been interrogated about their political views.

"They don't know who you voted for, but they suspect you might be an opposition sympathizer if once you posted some comment like 'Crime is really bad,'" said Solorzano, looking through an email inbox bulging with complaints.

"There are people in ministries whose job is to review Facebook and Twitter accounts."

In another video that also circulated widely online, an official in the western state of Zulia was apparently recorded telling employees in his office that campaign canvassing phone calls had revealed which of them supported Capriles.

"I'm telling you, we're going to fire you," Leonet Cabezas, a Zulia sports official, said in the audio recording. "We're not idiots ... We've identified you and we're going to get rid of you."

Cabezas later told a local newspaper his office was not going to sack anyone, and accused the legislator who released the recording of seeking to create "disturbances."

One anonymous Facebook page entitled "Denounce Traitors to the Fatherland" shows pictures of opposition marches with arrows and tags identifying the names and workplaces of public employees in the Andean state of Tachira.

"Now you see why we have to have to clean out so many state institutions!" one comment read.


Government allies say the charges are ridiculous because Venezuela's ballot is secret, meaning officials would have no way of knowing who voted for Capriles. Nearly all the complaints are anonymous, meaning they are impossible to verify.

"There is no harassment of workers," said ruling Socialist Party official Blanca Eekhout, according to local media.

"Why don't you ask about the deaths from violence spurred by Capriles, who should be accused of crimes against humanity?"

The situation is not without precedent in Venezuela. Ten years ago, Chavez allies collected a list of people who signed petitions calling for a recall referendum against him.

The opposition says that became a blacklist used to block people who later sought jobs or government contracts.

At the time, the practice was openly acknowledged by some rank-and-file "Chavistas," who described it as revenge for a botched 2002 coup that briefly ousted Chavez.

In 2005, the president himself lamented that government officials were using the list to decide "if someone gets a job or doesn't get a job" and ordered them to "bury" it.

Solorzano said the names of victims of discrimination after the latest election are being kept confidential, a few have gone on record with cases in previous months.

Evelyn Giambalvo, 40, who is on medical leave from the state-run Venezuelan Agricultural Bank, said her salary was cut off last September, the day after she posted a picture on social networks of herself with Capriles.

"The management said 'how can you publish that picture when you work at this institution?'" she said.

Her husband Freddys Diaz, 55, said he was fired from the same institution in February without explanation.

The Agriculture Ministry, which oversees the bank, did not respond to calls seeking comment.

"We're supposed to be living in a democratic country where you don't have to agree with what the government says, or much less applaud things you don't agree with," said Giambalvo.