Venezuela pressures state workers to vote

By Alexandra Ulmer

CARACAS (Reuters) – State workers in Venezuela are receiving frequent phone calls, pressure from bosses and threats of dismissal to ensure they vote in favor of President Nicolas Maduro’s controversial new congress on Sunday.

The unpopular leftist Maduro is pushing ahead with the election to create a powerful new legislature despite four months of deadly anti-government protests in the oil-rich South American nation, which is reeling from food shortages, runaway inflation and violent crime.

Maduro says the 545-seat Constituent Assembly, which will have the power to dissolve all other state institutions, will overcome the “armed insurrection” to bring peace to Venezuela. His opponents say it is a puppet institution designed to cement a dictatorship.

With surveys showing that almost 70 percent of Venezuelans oppose the assembly, the government wants to avoid embarrassingly low turnout in a ballot being boycotted by the opposition.

Pressure on state employees is higher than ever, according to interviews with two dozen workers at institutions ranging from state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) to the Caracas subway, as well as text messages, internal statements, and videos seen by Reuters.

“Any manager, superintendent, and supervisor who tries to block the Constituent Assembly, who does not vote, or whose staff does not vote, must leave his job on Monday,” a PDVSA vice-president, Nelson Ferrer, said during a meeting with workers this week, according to a summary circulated within the company and seen by Reuters.

In a video of a political rally at PDVSA, an unidentified company representative wearing the red shirt often worn by members of Maduro’s Socialist Party shouted into a microphone that employees who do not vote will be fired.

“We’re not joking around here,” he says.

Workers recount a laundry list of pressures: text messages every 30 minutes, phone calls, mandatory political rallies during work, requests that each worker enlist 10 others…

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