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Purges in Venezuela

The sacking of civil servants who are opposed to President Maduro is unacceptable

Nicolas Maduro giving a speech. AP

The purge of Venezuela’s civil service, which was ordered by President Nicolás Maduro, is not only a violation of the most basic democratic principles, but also of the South American country’s Constitution and laws. It is an intolerable assault on the principle of free thought that should be the basis of any democracy, and is a sinister reminder of the lengths Venezuela’s leader is prepared to go to remain in power.

Last week, in a speech calculated to intimidate the country’s opposition, Maduro boasted that the purges being carried out by Turkey’s authoritarian leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, would pale in comparison to what he intended to do. On Tuesday, Maduro ordered that all senior civil servants who had signed a petition to hold a recall referendum on his presidency in May be sacked within 48 hours. The measure will affect around 19,000 people, a third of those holding managerial positions in the country’s administration.

None of the signatories has broken the law, but this has not stopped the government from launching a propaganda campaign against them

The purges underway by Erdogan are more than questionable, but Maduro should bear in mind that Turkey has just suffered an attempted military coup. In Venezuela it is the government that is breaking the law by imprisoning members of the opposition, holding show trials and boycotting the opposition-controlled parliament, and is now trying to halt same mechanisms that were created by Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, and are enshrined in the Constitution. Although the posts in question are discretional, the measure could also violate a decree signed by Maduro to protect jobs.

The more than 400,000 people who signed the recall referendum petition – twice the required amount – now in the hands of Venezuela’s electoral commission, didn’t come forward so that the government’s apparatus could take reprisals against them. None of the signatories have broken the law, but this has not stopped the government from launching a propaganda campaign against them. The regime’s de facto number two, Diosdado Cabello, has called three times this month for signatories to be sacked.

Maduro is prepared to go to any lengths to prevent a referendum on his mandate being held. If the plebiscite is held after January 10 and he loses, new elections will not be automatically held; Maduro will simply be replaced by the vice president.

This harassment of people asking for a perfectly legal referendum and their demonization as “enemies of the revolution” is unacceptable, even from a government that in electoral terms has already lost the confidence of the people.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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