Caracas, Venezuela – In the last few months, Venezuelan politics pretty much has revolved around the opposition’s push for a vote to recall President Nicolas Maduro, which the socialist government has fought vigorously — and with the executive and judicial powers it still controls.
But the government’s latest effort to stop the referendum is by far the bluntest.
On Monday, a high-ranking Chavista announced that a big chunk of public employees who are supportive of the vote, and signed a petition for it back in April, will lose their job.
Jorge Rodriguez, who is also mayor of Caracas, said all public employees at the manager level who offered their signature to have the referendum process started have “48 hours to resign” or else will be fired.
He said the ruling party will provide ministers and public companies a list with all the names.
“In the public administration we cannot have as managers people who don’t support the revolution,” he said in a press conference.
In Venezuela there are approximately 3 million public employees, but according to law only those who hold a manager position can be let go without cause.
Servando Carbone, director of the National Federation of Public Workers, told Fox News Latino that as many as 10,000 people could lose their job this week due to the government’s most recent move.
“They are doing it as threat to all the public workers and to make them afraid of supporting the referendum in the future,” the union leader said.
In order for the recall vote to take place this year, thus guaranteeing that Chavismo is out of power, the opposition needs to collect almost 4 million signatures (20 percent of the electorate) by the end of October.
“Those people expressed their support for the right-wing opposition,” said Mayor Rodriguez with an accusatory tone.
This is not the first time public employees feel pressure from the ruling party that pays its salary.
“[Since April’s collection of signatures] we have compiled around 1,200 cases of people who have been fired,” Carbone told FNL, adding that the International Labor Organization was made aware of the situation.
Almost half of the public workforce in Venezuela (about 1.2 million people) is made up of temporary employees, who are perceived as more susceptible because their job depends on the renewal of their contract.
“They like this kind of workers because they can be manipulated,” Carbone said.
The 48-hour ultimatum comes as the opposition prepares what it hopes will be a massive protest rally on Sept. 1, powerful enough to force a vote this year.
“That day begins the last stage of Maduro’s government,” said opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara. “To be able to vote, we have to go out and protest. The protests have to be massive, steady and pacific,” he added.
In the meantime, student activists and political figures such as Lilian Tintori, wife of imprisoned Leopoldo Lopez, are starting to heat up the mood with events and demonstrations in Caracas and across the country. On Monday night, governor and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles called on people from all over the country to go to Caracas for the big event.
The route of the rally will not be disclosed to avoid any possible sabotage from the government side, which is already accusing the opposition of plotting acts of violence and is calling on Chavistas to take to the streets that day.
"We will protect the streets because every violent intention always brings anguish and anxiety and we won't let that happen," Mayor Rodriguez said.
Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.