Merida, June 18, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Three grassroots community leaders and two local members of the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) in Nueva Esparta have been released after several days in state custody. The five activists – including a prominent local trade unionist –- had been arrested Friday after leveling accusations of corruption and alleged economic offenses against their local United Socialist Party (PSUV) mayor and a network of prominent business leaders.
The arrested citizens claimed that Mayor Karina Aguilera is complicit in a string of illegal practices allegedly carried out by the business leaders, including the re-packaging and reselling of state subsidised food products in the coastal city of Juan Griego on Margarita Island.
PCV member Maurelis Rendón, who is also the local president of the health workers union (SISTRASALUD), and three other activists from the Ezequiel Zamora Bolivarian Civic-Military Front (FCMBEZ) were arrested by the National Guard on Friday, later to be released sometime between Sunday evening and Monday afternoon. They were leading a filmed community-led price review operation in a series of private shops and are being accused of “incitement to looting.”
Grassroots price checking has been encouraged by Venezuelan President and PSUV head Nicolas Maduro as a way for communities to combat illegal practices such as price speculation and the re-selling of the heavily subsidised goods which the government distributes directly to millions of families via the Local Production and Supply Committees (CLAPs).
The five activists have roundly dismissed allegations of having promoted “looting.”
“[My mother] didn’t loot anything,” claimed Rendon’s daughter, Mauris Gomez, following her arrest. She went on to accuse the National Guard of beating her mother after the latter refused to hand over a list of signatures calling for the destitution of the local CLAP director, who has likewise been implicated in the alleged corruption scandal.
“We didn’t touch any products [during the price checking operation] but rather took video footage… of the prices and of the CLAP and regulated products that were being resold in transparent bags,” she added.
Speaking in the video of the operation which the FCMBEZ uploaded to Youtube, Renden denounced that a number of basic products from the CLAP program such as flour and sugar were on sale inside the store in repackaged label-less plastic bags.
“We were informed by a friend in the National Guard that the mayor had given the order for [Renden] to be arrested,” claimed her daughter.
Following their arrest, local PCV leader Lenin Velasquez hurried to the facility where they were being held to enquire about their status, only to be arrested himself.
Grassroots leftist groups had previously accused Mayor Aguilera, who won election in Marcano municipality in Nueva Esparta state this past December, of corruption during her electoral campaign. They claim she signed closed-door deals with the local business community, in particular with business leaders of foreign origin, to illegally redirect subsidised CLAP products to their stores in exchange for electoral support and financing. She won the December elections by 53%.
The allegations levelled against Mayor Aguilera also include the naming to the post of municipal CLAP director a powerful businessperson and owner of numerous food retail establishments of Arab descent.
In particular, local members of the PCV accuse the PSUV politician of breaking the pre-electoral written agreement signed by both parties this past March in which President Maduro committed his government to take decisive actions against price speculation and other offences committed by “economic mafias.”