Three trade unionists Richard Gallardo, Luis Hernández and Carlos Requena, leaders of the pro-revolution National Union of Workers (UNT) and also members of the United Socialist Left party were shot dead late Thursday night in Aragua state, Venezuela.
The union leaders were gunned down by an armed assassin on a motorbike as they made their way home after participating that day in a labor dispute with the Colombian-owned Alpina food processing company.
There is speculation that the attack was carried out by paramilitaries hired by the Colombian company, which is reported to have utilized paramilitaries in similar disputes in its home country. Patricia Rivas writing for YKVE Mundial on November 28 pointed out that the attacks resembled a method of assassination commonly used against unionists and social movement activists in Colombia, known as sicariato, whereby hired gunmen on motorbikes carry out drive-by shootings.
However, the day before, the unionists had also been attacked by the Aragua state police aligned with outgoing opposition governor Didalco Bolivar. Bolivar, who was previously an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez but defected to the right-wing opposition in the lead up to the Constitutional reform referendum in Venezuela in 2007, has previously deployed the state police against workers in labor disputes.
In a press conference on November 27 Hernández had denounced that 400 Alpina workers had been brutally repressed by the police, "The workers were inside the factory demanding from the company that they pay, in full and quickly, the money owing, when the police unexpectedly entered the premises and in a brutal manner began to kick out the workers."
We immediately contacted workers in the rest of the area and "in a matter of minutes the company was surrounded by workers affiliated to the National Union of Workers. Thanks to this act of solidarity we managed to recuperate control of the factory and the workers have occupied it again," Hernandez had told the media.
Hernández, Gallardo and Requena were known as, "implacable fighters" for workers’ rights who "never bowed down in the face of constant threats by bosses, union bureaucrats and elements of the public force that are enemies of the workers," a statement by the United Socialist Left said.
"We render tribute to our murdered comrades who showed us, by their example and behaviour, that the rights of workers must be respected. The comrades offered their life for the principle of the defence of the interests of the working class and of socialism."
"In their name and with their example we will continue the battle for the socialist revolution, expropriating from the bosses, breaking definitively with imperialism and building a government of the workers and the people," the statement continued.
The workers are calling for the incoming governor of Aragua Mario Isea, a member of Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and the national government to immediately carry out a full investigation.
The Attorney General’s Office responded that it has launched an investigation and assigned national public prosecutor Orlando Villamizar and Aragua state prosecutor Elas Pérez, to head up investigations.
The incident highlights the growing class conflict that has erupted across Venezuela in the aftermath of the November 23 regional elections. Numerous reports have surfaced of Venezuela’s elite, US-backed opposition launching a campaign of violence and intimidation against trade unionists, grass roots community organisations and pro-revolution social movements, particularly in the areas where they won.
In a statement in solidarity with the workers in Aragua, the Carabobo section of the UNT said the incidents are not isolated and that many cases of sicariato have occurred across the country, particularly in the construction sector, against unions in the private sector and against peasant leaders fighting for land reform in the countryside.
The statement argued that there had been no serious investigations into the many cases of sicariato and that the governmental bodies such as the police and the Attorney General’s Office had been incapable of responding to such incidents.
Stalin Perez Borges, a national coordinator of the UNT argued "President Chavez and the national government must carry out an investigation to the ultimate consequences and with mobilization we must defeat impunity."
Perez Borges added that workers could not simply rely on the "ordinary justice" system because it often sided with the right-wing opposition and bosses against workers and instead called for the formation of a special commission comprised of workers organisations whose investigations "have the force of the law."
"For this reason, at the same time, we convoke the immediate organisation of popular workers self-defence. The government must grant all the resources for the training and armed defence of the workers and their leaders. It will not be the corrupt police, in many cases the direct assassins, who will prevent these crimes. It will be us, the workers. We propose…our own self-defence against fascism," he said.
Similarly, in a speech on Thursday highlighting a number of opposition attacks against Cuban doctors, education and health missions and community organisations Chavez, who described himself as a "subversive" in Miraflores presidential palace called for the "permanent mobilization" of the Venezuelan people to defend the Bolivarian revolution.