Mérida, December 3, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)-- After seventeen Venezuelan labor unions paralyzed major highways in Aragua state on Tuesday following a weekend of protests to demand an investigation into the assassination of three labor unionists, Venezuela’s Interior and Justice Ministry announced that it has apprehended a key suspect in the murders.
“Last night, an alleged perpetrator of this triple crime was apprehended. His name is Julio César Arguinzones Romero, a 31 year-old Venezuelan citizen,” said Interior and Justice Minister Tarek El Aissami.
Richard Gallardo, Carlos Requena, and Luis Hernández, members of the National Union of Workers (UNT), were victims of a “hired homicide” committed last Thursday, El Aissami confirmed.
The Minister added that “the investigation is already well underway,” and that several other suspects in the crime may be arrested soon.
The apprehension came one day after President Hugo Chavez ordered a full scale investigation of the murders, declaring, “In Venezuela we cannot permit the installation of this perversion, these hired assassinations.”
“Now, we have to investigate a company, I am not going to name any company, but I have some information, about a foreign-owned company against which they [the murdered union leaders] were fighting,” said Chavez during an inauguration ceremony for the new governor of Aragua state, United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) member Rafael Isea.
At the time of their murder, the three union leaders were involved in a workers’ strike against the Colombian-owned milk processing company ALPINA to protest the company’s alleged violations of a collective labor contract. During the protests, the local police forces had violently repressed the workers.
National UNT leader Stalin Perez Borges called on the government to investigate the involvement of both ALPINA and the Aragua police in the hired killings of the three prominent union leaders.
“I fear an escalation of hired assassinations because of the political situation in the country, like what the large estate owners did against farmers starting in 2001,” following the passage of the Chávez administration’s land reform law, said Perez Borges in an interview on the government television station VTV.
President Chávez, whose administration has nationalized electricity, telecommunications, steel, and cement companies over the past two years, said companies that violate workers’ rights will be nationalized.
“We must nationalize all those companies where there are problems with the workers, where they don’t pay the workers, where the owners exploit the workers, where they go into debt and close down without paying the workers,” said Chávez.
Chávez made special mention of one such company, Sanitarios Maracay, a toilet production factory in Aragua state that was occupied and run by the workers for more than a month in late 2005 after the owners shut down the factory without paying the workers. The labor minister at the time, Ramón Rivero, and former Aragua Governor Didalco Bolívar, both of whom are identified with the right wing of the Chávez camp, sided with factory owners and sent in the police to evict the workers.
Chávez’s statements seemed to be a firm rejection of such anti-labor policies. “We must take over these companies and construct new companies with the social ownership of the means of production… that is what socialism is,” the president said on Sunday.
Chávez also said Governor Isea and the workers in Aragua state “have my complete support to transform the police of the state of Aragua.”
On Tuesday, El Aissami announced a new measure that will require the Interior and Justice Ministry to approve all new appointments of local police chiefs.
This new policy is based on the Organic Law on Police Service and National Police, which Chávez signed last April, using the presidential law-decree power granted to him for eighteen months by the National Assembly, said El Aissami.
Meanwhile, Orlando Chirino, a national coordinator of the UNT, called on the civil and military authorities of Aragua state, along with the federal prosecutors in charge of investigating last week’s murders, to a dialogue with the workers.
The purpose of the dialogue will be to form a joint commission to investigate the murders, establish support programs for the family members of the victims, concretize the government’s plans for eradicating hired assassinations and other violence against workers, and to confirm “the commitment of the government to initiate the process of nationalization of Sanitarios Maracay,” according to Chirino.
Erick Torre, a member of the Pepsi-Cola Workers Union and spokesperson for the protesters in Aragua Tuesday, said the protests could become national in scale unless the true culprits in last week’s murders are brought to justice.