Just days after being sworn in as the new president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro's government has begun a campaign to punish dissenters and purge the government of those who backed opposition leader Henrique Capriles in the recent election. Maduro, who is Hugo Chavez's hand-picked successor, ran a campaign that relied on intimidating government employees and members of the military into voting for him. Secured in his new position, Maduro and the Chavistas are now seeking retribution against those who dared to oppose him.
Already working to restrict the free speech rights of the opposition, and drawing a rebuke from Human Rights Watch for this crackdown, the Chavistas have now started compiling lists of those who supported the opposition and are working to remove them from the government payroll. This crackdown has led to several hundred people being fired from government jobs. Government officials have said that the allegations of a crackdown are false, but evidence points to the contrary.
Ricardo Molina, housing minister in the Chavista government, was caught on video demanding complete political loyalty from his employees. "What the labor laws say doesn't matter to me at all," growls Molina in the video, discarding laws that forbid punishing workers for their political beliefs. "Zero tolerance. I don't accept anyone that bad-mouths the revolution, that anyone bad-mouths Nicolas [Maduro]. They need to quit. Because if they don't quit I personally will fire them."
Odalis Monzon, a Chavista congresswoman, tweeted that she is going to start hunting for people in her district who support the opposition. She threatened to cut off aid to any poor people at the Social Missions or any government employees who were "banging pots" to challenge the narrow election results. Prior to the election, the Chavista government had threatened to cut off welfare to anyone who backed Capriles. The government has also detained military officers and questioned them on their loyalty to Maduro and his government.
The crackdown reveals a regime in panic mode. The fact that Henrique Capriles came within two percentage points of derailing Hugo Chavez's so-called "revolution" by defeating Maduro at the ballot box has terrified the Chavista government. They realize that without their strongman in charge anymore, they do not hold the same power and respect as before. With half the electorate opposed to him, Maduro thinks he must clean house in order to consolidate his support. Doing so enhances his status as a paranoid authoritarian, and will only work to further embolden an angry opposition.