A little over a year ago, the government of Venezuela ordered the military to seize the Guardian Industries glass plant in that country. Since then, a USGlass analysis of social media and Internet posts shows that the facility has reportedly restarted operations, while the workers have faced blatant political coercion from Venvidrio, the state-owned company that manages the factory.
In this two-part series, USGlass will examine the latest news from the plant since the takeover.
A Notable Anniversary
Last week, Venvidrio put out a press release claiming that the workers at the Maturin plant “joyfully” celebrated the first anniversary of the government takeover, which was sparked when Guardian attempted to shut down the facility to perform maintenance on the float line.
The employees of the “socialist organization” put together a series of activities to celebrate the restarting of the plant, saying it has become “a national symbol of the production of flat glass in Venezuela,” according to the release.
The program included a Roman Catholic mass and the recognition and blessing of the plant’s employees. The glass workers expressed their “fighting spirit, thus demonstrating to the oligarchy that, as an industry of the Venezuelan state, they are confident in the economic and production development of the nation,” according to the release.
“Here is the working class, so supported by the homeland of Bolivar and Chavez that no empire will frighten us, much less bring us to our knees,” they said.
Workers at the former Guardian plant in Venezuela during a ceremony marking the one-year anniversary of the government’s takeover of the facility.
Workers at the former Guardian plant in Venezuela shake hands during a ceremony. Note that some still have their Guardian work shirts on.
A cake and a Bible were part of the ceremony.
Social media posts showed about 80-90 workers taking part in last week’s event. According to CINVICRE, a trade organization in Venezuela, the Guardian glass plant there once employed 250 workers.
— Venvidrio (@Venvidrio) August 10, 2017
Venvidrio says the glass workers expressed satisfaction at belonging to such an important enterprise.
“I always thought that this plant should belong to the state, because of its size and the production it generates,” said Emilio Lobado, who Venvidrio says has 27 years of service at the former Guardian facility. “Before, the owners left with almost all the profits and also abandoned the workers. Today, as a state enterprise, we receive more benefits than we received before.”
Guardian has forcefully rejected Venezuela’s claim that the company “abandoned” or “sabotaged” the facility, and it says the government violated international investment treaties by taking over the factory.
“Contrary to what has been asserted by the Venezuelan government, Guardian Venezuela never abandoned or closed its operations,” the company said in a statement in September 2016.
Do “Benefits” Include Access to Food Rations?
Earlier this summer, glass workers at the plant were issued Carnets de la Patria during a special registration session.
The Carnets de la Patria — homeland identity cards — allow the holders to buy subsidized food and other basic necessities. The cards are issued by the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
An official news release said the registration activity at the Maturin glass plant was accompanied by “an atmosphere full of happiness and revolutionary music.” It said the cards will help “strengthen social protection programs that solve the problems and needs of the people.”
However, critics in Venezuela say they are no more than ration cards and are used to control the population.
Food shortages and starvation are now common in the country as the economy melts down through a combination of failed socialist policies and the global decline in gasoline prices. (Venezuela is one of the world’s top oil-producing countries, and for years the government funneled income from that into social programs.) Earlier this year, inflation hit 830 percent, according to a report from the Venezuelan American Leadership Council, which is working to bring democracy and peace back to the country.
According to some observers, access to food is being used as a weapon in the Maduro government’s ongoing conflict with political opponents. A February article from Caracas Chronicles, an English-language website that features reports from people on the ground in Venezuela, says the cards can only be obtained from the ruling political party’s local committees.
“You are explicitly asked which party you support when you go to sign up,” the article says. “It isn’t hard to imagine how difficult it will be for people with different political opinions to obtain a Carnet de la Patria.”
Venezuelans often stand in line for up to 12 hours to register for the cards, according to Caracas Chronicles.
A Heavily Politicized Workplace
In addition to the rationing cards, Venvidrio workers appear to be under constant pressure to toe the government line.
The company’s social media feeds are full of photos and videos of workers taking part in pro-Maduro protest marches, and workplace “educational sessions” with government officials appear to be common.
Finally, as part of the low-level civil war that Venezuela has descended into, pro-Maduro groups are searching for the social media accounts of suspected anti-government sympathizers online and pointing them out — including one who might be an employee at the Maturin facility.
In June, an account called Mamba Negra posted a tweet that claimed this woman, who is said to be a director of human resources at the former Guardian plant in Maturin, is a supporter of the opposition party. It was retweeted more than 1,300 times.
— Mamba Negra (@Mamba4F92) June 6, 2017
Tomorrow: Is Guardian’s former plant producing any glass?
William Nicholson, a former foreign correspondent and bureau chief for The Associated Press in Latin America, translated sources cited in this story.