To live in Ciudad Guayana is to know state-owned enterprise workers —lots of them. With all the nationalized “basic industries” around here, they’re a normal part of daily life. So I called around some of the ones I know to ask about today’s vote. The stories I heard were… remarkably similar.
José at Ferrominera
At Ferrominera, the big mining company in Guayana, workers are being forced to vote for the Constituent Assembly. The deal is simple: vote or you’re fired. At each department, the manager is responsible for making sure his people vote.
“I don’t know what I’ll do if I get fired,” he says. “My daughter is in the hospital.”
There’s nothing subtle about it. The order comes face-to-face, in notices and even via text message. Employees must go to meetings where the order is to vote. Nobody cares who they vote for —this is a single party election, man. Managers are required to make lists with the ID numbers of the employees voting, and send them to human resources by Monday.
José —not his real name— has worked at Ferrominera for 15 years. “They make everyone vote, especially those in higher positions.”
José isn’t voting, though. He’s not wealthy and he doesn’t have a plan B if they fire him, but he’s taking the chance.
“I don’t know what I’ll do if I get fired,” he says. “My daughter is in the hospital, I guess my wife and I will go with her. I don’t know.”
In his office, where barely ten people work, everyone has agreed to boycott the election. But, he adds, many others are compelled out of fear.
Maria’s mom at PDVSA
Martha —like all names, changed for this story— wouldn’t talk to me. I had to approach her daughter María instead. She talked to me in secret, without telling her mom. “I know her, there’s no way she’ll agree to an interview. She’s too scared”.
She must report to her boss the exact voting center she went to, and the time she went at.
Martha didn’t go to the vote drill. Her boss harassed her and the other employees with constant texts, but there was only one voting center in Ciudad Guayana, and it was too far to consider it.
For the real thing, the pressure is absurd. She must report to her boss the exact voting center she went to, and the time she went at. Martha will try a null vote. She’s been in PDVSA for more than 20 years.
Betania’s dad at Venalum
Betania’s dad wouldn’t talk to me (see a pattern?), but his daughter, an old friend, told me what he told the family. Her dad has been working for the big aluminum-maker way before chavismo was a thing: 25 years total.
I just wish they burn all of the voting machines, so no one can vote. I hate this fucking government with all my soul.
On Sunday, workers are being told to go to the plant first thing. They’ll be put on buses to the voting centers. Managers are responsible for making sure the workers participate, and have lists saying where each worker votes. They must show up in the company’s uniform too —for the picture.
Betania’s dad is determined to vote. He has to protect his job; he’s about to retire, he won’t risk it. His family thinks he should stay home today. “Here, they’ll block the road at 5 am” Betania tells me, “so he might not be able to leave. We want him to stay, something might happen on the way there.”
She catches her thoughts.
“I just wish they burn all of the voting machines, so no one can vote. I hate this fucking government with all my soul.”
Jorge in the Army
Military officers are forced to vote, just like any other state worker. As soldiers, they have to follow orders, or face trial by insubordination.
I wish I could reveal more about my guy, but he wouldn’t let me. He’s a military officer and it’s from el interior. He doesn’t want to vote, and his plan is to show up, say hi and walk out. By showing himself, he thinks, he’ll be off the hook.
I reached out to people at two other state companies, but they refused to talk, even after I offered to change their names. The fear of dismissal makes getting the stories extremely hard, and look at the pattern I discovered: threats are explicit, demands are crystal clear and the workers? Extremely resentful of the position they’ve been put in.