A New Perspective
by Trey Barrineau
August 17th, 2017

Pray for Venezuela — and its Glass Workers

As the slow-motion man-made disaster in Venezuela rolls on, it’s important to remember that there are brothers and sisters in our industry who could be suffering because of it.

If you’ve followed DWM for the past year or so, you probably read our coverage of the takeover of Guardian Industries’ float glass plant in Maturin, Venezuela by that country’s socialist government. This week, we ran a two-part series marking the anniversary of the occupation.

As you know, the corrupt, incompetent and increasingly brutal regime of President Nicolas Maduro marched troops into the facility in late July 2016. A week later, it was declared a “socialist company” by a local official.

The plant’s seizure appears to be an example of rank opportunism, perhaps informed by bureaucratic ignorance of what goes into the glass-making process.

Guardian has maintained that Maduro’s government used a routine shutdown for repairs at the facility as a pretext to occupy it. (Glass-making furnaces have to be completely turned off every decade or so to rebuild them.) Venezuela, in response, trotted out a tired line it’s used for years to justify taking over hundreds of foreign companies. It claims Guardian closed down its operations as part of an “economic war” that’s being waged by “imperialists” from the U.S.

Anybody believe that?

Since the occupation began, social-media clues have hinted that the factory could be struggling to produce glass.

In November, a worker at the former Guardian operation told DWM that the plant was “a shell of itself” and was barely operating. That same month, a man on Twitter involved in the silica industry begged the government to re-open the facility. And just this month, another man in the glass and metal industries sent a tweet urging an investigation of Guardian’s former plant to a government agency that looks into “economic crimes” like  “usury, boycott and hoarding.”

Meanwhile, the former Guardian glass workers are forced to attend pro-Maduro political indoctrination sessions hosted by Venvidrio, the government-run company that now administers the plant. They also had to declare whether they support the Maduro regime when the firm hosted a sign-up session for government-issued food-rationing cards. In a country where close to 85 percent of the population opposes the ruling party — and where food shortages are so common that about 75 percent of the population has lost an average of 19 pounds this year — how many workers were forced to lie just so they could feed their families?

And at least one worker has been subjected to intense Twitter harassment because she was suspected of being a supporter of the political opposition. Her name, photo and job title were shared in the post, and it was retweeted by rabid pro-government supporters more than 1,300 times.

It’s not really surprising, though. The thuggish, totalitarian nature of today’s Venezuela is reflected in the history and structure of Venvidrio, a company founded after the illegal takeover of another U.S. company, Owens-Illinois.

Fittingly, Venvidrio’s current president is a general in the Venezuelan army, a tool of the state that is being used to crush opposition to Maduro.

The good news for Venezuela is that this system can’t go on. A government that only serves its people oppression, starvation and 830-percent inflation will face their wrath sooner rather than later. The bad news is that the transition to a more open and democratic government could be painful. It already is — hundreds have died in clashes with pro-government forces in the past few months.

In the meantime, say a prayer for our colleagues at the former Guardian facility. They’re doing the best they can in an unimaginably difficult situation.

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