Source AP ©

Venezuela government cracks down on business groups

The U.N. labor agency reckons that Venezuela's left-wing government is violating the rights of the country's employers by preventing them from organizing freely.

The International Labor Organization called for the government of President Hugo Chavez to ensure that business groups can operate "free from violence, pressure or threats of any kind against (their) leaders and members."

ILO also urged the government to drop legal proceedings against senior officials of the Fedecamaras business chamber, ensure they have freedom of movement, and guarantee employers' right to free speech through the media.

Fedecamaras, which is made up of hundreds of thousands of business members and has traditionally been anti-Chavez, recently urged voters to oppose the president's constitutional reforms "by all legal means." The call was condemned Wednesday by Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabezas, who said the group appeared to be calling for resistance beyond opposing the reforms at the ballot box in a Dec. 2 referendum.

Chavez has repeatedly warned that his enemies could try to topple him by stirring unrest around next month's vote, though he has not singled out Fedecamaras.

Cabezas accused the group of playing a key role in a short-lived 2002 coup that briefly ousted Chavez. The interim leader who briefly took Chavez's place was Pedro Carmona, a businessman who then headed Fedecamaras.

Governments, employers groups and labor unions are all represented at the ILO, making it unique among U.N. bodies that are generally reserved for governments.

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