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Venezuela calls for mandatory labor in farm sector

Workers ride on a pickup truck toward farm land in Santa Barbara de Zulia in Venezuela.
Miguel Gutierrez | AFP | Getty Images
Workers ride on a pickup truck toward farm land in Santa Barbara de Zulia in Venezuela.

The government of Venezuela has issued a decree that "effectively amounts to forced labor" in an attempt to fix a spiraling food crisis, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

A Venezuelan ministry last week announced Resolution No. 9855, which calls for the establishment of a "transitory labor regime" in order to relaunch the agricultural and food sector. The decree says that the government must do what is "necessary to achieve strategic levels of self-sufficiency," and states that workers can be forcefully moved from their jobs to work in farm fields or elsewhere in the agricultural sector for periods of 60 days.

"Trying to tackle Venezuela's severe food shortages by forcing people to work the fields is like trying to fix a broken leg with a band aid," said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, in a statement.

The law is vague in laying out exactly which workers can be forced to work in the farm sector, though it indicates that both public- and private-sector workers may be included. While working in food production, workers will be suspended from their regular jobs. They'll be allowed to return to their original jobs upon the completion of service.

"The new decree completely misses the point when it comes to finding ways for Venezuela to crawl out of the deep crisis it has been submerged in for years," Rosas said. "Authorities in Venezuela must focus on requesting and getting much needed humanitarian aid to the millions in need across the country and develop a workable long term plan to tackle the crisis."

Under President Nicolas Maduro, the country has been gripped by skyrocketing inflation and food shortages that have led to rising unrest this year.

Venezuela's oil-dependent economy capsized with the fall in crude prices in 2014, leaving whole swaths of the country's 31 million people without enough food or other necessities. Inflation is expected to hit almost 720 percent this year, and gross domestic product is seen falling by 8 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chavez, left the nation in a vulnerable economic position by nationalizing energy assets while oil prices were high and spending proceeds on widespread social programs. Oil's global drop in 2014 left the government far short of its revenue needs and with only an anemic private sector to generate taxes or jobs.