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Amnesty International criticizes Venezuela's 'forced labor' decree

By Andrew V. Pestano
Amnesty International criticizes Venezuela's 'forced labor' decree
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (2L) last week signed a presidential decree calling on all physically able Venezuelans to work in the agriculture sector. Amnesty International slammed the decree as "unlawful" and called it a form of "forced labor." Photo courtesy of Prensa Presidencial

CARACAS, Venezuela, July 29 (UPI) -- Amnesty International has slammed a recent "forced labor" decree by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro that could draft public and private workers to increase food production.

At the end of last week, Maduro signed a decree that would give Venezuela's Ministry of Popular Power for Social Process of Work the ability to order any Venezuelan with the physical or technical capabilities to join a government effort to work in the agriculture sector for up to 120 days.

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Venezuela is facing a deepening economic crisis in which basic goods, such as food, medicines and toiletries, are in short supply. Tens of thousands have traveled outside the country, mainly to Colombia, to restock supplies as store shelves and kitchen cupboards are nearly empty. Venezuela's farming association in June said only 25 percent of the country's agricultural land is being used to farm.

Amnesty International criticized the decree as "unlawful and effectively amounts to forced labor."

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"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," Erika Guevara Rosas, Amnesty International's Americas director, said in a statement released Thursday. "The new decree completely misses the point when it comes to findings ways for Venezuela to crawl out of the deep crisis it has been submerged in for years."

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Maduro, who is facing efforts by the Venezuelan opposition to oust him, has blamed the country's financial woes on a U.S.-backed "economic war" carried out by political enemies and corporations. To combat the alleged "economic war," Maduro has taken steps including ordering the military to take control of five ports as part of "war strategies" to provide food and medicine.

"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," Guevara Rosas added.

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