November 20, 2001

Labor protests stir Venezuelan capital

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) --Traffic slowed to a grind and police struggled to maintain
order during three labor protests in this South American capital city Tuesday.

More than 2,000 government workers in three separate protests were demanding
millions of dollars in overdue pensions, bonuses and salary raises. Police blocked off
the streets to prevent traffic from interfering with the protests.

Labor debt is one of the toughest challenges facing President Hugo Chavez's almost
three-year government, which inherited a staggering $ 21 billion in overdue state
wages and pensions and a bursting bureaucracy. Venezuela, which has a gross
domestic product of $ 100 billion, is struggling out of an economic recession.

Some analysts predicted increased labor unrest after tough government opponent
Carlos Ortega won elections for the presidency of the Confederation of Venezuelan
Workers, the country's largest union confederation with one million members.

"Every year it's the same. Every year they lie to us," said Zaida Arcila, an
unemployed former prison guard who has been waiting for five years for her

Arcila was protesting along with hundreds of others in front of the Interior Ministry
to demand a combined debt of $ 80 million. National Guardsmen closed the gates to
the ministry to prevent the angry crowd from bursting in.

Workers staged similar protest in front of the Finance Ministry to demand overdue
Christmas bonuses.

 Copyright 2001 The Associated Press