Toyota’s Venezuelan Union Leader Shot

Argenis Valasquez, 33, a union leader who represented workers at Toyota Motor Corp's Venezuelan division, was shot dead by gunmen on Tuesday. The incident happened only a few weeks after the company said it might leave the country due to chronic labor problems.

The Venezuelan was gunned down right outside his home when he was leaving for work at Toyota's plant, Reuters reported. According to the local police chief, Carlos Gonzales, "A man got out of a gray Chevy with no plates and without a word fired a series of shots."

The Japanese carmaker has been assembling vehicles in Venezuela for 51 years but its representatives say it is considering leaving the South American country because of strikes and restrictions imposed by Hugo Chavez's government.

Human rights groups say union members are frequently murdered in Venezuela in disputes between different unions over lucrative contracts especially in the construction sector. Unofficial sources say that Valasquez was a prominent member of the talks over a strike in March.

During the oil boom that started several years ago, the industry had a rapid growth, but since the financial crisis started, Venezuela’s auto industry has been abruptly regressing. It has been hard-hit by labor strife and limits on dollars for imports imposed by the government to protect foreign reserves as oil revenues fall.

Prosecutors that investigate Valasquez’s case say they are also investigating the death of another union leader, Keller Maneiro, also shot to death a day before.

The Venezuelan auto industry was hit by similar incidents in January, when two workers were shot to death as police broke up a protest at MMC, a plant that assembles autos for Japan's Mitsubishi Motors Co and South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co.
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