TACARIGUA, Venezuela - The razor-close vote to replace late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has sparked what opposition leaders and human-rights groups say is a government crackdown on public employees who either didn't back Chavez's successor or failed to show sufficient support for the ruling party.
The April 14 election had revealed a major shift in public support away from the Chavez program as problems such as food shortages, soaring inflation and crime, as well as the absence of the late leader's famous charm, led hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans to back the opposition for the first time since Chavez took power 14 years ago.
It was an ominous start for successor Nicolas Maduro's government, which is struggling to write the second chapter of the country's socialist transformation amid deepening economic problems and widening divisions in a bureaucracy and public that once solidly backed Chavez.
Several high-ranking government officials have openly discussed punishing political disloyalty among government employees. On top of that, the human-rights wing of the coalition opposition headed by Gov. Henrique Capriles says it has received more than 300 complaints of people being fired from government jobs on suspicion of having voted for leading opposition presidential candidate Capriles, who lost to Maduro by only 1.8 percentage points.
Another 1,000 or so public workers have complained about intimidation from supervisors and threats of punishment for supporting the opposition, the opposition's rights office said.
Government officials did not respond to requests from The Associated Press for comment on the allegations, but some have told Venezuelan media that the charges are pure invention by the opposition and media outlets that back it.
Those denials, however, conflict with a video posted on YouTube Saturday showing Housing Minister Ricardo Molina meeting with apparent co-workers and demanding complete political loyalty despite a legal prohibition against sanctioning workers for their political beliefs.
"What the labor laws say doesn't matter to me at all," Molina exhorts, his voice soaring. "Zero tolerance. I don't accept that anyone bad-mouths the revolution, that anyone bad-mouths Nicolas."
He added: "They need to quit. Because if they don't quit I personally will fire them."
It was unclear whether the video was taken surreptitiously, but the person who posted it did not respond to an AP request via YouTube seeking comment. Molina's spokeswoman said Monday that his office would provide an official statement on the matter, but then did not, and did not answer repeated phone calls.