Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1986

Venezuela is a republic with an active multiparty democratic
system, free press, strong unions, and an ardent commitment to
democracy. For the past 28 years, power has passed peacefully
between the two major political parties through open elections.
Venezuela has a mixed economy, dominated by the public sector
The state-owned petroleum industry accounts for some 23 percent
of the gross national product, more than any other industry.
Venezuela has experienced economic problems resulting from
declining petroleum revenues, a large foreign debt, and high
governinent expenditures, including debt service. For the past
8 years per capita income has been declining.
Human rights violations, when they occur, tend to be well
publicized and investigated. Venezuela is an active
participant in international human rights forums and is noted
within the Hemisphere as a proponent of civil liberties and
democratic rule. The principal focus of human rights
discussion within Venezuela is on deficiencies, including
allegations of corruption, in the country's overtaxed judicial
Venezuela maintained its good human rights record in 1986.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
a. Political Killing
Authorities do not engage in or condone unlawful or arbitrary
killing for political motives, and there were no reports of
such killings. There have been instances of police and
security forces shooting and killing criminal suspects. Such
incidents are investigated when there is reason to believe the
killing was illegal. Perpetrators may be charged with a crime
and prosecuted in the courts.
b. Disappearance
As a matter of policy, police authorities do not abduct,
secretly arrest, or hold people in clandestine confinement.
Reports of police abuse are publicized and investigated.
Investigation of a case in March in which bodies were
discovered in abandoned wells indicated local police
involvement in the secret arrest and summary execution of
chronic criminal offenders. Prosecutors are seeking 26-year
sentences for the three policemen implicated. A congressional
oversight committee is examining this case and related
allegations of police abuse.
Kidnapings for ransom are occasionally reported, especially on
Venezuela's border with Colombia. Some of these may be
attributable to small guerrilla groups from Colombia operating
in western Venezuela.
c. Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
Venezuelan law prohibits the torture of prisoners; this
prohibition is respected in practice. Constitutional
guarantees of the integrity of the individual are enforced.
Laws prohibiting cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or
punishment are generally respected. Some infractions occur,
however, because of excesses on the part of local law
enforcement officials or inadequate supervision of prison
guards. Prison conditions are spartan, at times very poor, and
overcrowding is a serious problem. Discipline is sometimes
inadequate, and violence by guards against prisoners
occasionally occurs, especially in the more crowded prisons.
Officials responsible for such violence are not known to be
punished. The low educational level and limited training of
many prison guards are contributing factors.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The right to judicial determination of the legality of
detention is guaranteed by law. Arrested persons legally
cannot be held more than 8 days without formal charges. The
limits are frequently exceeded, however, usually because of
inefficiencies in the legal system.
For example, the case of four persons charged with the bombing
of a Cuban airliner and detained since 1976 has yet to be
concluded. Three remain incarcerated; one escaped prison in
1985. In a preliminary judgment, two of the suspects were
found guilty and the third innocent. All three remain in
prison pending confirmation of the ruling by a higher court.
Illegal immigration, mainly from Colombia, remains a concern
for Venezuelan authorities. Once in police custody, foreign
nationals without documents are frequently held incommunicado
and then deported without legal proceedings.
There is no forced or compulsory labor; unremunerated labor is
prohibited by law.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Fair trial is guaranteed by law and a number of procedural
safeguards are provided. The accused is presumed innocent
until guilt is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. However,
preventative detention is legal and common and accounts for
a large percentage of the prison population awaiting trial.
According to Ministry of Justice officials, approximately
76 percent of the 28,000 persons in prison have not yet been
tried. The same judicial authorities attribute the backlog to
an insufficient number of qualified judges; automatic review
of all lower court decisions by higher courts, which cannot
limit their dockets; and failure to enforce procedural
deadlines at each stage of the legal process. Delays of 2 or
3 years in a normal case are not infrequent. Bail is only
permitted for relatively minor crimes. A Judges Association
study in 1980 revealed that there was one judge for each
180,000 inhabitants in the Caracas area. The extraordinarily
slow pace of justice appears to be a product of the system's
complexity and the formality of criminal trial procedures.
The judicial process is almost exclusively a written one,
reqiairing costly and time-consuming production of voluminous
reports — by judges, attorneys, and witnesses — at every stage.
The civilian judiciary is independent but connections to the
two major political parties are important in the judicial
selection process. The Judicial Council, an independent body
responsible for the training, nomination, and disciplining of
judges, actively investigates allegations of inappropriate
conduct and has taken severe disciplinary action in a number
of cases. The Government is aware that improvement of the
judicial system is necessary to increase public confidence in
the courts. Civilians charged with armed subversion are tried
by military courts. These persons — numbering several dozen —
are considered insurgents by the Government; there is no
enforceable time limit on military adjudication of their cases.
f . Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home or
The Constitution and law provide safeguards against arbitrary
interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence.
These safeguards are honored in practice.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Venezuela has a free and lively press; journalists frequently
criticize the Government and denounce instances of government
interference in the media. The Inter-American Press
Association (lAPA), however, recently reprimanded the
Government for allegedly intimidating El Diario de Caracas
(EDO for its investigative reporting and critical commentary.
lAPA published an open letter to the Government to protest what
it claimed were restrictions on the freedom of the press.
Echoing complaints registered by journalists before a
Venezuelan congressional committee, lAPA held Venezuelan
authorities responsible for the suspension of radio programs
and newspaper columns and judicial intimidation of journalists,
including the jailing of the EDC editor Rodolfo Schmidt on
charges of defamation.
Venezuela has 3 nationwide television networks, a regional
television station, over 156 radio stations, and numerous
newspapers and magazines. The current administration's plans
to invest in a newsprint plant have raised fears of enhanced
government influence on Venezuela's privately owned print
media. The Government currently subsidizes newsprint
consumption through preferential exchange control and is a
source of advertising revenue for the media. There is no
evidence it has used economic measures to influence the press.
Professional and academic associations operate without
interference .
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of peaceful assembly and association is respected.
Public meetings, including those of all political parties, are
held without interference. In the interest of public safety,
permits are required for public marches.
An object of "special protection" under the Constitution, labor
unions are free, independent, and powerful. They have the
right to strike and to bargain collectively. Unions associate
with the recognized public and private international bodies in
their fields. The Conf ederacion de Trabaj adores de Venezuela,
an affiliate of the International Confederation of Free Trade
Unions, dominates organized labor in Venezuela and has close
ties to the ruling Accion Democratica party. Other
confederations occupy a lesser role on the labor scene.
c. Freedom of Religion
The population is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, although
other religious groups enjoy freedom of worship and
proselytize actively. A number of Protestant evangelical
groups in remote areas of Venezuela are performing
humanitarian as well as missionary work among the local
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Citizens of Venezuela generally have freedom to travel within
the country, abroad, and to return. Travel in the Amazon
military zone is an exception and requires a special permit
for security reasons. Venezuelans may emigrate without
Citizenship can be renounced. Recovery of nationality
requires a residence period of 2 years for Venezuelan-born
repatriates. The Constitution provides for revocation of
citizenship for naturalized citizens on specific and limited
legal grounds.
Venezuela has traditionally been a haven for refugees and
displaced persons from many European and Latin American
countries. Refugees are given normal residence status and can
be expelled only for criminal activities. A special family
reunification program exists for Cuban refugees living in
Venezuela. In September Venezuela acceded to the United
Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
The Government is freely elected. As a multiparty democracy,
the political process is open to all; opposition views are
freely expressed and persons from the entire political
spectrum contend for positions ranging from municipal council
seats to the nation's presidency. Some of the minor parties
are outgrowths of former guerrilla organizations, and they
currently hold about seven percent of the seats in the
national legislature. The two major centrist parties. Social
Democratic and Social Christian, encourage and support
participation of minority parties in the political process.
This support reflects a widespread desire to have radical
elements participate in the electoral process rather than
engage in armed insurrection. These minor, mainly leftist,
parties have been unable to win the electoral sympathies of
voters and have, therefore, been unable to increase their
percentage of representatives in the national legislature.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
Venezuela is a vocal critic of governments that commit or
tolerate widespread human rights violations. It supports
international human rights organizations. Amnesty
International and the Latin American Foundation for Human
Rights and Social Development have offices in Caracas.
Venezuela is a member of the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Language, or Social Status
There is no evidence that economic and social needs and
cultural aspirations are denied on a discriminatory basis to
any portion of the population.
The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex
and accords women and children "special protection" in the
workplace. Women workers receive extensive maternity leave
benefits, and laws limit their amount of involuntary overtime.
Women are heavily represented in many of the professions but
continue to be underrepresented in the political and economic
sectors. Differences still exist between men and women in
wage and employment opportunities.
Women are increasingly active in all political parties,
professions, public administration, and the judiciary. Two
ministers of state are women, and 11 were elected to the
200-member Charober of Deputies.
Restrictions on property rights based on sex, religion, or
social status do not exist, but there are some restrictions on
ownership of business property based on nationality.
The legal minimum age for employment is 14, with certain other
restrictions applying. The Government establishes a minimum
wage. The workday is 8 hours, and the workweek 48 for workers
over 16.
A complete overhaul of the industrial safety statutes was
passed by Congress in September. In practice, enforcement of
occupational safety regulations is inconsistent due to the
lack of enforcement resources nationwide.