Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1992

Venezuela is a republic with an active multiparty democratic system, a free press,
strong unions, and a longstanding commitment to democrtury which enabled the
countiy to withstand two attempted coups during 1992. For more than 30 years
power has passed peacefully between the two major political parties throu^ open
elections. In 1988 a third political party emei^d as a significant factor; in the 1992
local elections, a fourth significant party emerged. In the immediate afi«rmath of
both coup attempts, the Government declared a state of emergency and, exercising
its constitutional prerogative in such circumstances, suspended some constitutional
guarantees, inchimng ^eedom of the press and the right to demonstrate. After the
first coup attempt on February 4, freedom of the press was restored within a few
days, and full liMrties were restored in April. After the second coup attempt on November
27, the Government lifted restrictions on assembly for electoral purposes
after 48 hours to enfd>le campaigning for the December 6 nationwdde local elections;
a few days later a nationwide curfew was lifted and most constitotional guarantees
were restored. Both coup attempts left the Government of Venezuela facing a severe
and multi-faceted political/military crisis.
The security apparatus has civilian and military elements, both accountable to
popularly elected authorities. According to the UJS. Arms Control and Disarmament
Agency, total militaiy expenditures for 1989 were $407 million. The proposed 1993
budget provides for uie first real increase in several years. One of the branches of
the military, the National Guard, has arrest authority and supplies the top leadership
for one of the country's police forces. During the February coup attempt, the
National Guard played a key role in the defense of the democratically elected Government,
but also was used to enforce the suspension of seven constitutional guarantees.
In the course of the year civilian and military security personnel were responsible
for human rights abuses.
The public sector dominates Venezuela's economy, particularly the petroleum industry,
which accounts for some 23 percent of the gross domestic product. The Government
is undertaking major economic restructuring to reduce its dependence on
oil exports, privatize many public sector firms, and enable domestic business to compete
more enectively in international markets.
Venezuelans tramtionally have enjoyed a wide range of freedoms and individual
rights, including a free press, active unions, and free elections, but serious human
ri^ts abuses continued in 1992. TTiey included arbitraiy and excessively lengthy
detentions, abuse of detainees, extrajudicial killings by the police and military, the
failure to punish police and security officers accused of abuses, corruption and gross
inefficiency in the judicial and law enforcement systems, deplorable prison conditions,
and violence and discrimination against women. Police sweeps of poor, crimeridden
neighboihoods resulted in increased incidents of extrajudicial kilhngs and arbitrary
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing.
^There were no reports of targeted
(i.e., government-ordered) political killings in 1992. Instances of extraiudicial
killings, however, continued. The press reported cases in which the police allegedly
shot and killed criminal suspects without appropriate justification, security forces
allegedly killed civilians, or arrested persons died while in police custody. Charges
are rarely brought against the perpetrators of such killings. If the perpetrators are
prosecuted, sentences issued are frequently light, or, more commonly, the convictions
are overturned during the appeal process. Unlike common prisoners, police
charged with crimes rarely spend much time behind bars.
Inunediatehr after the Februaiy 4 coup attempt, there were a number of credible
allegations oi extrajudicial killings by Doth sides. When restrictions on presa freedom
were lifted, it was reported that two officers, Jose Alberto Carregal Cruz and
Cabrera Lacdacta, who fought in support of the coup attempt, had been summarily
killed that day. Carregal Cruz was killed after he had surrendered to two members
of the Intelligence Pouce (DISIP). Carregal's body was exhumed by court order and
it was determined that he had been shot behind the ear at close range. The press
(and local human rights groups) also reported that government forces summarily executed
four students and three soldiers in Valencia on February 4. Three of the students
had gunshot wounds in their tenvples; the fourth had been shot in the back,
allegedly after police had beaten him. While the details of one of these shootings
are m oispute, the annual report of the Venezuelan Program for Action and Education
in Human Rights (PROVEA) says one student, C^lumba Guadalupe Rivas,
was taken off a bus by uniformed police and national guardsmen. Her body was
found the next day in the local morgue with a gunshot wound to the temple. This
incident is still being investigated; there is as yet no agreement on the facts. DISIP
reported that coup conspirators summarily executed thrbe of its officers: Rafael
Oramas Mayz, Jhon Edicto Cermeno and Gerson Castaneda.
In the wake of the November 27 coup attempt, questions were raised about the
killing of inmates in Reten La Catia prison. The Government claimed that coup
leaders distributed arms to the prisoners the day of the coup. Human rights groups
questioned the Government's assertion, however, pointing out that a police mventory
of weapons found in the prison a&er a three day siege located only one gun
and numerous knives. Most of the bodies of prisoners at the local mornie had fatal
gunshot wounds. The Government reported 63 prisoners killed at La Catia; a number
confirmed by human rights groups, who add that the fate of 25 additional prisoners
remained unknown. At the end of 1992, the Government had not yet completed
its investigation into this incident, although the National Guard was expected
to file a report. The total killed in the November 27 coup attempt was about
280, including from 90 to 100 civilians who were found shot dead in the streets,
many of them cau^t in the crossfire between the National Guard and the rebels.
Human rights organizations raised questions about extrajudicial killings by Government
forces during the recapture or a television station; the rebels also wantonly
killed three people during their initial takeover of the station. Witnesses in the vicinity
of the Presidential palace also claimed that a National Guard commander had
given the order to shoot demonstrators nearby.
In its annual report on human ridits abuses covering the period from October
1991 through September 1992, PROVEA, Venezuela's foremost human rights oivanization,
reported 143 extrajudicial killings. Extrajudicial killings unrelated to uie
coup attempt continued throughout the year. Twenty-year-old Simon Caraballo, a
student at the Experimental University of Guayana, was visiting family members
in Caracas the evening of August 8 when he was shot by four members of the National
Guard. He reptortedly fell off his bicycle and while still on the ground was
shot three times. Neighbors identified the vehicle of the guardsmen, and the National
Guard is investigating the case.
The Permanent Council of War, a military court in San Cristobal, Tachira, ruled
in April 1992 that the 1988 shooting deaths of 14 fishermen by Venezuelan security
forces in the town of El Amparo near the Colombian border was a legitimate military
engagement, not a deliberate massacre as alleged by two survivors. Fourteen
police officers who had been jailed because of their alleged involvement were freed.
The Council's decision was a surprise to many, since two of the survivors disputed
the military's contention that the victims were guerrillas. The Permanent Council
of War submitted the case to the Martial Court for further consideration.
On September 19 a group of heavily armed national guardsmen entered a poor
neighborhood of Caracas in search of a criminal. Afl«r a gunfight near a playground,
the criminal was wounded and arrested. Children in the nearby playground, upon
hearing the gunfire, scattered and hid in nearby shrubs. Reportedly, one of the
eiardsmen approached the playground and machine-gunned 16-year-old Efren
rbina, who was hiding in one of the shrubs, killing him instantly. The presumed
killer later told the press, "for this death no one will pay anything," and refused
to make any statements about what had happened or to submit his gun for ballistic
No pro^ss was made on charges of extrajudicial killings by security forces during
the nots of Februaiy and March of 1989. The cases remained under consider508
ation during 1992 in both military and civilian courts. Of approximately 300 cases,
onlv one has been ac^udicated: a poUoe ofiicer was found giiilty in 1991 of homicide
and sentenced to 1 year's imprisonment.
      b. Disappearance.
In 1992 there were fewer reports of persons disappearing
without explanation and only one report of a suspect's disappearance while m police
custody. On September 12, Junior Kafael Barco was forced into a police vehicle by
police officials near his house; his family was never able to locate him. On February
22 Helmeson Garcia Vertiz was forcibly tfiken from his house by defense intelligence
(DIM) officials and was never seen again. Soldier Angel Hernandez Dimas was reported
missing by his parents in niicUJanuary. There is some concern that Dimas'
disappearance may be linked to the coup attempt of February 4, since he was a
member of the parachutists battalion wmdi participated in the coup, and his last
contact with his family was three days eaiiier.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Torture is prohibited by law, but physical abuse of detainees continued in 1992. According
to local human rights monitors, this abuse includes cases of electric shock,
beatings, rape, and near-suffocation. PROVEA reported 32 cases of torture in the
first SIX months of 1992 and stated that instances of torture for political reasons
increased after the coup attempt of February 4. According to PROVEA, torture in
Venezuela "is done systematically, but is not yet massive or generalized." PROVEA's
annual report tabulated the number of torture cases as follows: MUitaiy Police (19),
State PoUce (5), Military IntelUgence (6), DfiSIP (7), National Guard (10), Technical
Judicial Police (11) and the Army (1).
In April, police arrested 25-year-old Miguel Angel Delgado Mendez, the son of a
military captain, after he witnessed a fight in a restaurant in the town of Los Caracas.
While in custody he was reportedly beaten semi-unconscious and had acid
poured on him. Delgado was subseciuently abandoned semi-naked in a street. After
regaining consciousness he found his way to the nearest office of the National Guard
and was immediately taken to a military hospital for treatment of "severe bums and
intoxication." The hospital later said he suffered first degree bums on 8 percent of
his bodv. Delgado's father pursued the case and request^ an investigation, but by
the end of 1992 there had oeen no progress, and no action had been taken against
Delgado's all^fed assailants.
A subconunittee of the Congressional Internal Political Committee initiated an investigation
of torture by police and National Guardsmen of prisoners in La Planta
prison. El Paraiso, Caracas. According to family members, on the night of the first
coup attempt, when constitutional guarantees were suspended, pohce officers entered
cells six and seven and beat and abused the prisoners there. The prisoners
were allegedly told they could not denounce their torturers because "constitutional
guarantees were suspended." The sub-committee has not yet issued its report.
Prison conditions, which are generally very poor due to overcrowding, are strongly
condemned by human rights groups and government officials. There are 30 jails for
a prison population which, according to government figures, numbered 31,099 in
1991. Of tnis number only 10,577 had been sentenced. Local human ri^ts organizations
calculated that a detainee typically spends about three and a hfuf years in jail
before final disposition of his case. Sporadic prison riots occurred due to poor prison
conditions su^ as overcrowding, inadequate diet, minimal health ctire, and pl^sical
abuse by guards and other prisoners. Violence within the prison system is growing.
During the first 7 months of 1992, 129 prisoners were killed (compared to 124 for
all of 1991) and 300 wounded, most by fellow prisoners, although an additional 90
were allegedly killed by the National Guard during the November 27 coup attempt.
In February the (Jovemment created the National (Tenter for Prison Studies to
reeducate and train prison personnel. Personnel from one prison were chosen to initiate
the experiment.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Althou^ the ri^t tojudicial determination
of the legality of detention is provided by law, a potential for abuse exists because
arrested persons or those unaer investigative detention legally can be held for
as long as 8 da^s without a formal detention order. During this time they majr be
held incommunicado. On the eighth day a judge, taking the police investigation into
account, issues a form^ arrest order; if no evidence \b found, the police release the
person. Arbitrary arrests and aurests without proper warrants are common, and
time limits for holding persons are frequently exceeaed.
Prisoners complain about having to pay fees extorted by prison officials for transportation
to judicial proceedings at which formal charges are made. Detainees without
money to pay the unauthorized charges are sometimes unable to get to their
judicial hearings.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the ri^t to a fair trial is provided by
law and some procedural safeguards exist, the accused (in criminal cases) bears the
burden of proof regarding innocence. Lengthy pretrial detention of 2 to 3 years and
case backlogs are the norm. The justice system is overburdened, corrupt and inefficient.
The law provides public defenders for those unable to afford a oefense attorney
but there are not enough public defenders in the country to meet this obligation.
The Judicial Council, the governing body of the judicial branch, stated that there
are 150 public defense attorneys with an average of 170 active cases each. Because
of the unequal distribution of cases, some defenders handle as many as 260 cases.
The judicial process is written, requiring the costly and time-consuming production
of voluminous reports by judges, attorneys, and witnesses at every stage. Some
Venezuelan leaders and legal experts also blame delays and other irregularities on
corruption and the use of personal influence. The civilian judiciary is legally independent,
but connections to the two major political parties are important in the judicial
selection process, and political parties can and do influence judicial decisions
in particular cases. This overburdened justice system also suffers from a lack of public
Civilians charged with armed subversion can be tried by military courts as insurgents.
There is neither a statute of limitations nor a requirement for a speedy trial
lor cases in military courts, although persons convicted under the military justice
system have the same right of appeal to the Supreme Court as those prosecuted
under the civilian system. Military judges are appointed by the Supreme Court. The
lack of deadlines in the military system, combined with its procedural secrecy and
tendency to "close ranks," makes it unlikely that defendants undergo an impartial
or timely prosecution. These factors can also result in military offenders being
shielded from responsibility for human rights abuses.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
has constitutional safeguards protecting citizens against arbitrary interference
with privacy, family, home, and correspondence. In general, these safeguards
are effective. Immediately after the February 4 coup attempt, the following
constitutional safeguards were suspended: freedom of travel, freedom of speech,
freedom to strike, personed security and liberty, inviolability of one's home, the ri{^t
to assembly, and the right to demonstrate. On Februaiy 17 the Government restored
freedom of speech and travel and the freedom to strike. All constitutional
safeguards were restored on April 9.
In the aftermath of the November 27 coup attempt, the Government quickly restored
all the suspended constitutional guarantees, except those of personal security
and liberty and inviolability of one's home (an action intended to facilitate the Government's
continuing investigation of this coup attempt). At the end of 1992 it was
still too early to determine whether any unusual abuses had occurred because of the
temporary suspension of these rights.
In recent years there have been many complaints of telephone surveillance; there
were fewer reported cfises in 1992. Both private individuals and the security forces
were accused of illegal wiretapping.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of the
press and free speech. These liberties, along with academic freedom, are almost universally
honorea. Venezuela has a free ana lively press, which frequently criticizes
the Government and denounces instances of government interference in the media.
After the Februaiy 4 coup attempt, the Government imposed censorship; in some
instances weekly magazines and newspapers were seizecC and officials of the Ministry
of the Interior screened articles at various press offices. Security officials also
impeded the distribution of specific newspapers, for example, the February 8 edition
of El Diario de Caracas. As a result of domestic and international criticism, the Government
withdrew its censors.
Tlie Government did not impose censorship in the wake of the November 27 coup
attempt, althou^ it did order one radio station temporarily closed during the crisis
for allegedly inciting the population. It also suspended broadcast of the television
program of journalist Jose Vincente Rangel, one of the leading critics of the Government.
The Government restored freedom of the press within days to ensure the continuation
of the campaigns for nationwide local elections on December 6.
The Government has met regularly with the owners of the media to discuss issues
the Government considers sensitive. The media do not practice self-censorship, but
are aweire of the Government's concerns; nonetheless, media criticism contmues.
Media owners have categorically rejected a proposed constitutional amendment by
Congress which would restrict monopoly ownership of media and establish a le^al
"right of reply" to persons denounced in the press. The owners claim that both issues
are covered by existing laws.
Individual journalists coverinff popular demonstrations have accused the security
forces of speoiically targeting them (for example, journalist Maria Veronica Tesari
suffered a skull fracture on March 19 from the impact of a tear gas canister while
she was covering a demonstration). The accusation was supported by the Inter
American Press Association (lAPA) meeting in Caracas in July, in its annual report,
PROVEA listed 125 cases of security forces roughing up journalists. On December
10 the president of the joumaUsts' union called the attacks against journalists "deplorable"
and "intolerable," noting that most took place during demonstrations. He
accused poUce of deUberately attacking journalists to prevent tnem from publicizing
demonstrations. According to the lAPA, freedom of the press is "being harmed" in
Venezuela. The lAPA cited police brutality against journalists and the occupation
and censorship of the print media during the orief period after February 4, as well
as the outri^t banning of some magazines and newspapers.
Venezuela has 4 nationwide television networks (2 of which are governmentowned),
3 regional television stations, 168 radio stations, and numerous newspapers
and magazines, with 9 dailies in Caracas alone. The Government is a significant
source of advertising revenue for the media, but there appear to be no recent instances
in which government advertising was channeled for political ends.
b. Freedom o/" Peaceful Assembly and Association.—Freedom of peaceful assembly
and association is normally respected in Venezuela. Public meetings, including those
of all political parties, are held generally without interference. Permits are reouired
for puolic marches but are not denied for political reasons. Professional ana academic
associations operate without interference.
The constitutional provision guaranteeing freedom of assembly and association
was suspended on February 4 and restored in April. Despite this suspension, there
were many attempted demonstrations. Government security forces were criticized
for excessive use oi force in attempting to stop these unauthorized marches. Security
forces were especially criticized for indiscriminately using tear gas near classrooms.
Local human rights oi^anizations reported about 532 demonstrations between
January and July. Of these, 123 were stopped by the security forces, and 168 were
considered violent. During these demonstrations, about 853 people were detained,
340 people were injured, and 18 deaths were reported. All of these casualties were
attributed to government security forces.
      c. Freedom of Religion
The population is predominantly Roman Catholic, although
other religious groups eryoy freedom of worship and proselytize actively. Foreign
missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, are active throughout the country.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Citizens and legal residents are free to travel within the country and
to go abroad and return. Venezuela traditionally has been a haven for refugees, exiles,
and displaced persons from many European, Caribbean, and Latin American
countries. They are given normal residence status and may be expelled only because
of criminal activities.
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: the Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Venezuela is a multiparty democracy with a government freely elected by secret
ballot. Suffrage is manaatory for aU those 18 years of age or older, and the political
process is open to all. Elections for the President, Congress, and state legislative assemblies
are held every 5 years. Governors and mayors were elected for the first
time in Venezuelan history in 1989 for three year terms, and voters also were able
to choose individual candidates by name, rather than selecting only from among
larty slates. Also, in 1989 the Congress revised the electoral law to allow election
_iy name of half of the Federal Congress in 1993; the rest wiU be elected proportionately
from partv slates, as ell currently are. On December 6, Venezuelans again
voted for indiviaual candidates on a local level.
Political views are freely expressed, and persons from the entire political spectrum
contend for positions ranging from municipal council seats to the presidency. The
two largest parties aire centrist: the Democratic Action (AD) and the Social Christian
(COPEI) parties. The Movement toward Socialism (MAS), founded by disenchanted
members of the Venezuelan Communist Party, has increased its share of the total
vote in recent elections and draws between 5 and 10 percent of the vote. In the December
6 local elections. Causa R, a workers' party, emerged as a significant fourth
entity after its candidate was elected mayor of Caracas.
Women and minorities participate fuUy in (Jovemment and politics, albeit in
smaller percentages than tneir proportionate numbers in society. There are no legal
impediments to their free participation, but traditional attitudes produce some de
facto impediments. Women and minorities are promoted into high-level positions at
a slower rate than men.Section 4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation
(rf"Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A considerable number of local human rights groups are active (mainly in Caracas)
and vigorously criticize perceived government inadequacies in redressing grievances.
Since the coup attempt, human rights groups have emerged in other states.
Some of the groups complain of police harassment, including the disruption of legitimate
protests, unlawful entry into the homes of activists, and surveilmnce. Two regional
groups—the Latin American Foundation for Human Rights and Social Development
ana the Federation of Families of Disappeared Persons—have ofllces in Caracas.
These human ri^ts organizations are able to operate free of government restriction.
Section 5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Venezuelan law prohibits discrimination based on ethnic origin; however, members
of the country's indigenous population frequently suffer from inattention to and
violation of their human rights. Venezuela is home to seven major indigenous ethnic
groups, including the Yanomani, who live largely in the state of Amazonas bordering
Brazil, and me Guajiros, settled in the western state of ZuUa along the border
with Colombia.
Article 77 of the Venezuelan Constitution provides for special laws governing "the
f>rotection of indigenous communities and tneir nrogressive incorporation into the
ife of the nation. There are a few indigenous Congressmen who are members of
the dominant political parties. There is also an orgeinization of indigenous elected
Congressmen, called the Indigenous Parliament of Venezuela. Indigenous groups repeatedly
have asked the Government to consider providing for proportional representation
of ethnic minorities in the country's legislative bodies, as well as the
right to preserve their ancestral lands and cultures. During the 1992 debate on reform
of the Constitution, indigenous groups met with the President and members
of Congress to press these demands. However, the proposed constitutional amendment
was not approved when the entire reform package was deferred indefinitely.
Many of the country's indigenous people live isolated from modem civilization and
lack access to health and educational facilities theoretically available to all Venezuelans.
However, even groups that are more integrated into the social fabric complain
of lack of access to medical facilities and care. A reflection of the inequality
of access to public health care is the disproportionate number of reported deaths
among the Indian population from cholera. The Minister of Health said that 80 percent
of Venezuela's cholera cases occur among its indigenous population. Throu^
September 1992, nearly 2,000 cholera cases were reported nationwide, with 41
In 1991 the Government inaugurated the Upper Orinoco-Casiquiane Biospheric
Reserve for use by the approximately 14,000 Yanomani Indians. The 32,038-squaremile
reserve is designed to prevent development of and incursions onto Yanomani
territoiy. No mining, farming, colonization, or proselytizing is permitted. The creation
01 this reserve is widely seen as an important step toward preserving indigenous
culture and rights, affecting about one-tenth of Venezuela's Indian peoples.
The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. According to women's
groups, there are serious problems facing Venezuelan women, including rape
and assault (including by police ofiicers), lack of access to education and medical
care, and culturally ingrained discrimination that results in women's relative underrepresentation
in leadership positions in the political structure, trade unions, and
the private sector. The first two problems, violence and lack of access to public services,
impinge especially, but not exclusively, on women from the lower economic
strata. The perpetrators of acts of aggression against women are rarely punished.
The Ministry of Women's Affairs was abolished in 1992 as part of a broad government
initiative to restructure the central Government in order to reduce expenditures.
Congress is presently considering a law to create two institutions related to
women: the first is the Nation^ Counal on Women, an independent institute that
would continue the same functions of the previous ministry. The second is a proposed
National Office for the Defense of Women's Rights, to oversee the implementation
of federal laws and regulations on women's rights.
Section 6. Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Both constitutional and labor law recognize and encourage
the right of unions to exist, llie comprehensive Labor Code enacted in 1990
extends to all public sector and private sector employees (except members of the
armed forces) the ri^ht to form and join unions of their choosing. The Codemandates
registration ofunions with the Ministry of Labor, but reduces the Ministry's
discretion by specifying that registration may not be denied if the proper documents
(a record of the founding meeting, the statutes, and the membership list) are submitted.
Only a judge ma^ dissolve a union, and then only for reasons listed in the
law, such as the dissolution of a firm or by agreement of two-thirds of the membership.
One mfgor union confederation, the Venezuelan Ck)nfederation of Workers
(CtV), and three small ones, as well as a number of independent unions, operate
freely in Venezuela. About 25 percent of the national labor force is unionized.
There are no restrictions on affiliation with international labor organizations, and
many union organizations play active international roles. The CTV^ top leadership
includes members of several political narties. The m^ority are affiliated with the
country's laijjest party, the AD. The CTV and the AD partv reciprocally influence
each other, tne CTV, however, has repeatedly demonstrated its independence from
the Government (in which the AD holds the presidency and a plurality of the seats
in the congress) and from the AD party (as evidenced by its frequent criticism of
the Government's economic policies).
The ri^t of pubUc and private sector employees to strike is recognized legally and
upheld in practice. The Labor Code extends the right to strike to all government
employees (except members of the anned services), but states that it may only be
exercised by puolic servants if it does not cause 'irremediable damage to the population
or to institutions." It also allows the President to order public or private sector
strikers back to work and to submit their dispute to arbitration it tiie strUce
"puts in immediate danger the lives or security of all or part of the population." In
recent years Venezuelan workers have seldom resorted to strikes, but a perceived
decline in living standards has increased the willingness of workers to consider
them seriously. During 1992 most strikes occurred among government employees.
In most cases, the threat to strike was sufficient to achieve a resolution satisfactory
to the workers.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Collective bargaining is protected
and encouraged by the Labor Code and is freely practiced throu^out Venezuela.
According to the Code, employers "must negotiate a collective contract with
the union that represents the majority of their workers. The Code also contains a
provision stating that wages may oe raised by administrative decree, provided that
the Congress approves the decree.
The law pronibits employers from interfering with the fonnation of unions or with
their activities and from stipulating as a condition of emplojmaent that new workers
must abstain from union activity or must join a specified union. Complaints regarding
violations of these articles of the law are heard by Ministry of Labor inspectors,
who can impose a maximum fine of twice the minimum monthly wage for a first
Under the Code, union officials have special protection from firing. If a judge determines
that any worker was fired for union activity, the worker is entitled to back
pay plus either reinstatement or payment of a substantitil sum of money, which varies
according to his years of seniority.
Labor relations law and practice is the same in Venesniela's sole export processing
zone as in the rest of the country.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
There is no forced or compulsory
labor in Venezuela. The Labor Code states that no one may "obligate others to work
against their vrill."
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Labor Code allows children
between the ages of 12 ana 14 to work if given special permission by the National
Institute for Minors or the Labor Ministry. Children between the ages of 14 and 16
may work if given permission by their legal guardians.
Minors may not work in mines, smelters, or in occupations "that risk life or
health," in occupations that could damage intellectual or moral development, or in
"public spectacles."
Those under 16 must by law work no more than six hours a day or 30 hours a
week. Minors under 18 may work only during the hours between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.
The law is enforced effectively by the Ministry of Labor and the National Institute
for Minors in the formal sector of the economy, but much less so in the informal
sector, which by the end of 1990 (latest availaole figures) accounted for 41 percent
of total employment. Some children work as street vendors; there ia no other occupation
in which employment of children is believed to be substantial.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Venezuela has a national urban minimum
wage rate and a national rural minimum wage rate. To these minimum figures are
added mandatoiy fringe benefits that vary with the workers' individual circumstances,
but which in general increase wages by about one-third. This combined
income provides a living wage, though the perception of the average worker, as
enunciated by the labor unions, is that purchasing power has declined significantly
over the last several years. Only domestic workers and conciei^s are legally ex513
eluded from coverage under the minimum wase decrees. Under the Labor Code, the
rates are set by a£ninistrative decree. The decree is then sent to Congress, which
can either suspend or ratify, but may not modify the decree. Minimum wa^s are
enforced effectively in the formal sector of the economy by the Ministry oi Labor.
There is no reliable information regarding compliance in the informal sector.
The 1990 Labor Code reduced the standard work week to a maximum of 44 hours.
Article 196 of the Code requires "two complete days of rest eadi week." Some
unions, such as the petroleum woikers, have negotiated a 40-hour week. Overtime
may not exceed 2 hours daily, 10 hours weekly, or 100 hours annuaUv, and may
not be paid at a rate less than time-and-a-half. These standards are efitectively enforced
by the Ministry of Labor in the formal sector.
The new Labor Code specifies that women may not be discriminated against with
regard to remuneration or woiking conditions, may not be fired during pregnancy
and for a year after giving birth, are entitled to unpaid leave (and compensation
from the social security agency) for 6 weeks before the birth of a child and 12 weeks
after, and are due 10 weeks of unpaid leave if they legally adopt children under 3
years of age.
A health and safety law was passed in 1986, but its enforcement awaits implementing
regulations. The delays are due largely to concern over the fact that the
law provides penal sanctions against management when violations of health and
safety occur, and ambiguity in the law over what constitutes a violation. The Labor
Code states that employers are obligated to pay specified amounts (up to a maximum
of 25 times the minimum monthly salarv) to workers for accidents or occupational
illnesses, regardless of who is responsible for the injury. It also requires that
workplaces must maintain "sufficient protection for health and life against sicknesses
and accidents," and it imposes nnes of from one-quarter to twice the minimum
monthly salary for first infractions. Enforcement of uie law by inspectors fixim
the Ministry of Labor appears to be effective.