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TITLE:  VENEZUELA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993                           
DATE:  JANUARY 31, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

                VENEZUELA


Venezuela is a republic with an active multiparty democratic 
system, a free press, well established unions, and a 
longstanding commitment to democracy.  These factors enabled 
the country to withstand the impeachment of a president in 1993 
and two attempted coups in 1992.  For more than 35 years, power 
passed peacefully between two large political parties through 
open elections.  Two-party dominance ended on December 5, 
however, when former President Rafael Caldera was elected 
President with the support of a diverse coalition of small and 
medium-sized parties.  The new Congress due to convene in 
January 1994 will be comprised of four major political 
groupings.  The December 5 elections were generally 
characterized as fair and open, although allegations of fraud 
cast doubt on results for some state and national legislative 
contests.

The security apparatus has civilian and military elements, both 
accountable to popularly elected authorities.  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.  The National Guard is also 
responsible for guarding the exterior of prisons, maintaining 
order during times of civil unrest, and monitoring frontiers.  
In addition, independent police forces are operated by the 
Ministry of Justice, state governments, and many 
municipalities.  Both police and military personnel were 
responsible for human rights abuses.

The public sector dominates Venezuela's economy, particularly 
the petroleum industry, which accounts for some 22 percent of 
the gross domestic product.  The Government undertook major 
economic restructuring to reduce its dependence on oil exports, 
privatize many public sector firms, and enable domestic 
business to compete more effectively in international markets.

Venezuelans traditionally have enjoyed a wide range of freedoms 
and individual rights, including a free press, active unions, 
and free elections, but serious human rights abuses continued in
1993.  They included arbitrary 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, a lack of respect for the rights of indigenous 
people, and discrimination and violence against women.  In 
addition, the courts made no progress in prosecuting those 
responsible for many extrajudicial killings during the two 1992 
coup attempts, the November 1992 massacre at Reten de Catia 
prison, or the 1989 urban riots.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of targeted political killings, but 
extrajudicial killings by the security forces continued.  The 
Venezuelan Program for Action and Education in Human Rights 
(PROVEA), one of Venezuela's most respected human rights 
organizations, reported 187 extrajudicial killings from October 
1992 through September 1993.  At least eight of the victims 
were under 15 years of age.  According to PROVEA, 66 of the 
killings were carried out by the metropolitan police, 33 by 
state police, 22 by the Intelligence Police (DISIP), 21 by the 
National Guard, 16 by the Judicial Technical Police (PTJ), 11 
by the armed forces, 8 by municipal police, and 10 by other 
branches of the security apparatus.  The perpetrators act with 
near impunity, as the Government rarely brings charges against 
them.  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 in prison.

In the La Vega borough of Caracas, a group of five hooded men, 
alleged by witnesses and family of victims to be local police 
officers, committed seven killings in a 2-week period, four of 
them in one night.  In a sweep through La Vega near midnight on 
May 16, the men moved from house to house, fatally shot Orlando 
Aliendre, wounded two passersby, and then killed 17-year-old 
Jorman Saavedra.  Two witnesses, Douglas Guevara and Jordan 
Perdomo, were also shot and killed as they ran from the scene.  
Surviving witnesses, although reluctant to speak to authorities 
out of fear of reprisals, identified a specific sergeant in the 
local metropolitan police as leader of the group and matched 
the killers' clothing and equipment with that of the police.  
The local police chief reportedly dismissed the allegations by 
simply stating that no one in his unit belonged to such a group.
An investigation by the Ministry of Justice Police moved slowly 
and failed to identify any suspects by the end of the year.


Simple interactions with local police often proved fatal.  In 
February in the city of Maracaibo, an officer of the Zulia 
State Police allegedly shot 17-year-old evangelist Juan Gabriel 
Rincon in broad daylight.  According to witnesses, the officer 
stopped the youth on the street and asked to see his identity 
card.  The officer reportedly brandished a loaded hand gun and, 
in the ensuing conversation, threatened to kill Rincon's sister 
who was accompanying him.  Rincon intervened and was fatally 
shot.  The police officer was jailed, and criminal proceedings 
were initiated against him.

No one was prosecuted for the 34 extrajudicial killings that 
occurred during two attempted coups in 1992.  Investigations of 
the killings moved slowly, impeded by a resistant bureaucracy.  
Likewise, no one was prosecuted or even held responsible for 
the November 1992 killing of at least 63 prisoners at Reten de 
Catia prison.  The National Guard stormed the prison and 
allegedly fired indiscriminately after having heard that coup 
leaders had distributed arms there (a police investigation 
noted that only one gun and numerous knives were later 
inventoried).  While the Government officially reported 63 
prisoners killed at Reten de Catia, human rights groups 
asserted that the fate of 25 additional prisoners remained 
unknown.

Although almost 5 years had elapsed, no progress was made on 
charges of extrajudicial killings by security forces during the 
riots of February and March of 1989.  The Government maintained 
that 276 people died, while human rights groups documented some 
400 cases of persons who were killed or disappeared during the 
disturbances.  At least 68 of those killed were buried 
anonymously in mass graves in a Caracas cemetery.  Some human 
rights organizations accused the authorities of intentionally 
disposing of the bodies in unmarked graves to conceal the 
identity, cause and manner of death of the victims and thus 
protect the perpetrators from prosecution.  Although the bodies 
were exhumed in 1991, only three have been positively 
identified.  Approximately 300 cases regarding the 1989 
killings remained under consideration in both military and 
civilian courts, but only 1 has been adjudicated:  a police 
officer was found guilty in 1991 of homocide and sentenced to 
1 year's imprisonment.  The Committee of Family Members of 
Victims of the Riots (COFAVIC) continued to seek a thorough 
investigation and prosecution of the cases.  The Government and 
the courts, however, made no substantial effort to hasten 
proceedings.


A military court of appeals ruled in March that the 1988 
shooting deaths of 14 fishermen by Venezuelan security forces 
in the town of El Amparo near the Colombian border was an 
excessive use of force, not a deliberate massacre as alleged by 
2 survivors.  Fourteen of the police and military officials 
responsible for the deaths were sentenced to 7 1/2 years in 
prison, roughly half of which they had already served.  Local 
and international human rights groups and the victims' 
representatives expressed dissatisfaction with the verdict, 
asserting that the court had disregarded crucial evidence and 
testimony demonstrating that the event was a deliberate 
massacre.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances 
in 1993.  The press and human rights groups, however, reported 
the unrelated disappearances of two members of the military.  
Military authorities claimed both were cases of desertion, 
while family members asserted the soldiers had been killed as a 
result of foul play on the part of the military.  One of the 
disappeared soldiers allegedly had information that his 
superiors were involved in narcotics trafficking.

No progress was made towards resolving the cases of military 
personnel who disappeared around the time of the November 1992 
coup attempt.  Likewise, there were no prosecutions resulting 
from the unrelated disappearances in 1992 of Jonathan Salazar 
Rojas or Junior Rafael Barco, both of whom allegedly 
disappeared while in police custody.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading 
         Treatment or Punishment

Torture is prohibited by law, but physical abuse of detainees 
continues.  This abuse reportedly includes the use of electric 
shock, beatings, rape, and near suffocation, usually during the 
interrogation of detainees.  In its annual report on Venezuela 
released in November, Amnesty International maintained that 
torture and ill-treatment are widespread and sometimes resulted 
in death.  Most of the victims come from the poorest and least 
articulate parts of society, but political activists, student 
leaders, and members of grassroots organizations have also 
reportedly been victims of torture and ill-treatment as a 
result of their activities.  PROVEA documented 105 cases of 
torture from October 1992 through September 1993.  Red de Apoyo 
por la Justicia y la Paz, another human rights organization, 
reported 90 incidents of torture from March through May alone.  
All of the major human rights groups asserted, however, that 
these numbers are low because many victims remain silent about 
abuse due to fear of retribution.

According to PROVEA, 32 of the reported torture incidents were 
carried out by DISIP, 18 by the Technical Judicial Police 
(PTJ), 17 by the National Guard, 17 by the armed forces, 13 by 
state police, 7 by the metropolitan police, and 1 by municipal 
police.  Amnesty International asserts that torture continues 
in Venezuela, primarily because the courts failed to 
investigate complaints of torture properly and bring those 
responsible to justice.  In addition, a number of human rights 
groups report that the lack of independence of the Institute of 
Forensic Medicine, which is part of the PTJ, prevents forensic 
doctors from being impartial in their examinations of cases 
where torture may have been involved.  Very few cases of 
torture have resulted in convictions. 

Prison administration is very poor due to underfunding, poorly 
trained staff, and corruption among prison officials.  There 
are 33 prisons for an inmate population that numbered 25,610 in 
August.  Of this number only 9,747 had been sentenced.  In 1991 
the Attorney General's office assigned representatives to the 
14 worst prisons to monitor conditions.  The increase in 
violence and the persistence of deplorable living standards in 
the prisons, however, indicate that these representatives faced 
severe difficulties in improving conditions.  Funding for 
prisons remained extremely low.

Numerous prison riots occurred in 1993 due to poor prison 
conditions such as extreme overcrowding, inadequate diet, 
minimal health care, and physical abuse by guards and other 
prisoners.  Weapons and illegal drugs are easily smuggled into 
most prisons, and violence within the prison system is 
growing.  PROVEA reported that from October 1992 through 
September 1993, 195 prisoners were killed and another 387 
wounded by other prisoners (these figures do not include 
victims of the November 1992 Reten de Catia massacre).  PROVEA 
acknowledged, moreover, that these figures were conservative, 
reflecting only incidents covered in the press or received 
firsthand by PROVEA.  At least one expert on Venezuela's 
prisons asserted that the total number of violent prison deaths 
for the year approached 600.


In June a brutal revolt took place at the Barcelona prison when 
two groups of inmates, armed with pointed sticks and guns, 
fought each other for control of the prison.  As a result of 
the bloody confrontation, 6 inmates were killed and about 20 
wounded.  According to the police report, the bodies of the 
dead were found decapitated.  On January 3, 1994, a riot in 
Sabaneta prison in Maracaibo left at least 104 prisoners dead 
and another 80 wounded.  Sabaneta had come to be known as "the 
prison of death," since throughout 1993 at least 71 prisoners 
were killed and 100 wounded in almost daily incidents of 
violence.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Although the right to judicial determination of the legality of 
detention is provided by law, arrested persons or those under 
investigative detention legally can be held for as long as 
8 days without a formal detention order.  During this time 
detainees may be held incommunicado and, according to human 
rights groups, are sometimes physically and psychologically 
abused.  On the eighth day of detention, a judge, taking the 
police investigation into account, issues a formal arrest 
order; if no evidence is found, the police release the person.  
Arbitrary arrests and arrests without proper warrants are 
common, and time limits for holding persons are frequently 
exceeded.

Prisoners often have to pay fees extorted by prison officials 
for transportation to judicial proceedings at which formal 
charges are made.  Detainees without money to pay such 
unauthorized charges are sometimes unable to get to their 
judicial hearings.  In addition, the 1939 Vagrancy Law permits 
the detention for up to 5 years, without warrant, trial, or 
judicial appeal, of people deemed by the police to be a danger 
to society but against whom there is no evidence of a 
punishable crime.  According to human rights groups, the law is 
open to arbitrary and discriminatory interpretation and 
practices.  It was used in the past to detain political 
dissidents, and in November 1992 the head of the Caracas 
Metropolitan Police threatened to use this law against two 
human rights activists if they persisted in their activities.  
The more common application of the law, however, is against 
poor people with criminal records who are detained during 
police sweeps.  Amnesty International noted that detainees 
under this law, placed in jail merely on the basis of 
suspicion, are frequently victims of torture.


     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the right to a fair trial is provided by law and some 
procedural safeguards exist, the accused bears the burden of 
proof regarding innocence.  Lengthy pretrial detention of 2 to 
4 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 defense 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 250 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 established 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 
credibility.

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 for 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 resulted in military offenders receiving impunity for 
extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses.

In March the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the decree 
which established accelerated military tribunals for persons 
allegedly connected to the November 1992 coup attempt.  The 
cases of the 87 individuals (both military and civilian) 
convicted by the special tribunals were placed in regular 
military courts (where the cases remain), while the 109 
acquitted were not retried.


     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
         Correspondence

Venezuela has constitutional safeguards protecting citizens 
against arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and 
correspondence.  In general, these safeguards are effective and 
were respected in 1993.  After the 1992 coup attempts, however, 
the following constitutional safeguards were briefly suspended: 
freedom of travel, freedom of speech, the right to strike, 
personal security and liberty, inviolability of one's home, the 
right to assembly, and the right to demonstrate.  In recent 
years, there were many complaints of telephone surveillance, 
although there were few reported cases in 1993.  Both private 
individuals and the security forces have been accused of 
illegal wiretapping.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

Venezuela has a free and lively press, which frequently 
criticizes the Government and denounces instances of government 
interference in the media.  The Constitution provides for 
freedom of the press and free speech, and in 1993, these 
liberties, along with academic freedom, were widely honored, 
although some restrictions exist.

Particularly in the months prior to the suspension from office 
of President Carlos Andres Perez, the Government met regularly 
with media owners to discuss issues considered sensitive, 
resulting in some self-censorship.  Journalists claimed that 
the Government indirectly practiced censorship throughout the 
year by denying reporters access to many government buildings 
and officials.  Journalists and local human rights groups also 
asserted that security forces specifically targeted and used 
excessive force against reporters covering public 
demonstrations.

In April the Government suspended two satirical television 
programs for allegedly broadcasting scenes with "explicit 
sexual connotations" in a time frame when that type of 
programming is not allowed.  Most in the media argued, however, 
that the suspension was aimed more at the political satire and 
parodies of government inefficiency featured in these 
programs.  A week after the suspension, the Supreme Court 
overturned the Government's action, and the programs returned 
to the air.  Bombs damaged the homes of two journalists known 
for being highly critical of the Government, one of whom 
received a series of telephone threats.  Subsequent police 
investigations failed to identify those responsible for the 
bombings.  In June the Government banned for alleged security 
reasons the broadcast of an interview by a popular journalist 
with former coup plotter Hugo Chavez.

The media continued to criticize the Government for abuse and 
restrictions that occurred in reaction to the two 1992 coup 
attempts.  In the aftermath of the February 1992 attempt, the 
Government temporarily imposed censorship, seized some 
publications, screened articles, and briefly impeded the 
distribution of newspapers.  During the November 1992 attempt, 
the Government temporarily closed a radio station which it 
charged had broadcast messages of support for the coup forces.  
Two journalists were allegedly killed by security forces and 
others reportedly beaten while covering the coup attempts and 
related civil unrest.  Investigations and court cases regarding 
the abuse of journalists moved slowly.  In February a group of 
journalists formed the Committee of Human Rights of the 
National Association of Journalists to monitor the 
investigations and court cases and promote respect for human 
rights and the freedom of information.

Venezuela has 4 nationwide television networks (2 of which are 
government owned, although only 1 was functioning), 2 cable 
companies, 9 regional television stations, over 300 radio 
stations, and numerous newspapers and magazines, with 12 
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 of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitutional provision for freedom of peaceful assembly 
and association is normally respected in Venezuela; however, 
this provision was suspended after the February 1992 coup 
attempt although it was restored the following April.  Public 
meetings, including those of all political parties, are held 
generally without interference, but demonstrations often 
attract police intervention.  Professional and academic 
associations operate without interference.  Permits are 
required for public marches but are not denied for political 
reasons.


PROVEA reported 1,047 peaceful demonstrations from October 1992 
through September 1993.  Of these, 157 were reportedly either 
stopped or repressed by security forces.  During these 
demonstrations, about 720 people were detained, 308 wounded, 
and 5 killed.  All of these casualties were attributed to 
government security forces.  In January security forces in 
Caracas were criticized for throwing tear gas canisters into a 
school bus full of children caught in a university student 
demonstration. 

     c.  Freedom of Religion

The population is predominantly Roman Catholic, although other 
religious groups enjoy 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 mandatory for all those 
18 years of age or older, and the political process is open to 
all.  Elections for President and the Congress were held 
successfully on December 5.  For the first time, half of the 
members of the House of Deputies were elected by name, based 
upon the provisions of an electoral reform law approved in 
1989; the rest were elected proportionately from party slates.  
Elections for the President, Congress, and state legislative 
assemblies are held every 5 years.

Charges of irregularities and fraud as well as delays in 
proclaiming the winners marred the 1992 state and local 
elections and the 1993 national elections.  The Supreme Court 
ordered new gubernatorial elections in two states (these 
elections took place in May); however, Supreme Court decisions 
are still pending in the cases of 4 other state gubernatorial 
contests.  In addition, individuals and political parties have 
alleged voting irregularities in several congressional contests 
in the 1993 elections which may result in ballot recounts or 
new elections in some districts.  The domination of the 
electoral institutions by the traditional political parties and 
the absence of automated vote counting machines have undermined 
public confidence in the fairness and transparency of the 
election process.

In May President Carlos Andres Perez was removed from office 
through constitutional means due to allegations of corruption, 
the first time an incumbent President had been so removed in 
modern Venezuelan history.  Congress named Ramon J. Velasquez 
as President until the February 1994 inauguration of the new 
President.  

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 are centrist:  the Democratic Action (AD) and the 
Social Christian (COPEI) parties.  Although AD and COPEI remain 
the two largest political parties, the results of the December 
elections represented a major defeat for the traditional 
parties (which lost considerable ground in the national 
Congress).  The principal victors in the 1993 elections were 
the political alliance supporting President Caldera 
(Convergencia/MAS) and the working class-oriented CAUSA R 
Party.  Due to the number of presidential candidates and the 
nature of the voting system, President Caldera was able to win 
with only about 31 percent of the vote.

Women and minorities participate fully in government and 
politics, albeit not in proportion to their representation 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 nonminority men.  Indigenous 
people have traditionally not been fully integrated into the 
political system owing to lack of knowledge of how it works, 
low voter turnout, and residency in areas far from the capital 
and other cities.  Indian rights advocates have noted that few 
indigenous people work in government agencies responsible for 
Indian affairs.


Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

A number of local human rights groups are active throughout the 
country and vigorously criticize perceived government 
inadequacies in redressing grievances.  The groups operate free 
of government restriction and interference, although some have 
complained of police harassment in the past.  Two regional 
groups--the Latin American Foundation for Human Rights and 
Social Development and the Federation of Families of 
Disappeared Persons--have offices in Caracas and likewise 
operate free of government intervention.

International human rights groups also act free of government 
restriction and have openly conducted investigations in 
Venezuela.  Late in the year, both Amnesty International and 
Americas Watch released comprehensive reports on Venezuela's 
human rights problems.  The reports received extensive coverage 
in the local press, although the Government appears to have 
largely ignored the findings.

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
           Disability, Language, or Social Status

     Women

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of 
gender, and the Civil Code was reformed in the 1980's to make 
women and men legally equal in marriage.  Women comprise 
roughly half the student body of most universities, have 
advanced in many professions, including medicine and law, and 
have gradually torn down many of the barriers that previously 
prevented them from fully participating in political and 
economic life.  Women's rights groups are active in Caracas and 
throughout the country.  Women, nonetheless, are still 
underrepresented in political positions and in the top ranks of 
the labor unions and private industry.

Many Venezuelan women also face socially ingrained 
discrimination that prevents them from receiving fair treatment 
in the workplace and under the law.  The Labor Code specifies 
that women may not be discriminated against with regard to 
remuneration or working 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.  According to the Ministry of Labor and 
the major labor federation, these regulations are enforced in 
the formal sector, though social security payments are normally 
delayed.

There is a high level of violence directed against some 
Venezuelan women.  Women's groups point out the rape is 
extremely difficult to prove, requiring at a minimum a medical 
examination within 48 hours of the violation.  Few police 
officers are trained in how to deal responsibly with rape 
victims.  Likewise, although there are laws that protect women 
against domestic violence, the police generally are unwilling 
to intervene to prevent abuse.  The 40 percent of women who 
fall below the official poverty line often have no choice but 
to stay with abusive spouses for economic reasons.  Although 
Venezuela theoretically has an elaborate web of social 
programs, few poor women and families receive more than nominal 
assistance.  In addition, poor women are generally unaware of 
and have little access to legal protections available to them.

     Children

Many Venezuelan children face extreme hardship.  The Government 
scaled back its expenditure on education, health, and social 
services, leaving many impoverished children with no government 
assistance.  The Central Office of Statistics and Information 
(OCEI) reported that 72 percent of children remain in school 
past the sixth grade and 49 percent past the ninth grade.  
According to a 1993 study sponsored by the United Nations 
Children's Fund (UNICEF), about 206,000 children under the age 
of 18 loiter in the streets and another 176,000 beg for money.

While Venezuelan law provides for universal free education, 
children's rights groups assert that the Government dedicates 
insufficient funding to primary and secondary education.  About 
50 percent of an already tight education budget reportedly goes 
to universities, 45 percent to pay the salaries of education 
staff and administrators, and only 5 percent to primary and 
secondary school students and the maintenance of their 
schools.  Government agencies responsible for the welfare of 
children are understaffed, and many reform institutions for 
young delinquents are in deplorable condition.

According to children's rights groups, the recent increase in 
poverty has increased stress on families and led to a rise in 
abuse against children by parents or others.  Neighbors are 
often hesitant to report cases of child abuse, however, due to 
a fear of becoming involved with authorities and ingrained 
attitudes regarding family privacy.  Special procedures in the 
judicial system generally assure that children are removed from 
abusive households once a case has been reported.

     Indigenous People

The Constitution provides for special laws governing "the 
protection of indigenous communities and their progressive 
incorporation into the life of the nation."  Nonetheless, 
indigenous people are not able to protect their civil and 
political rights or to influence decisions affecting their 
lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural 
resources.  While there are a few indigenous congressmen who 
are members of the dominant political parties, indigenous 
people are underrepresented in Government.  Indigenous groups 
were not successful in obtaining legislation they sought to 
preserve ancestral lands and cultures or to enact proportional 
representation to provide more ethnic minorities in the 
country's legislative bodies.

Although Venezuelan law prohibits discrimination based on 
ethnic origin, members of the country's indigenous population 
frequently suffer from inattention to and violation of their 
human rights.  Venezuela is home to about 315,000 indigenous 
people in 25 ethnic groups, according a special census 
conducted in 1992.  The Wayuu ethnic group, which makes up well 
over half of the indigenous population, resides in the western 
part of the country on the banks of Lake Maracaibo and the Gulf 
of Venezuela.  Other groups populate the dense jungle of the 
Orinoco and Amazon river basins and the marsh along the 
Caribbean coast.

In August at least 16 Yanomami Indians were killed by illegal 
Brazilian gold miners who crossed the border into southern 
Venezuela.  The massacre resulted from a feud related to the 
miners' persistent incursions into Yanomami-protected 
territory.  The press and human rights groups strongly 
criticized the Government for its neglect to protect the 
Yanomamis, as authorities had been repeatedly informed of the 
miners' incursions and the potential for conflict.

Many of the country's indigenous people live isolated from 
modern civilization and lack access to basic health and 
educational facilities theoretically available to all 
Venezuelans.  Their communities are plagued by high rates of 
cholera, hepatitis-B, malaria, and other diseases.  Tourists 
and other outsiders inadvertently introduce new viruses to 
Indian populations with unprepared immune systems:  The common 
cold often becomes bronchitis, and chicken pox can be fatal.  
In addition, few indigenous communities hold titles to their 
lands, and many have been displaced in recent years by 
government-sponsored projects.  Rivers have been polluted by 
fertilizer and machinery, and habitats plowed down for 
strip-mining and large-scale farming.

The Yabarana tribe, one of the smallest indigenous groups with 
only 237 members, is in danger of extinction.  Government- 
condoned ranching in Yabarana territory turned many of the 
fields of corn and yucca that members use for subsistence into 
grazing ground for cattle.  The Yabarana petitioned the courts 
and government agencies but were not successful in having the 
cattle removed.  The plight of the Yabarana is paralleled by 
numerous ethnic communities throughout the country who face 
hardship and even extinction due to encroaching development.

     People with Disabilities

Rights for the disabled are very limited.  According to local 
advocates, the disabled are discriminated against in many 
sectors, including education, health care, and employment.  
Disabled people report having been expelled from public 
university programs and turned away at hospitals, even for the 
treatment of afflictions unrelated to their disability.  The 
physically impaired have minimal access to public 
transportation, and ramps are practically nonexistent even in 
government buildings.

In 1993 the Government passed the first comprehensive law to 
protect the rights of the disabled.  The new law requires that 
all newly constructed or renovated public parks and buildings 
provide access for the disabled.  Among other important 
provisions, the law forbids discrimination in employment 
practices and in the provision of public services.  The 
Government did not make a significant effort to inform the 
public of the new law or to try to change the societal 
prejudice against the disabled.


Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

Both the Constitution and labor law recognize and encourage the 
right of unions to exist.  The comprehensive 1990 Labor Code 
extends to all public sector and private sector employees 
(except members of the armed forces) the right to form and join 
unions of their choosing.  The Code mandates registration of 
unions with the Ministry of Labor, but it 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 
may 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 major union confederation, the Venezuelan Confederation of 
Workers (CTV), and three small ones, as well as a number of 
independent unions, operate freely.  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's 
top leadership includes members of several political parties.  
The majority are affiliated with the country's largest party, 
the AD.  The CTV and the AD party reciprocally influence each 
other.  The CTV, however, repeatedly demonstrated its 
independence from the Government (in which the AD held 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 right of public and private sector employees to strike is 
recognized legally but may only be exercised by public servants 
if it does not cause "irremediable damage to the population or 
to institutions."  The Labor Code allows the President to order 
public or private sector strikers back to work and to submit 
their dispute to arbitration if the strike "puts in immediate 
danger the lives or security of all or part of the population."
In recent years workers seldom resorted to strikes, but a 
perceived decline in living standards increased the willingness 
of workers to consider them seriously.  During 1993 most 
strikes occurred among government employees.  With the 
exception of a prolonged strike by public schoolteachers, which 
was settled through Labor Ministry mediation, the threat to 
strike was sufficient in most cases 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.  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 be raised by 
administrative decree, provided that the Congress approves the 
decree.

The law prohibits employers from interfering with the formation 
of unions or with their activities and from stipulating as a 
condition of employment 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 infraction.  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 substantial sum of money, which 
varies according to his years of seniority.

Labor law and practice is the same in the 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.  The Labor Code states 
that no one may "obligate others to work against their will."

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Labor Code allows children between the ages of 12 and 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 years of age must by law work no more than 6 
hours a day or 30 hours a week.  Minors under age 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 available figures) accounted for 41 percent of total 
employment.  According to a UNICEF study, some 1 million 
children work in the informal sector, mostly as street vendors; 
there is 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.  The monthly minimum wage, effective 
February 1992, was $95 (9,000 bolivars) for urban workers and 
$63 (6,000 bolivars) for rural workers.  Mandatory fringe 
benefits are added to these minimum figures; they vary with the 
workers' individual circumstances, but in general increase 
wages by about one-third.  In the past, this combined income 
provided a living wage.  However, in 1993 unions, arguing that 
purchasing power declined significantly over the last several 
years, called for an increase of up to 50 percent in the 
minimum wage.  Only domestic workers and concierges are legally 
excluded from coverage under the minimum wage decrees.  Under 
the Labor Code, the rates are set by administrative decree, 
which Congress may either suspend or ratify but may not 
change.  Minimum wages are enforced effectively in the formal 
sector of the economy by the Ministry of Labor, but compliance 
is generally not enforced in the informal sector.

The 1990 Labor Code reduced the standard workweek to a maximum 
of 44 hours, and requires "two complete days of rest each 
week."  Some unions, such as the petroleum workers, have 
negotiated a 40-hour week.  Overtime may not exceed 2 hours 
daily, 10 hours weekly, or 100 hours annually, and may not be 
paid at a rate less than time and a half.  These standards are 
effectively enforced by the Ministry of Labor in the formal 
sector.

The 1986 health and safety law still awaits implementing 
regulations and is not enforced.  The delays are due largely to 
concern 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 
salary) 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 fines of from one-quarter to twice the minimum monthly 
salary for first infractions.  Enforcement of the law by 
inspectors from the Ministry of Labor appears to be effective.  
Workers can remove themselves from dangerous workplace 
situations without jeopardy to continued employment.



[end of document]

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