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TITLE:  VENEZUELA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE:  FEBRUARY 1995









                           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 two attempted coups in 1992 and the 
impeachment of a President in 1993.  Two-party dominance ended 
on February 2 when former President Rafael Caldera was sworn in 
as President after being elected with the support of a coalition
of small and medium-sized parties.  Four major political 
groupings comprised the new Congress which convened in 
January.  On June 27, the Government suspended the following 
political and economic guarantees provided for in the 
Constitution:  the freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, 
the freedom from search without a warrant, the freedom of 
travel, the freedom to pursue profitable activities, the right 
to own private property, and the right to receive compensation 
for assets confiscated by the State.  The Government said, 
initially, the suspension was necessary to combat unspecified 
subversion and, subsequently, it was needed to provide the 
administration with the necessary legal framework to address 
the country's economic and financial crisis.

The security apparatus has civilian and military elements, both 
accountable to elected authorities.  The National Guard, a 
branch of the military, has arrest powers and is largely 
responsible for guarding the exterior of prisons and key 
government installations, maintaining order during times of 
civil unrest, monitoring frontiers, and providing law 
enforcement in remote areas.  It also supplies the top 
leadership for the Metropolitan Police, the main civilian 
police force in and around Caracas, and for various state and 
municipal police forces.  The Interior Ministry controls the 
State Security Police (DISIP) which is primarily responsible 
for protecting public officials and investigating crimes 
involving subversion, narcotics, and arms trafficking; and the 
Justice Ministry controls the Judicial Technical Police (PTJ) 
which conducts most criminal investigations.  Both police and 
military personnel were responsible for human rights abuses 
throughout the year.

The public sector dominates the economy, particularly the 
petroleum industry, which accounts for some 22 percent of the 
gross domestic product.  In response to a financial sector 
crisis, the Government took control over half the banking 
sector.  It also imposed foreign exchange controls and 
temporary price controls on a number of basic necessities, 
other products, and selected services.

Serious human rights abuses included incidents of extrajudicial 
killings by the police and military, abuse of detainees, a 
failure to punish police and security officers accused of 
abuse, arbitrary and excessively lengthy detentions, corruption 
and severe inefficiency in the judicial and law enforcement 
systems, deplorable prison conditions, and a lack of respect 
for the rights of indigenous people.  The civilian and military 
courts made little progress towards prosecuting officials 
responsible for the many killings during the two 1992 coup 
attempts, the November 1992 Catia prison massacre, and the 1989 
urban riots.  The authorities also took no action to prosecute 
the perpetrators of the 1993 massacre of Yanomami Indians.

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, documented 148 extrajudicial killings from 
October 1993 through September 1994.  The killings involved 
summary executions, the indiscriminate or excessive use of 
force, death in custody, death as a result of torture and 
maltreatment, and death as a result of abuse during military or 
public service.  According to PROVEA, the Metropolitan Police 
carried out 46 of the killings; the State Police, 37; the 
National Guard, 16; the PTJ, 15; the armed forces, 11; DISIP, 
9; municipal police, 7; and other branches of the security 
apparatus, 7.

The perpetrators of extrajudicial killings act with near 
impunity, as the Government rarely prosecutes in such cases.  
The police often fail to investigate crimes that they or their 
law enforcement colleagues allegedly committed, and the 
judicial system remains highly inefficient and sometimes 
corrupt.  A special pretrial summary phase called "nudo hecho," 
used in cases involving public officials, often shields members 
of the security forces from prosecution, as a case can languish 
in that phase for several years.  In addition, military courts 
are often strongly biased in favor of members of the armed 
forces accused of abuse.  In the small number of prosecutions 
in which the courts convict perpetrators of extrajudicial 
killings and other abuses, the sentences issued are frequently 
light, or, more commonly, the convictions are overturned on 
appeal.  Unlike common prisoners, members of the security 
forces charged with crimes rarely spend much time in prison.  
The Government has not taken sufficient steps to overcome the 
obstacles that permit continued impunity in cases of 
extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuse.

One example of an alleged unpunished extrajudicial killing is 
the case of Marcos Antonio Vivas Sayago.  A team of 
approximately 20 uniformed and plainclothed members of the PTJ 
and Metropolitan Police shot and killed him in his residence on 
the morning of July 26.  The team reportedly threatened the 
victim's family with reprisals should they report the 
incident.  The family reported the case to the public 
prosecutor/ombudsman's office ("Fiscalia General") which opened 
an investigation.  There were no arrests, however, by year end.

Organized groups of police allegedly carried out many additional
unpunished extrajudicial killings.  Human rights organizations 
reported that one such group, referred to as the "pantaneros" 
by the local population, and comprised largely of members of 
the metropolitan police, committed at least a dozen killings 
during the year in poor areas of Caracas.

In May the Government arrested three members of the Caracas 
Metropolitan Police allegedly responsible for the unlawful 
shooting death of 15-year-old high school student German 
Sotillo Rodriguez.  The case remained in the courts, with no 
prosecutions by year's end.  Local human rights groups 
expressed hope that the arrests indicated the Government would 
be more forceful in prosecuting members of the security forces 
accused of committing extrajudicial killings.  However, there 
were few similar arrests throughout the year.

In April government investigators discovered a common grave 
with an unspecified number of bodies in the remote Sierra de 
Perija region of Zulia state.  At least one of the bodies 
showed signs of execution-style killing.  The contents of the 
grave were sent to Caracas for forensic examination, although 
officials failed to identify the bodies positively or provide a 
definite count of them by the end of the year.  Human rights 
activists placed the number at around 15 and asserted that the 
victims were likely poor farmers who had come into conflict 
with large-scale ranchers in the area.  Although an ongoing 
government investigation produced no arrests or charges, a 
special rural contingent of the Zulia state police--which was 
being financially subsidized by the ranchers--was alleged to 
have committed the killings.  The governor of Zulia disbanded 
the rural police largely as a result of this allegation.  A 
number of persons have come forward with credible testimony in 
recent years that there are additional common graves in the 
Sierra de Perija and Catatumbo regions, and that the graves are 
the result of killings by security forces to intimidate the 
local population.  Subsequent government investigations have 
produced no results.  Human rights groups related that local 
farmers and indigenous people are afraid come forward with 
additional information out of fear of reprisals.

In August an ad hoc military court acquitted 16 military and 
police officers who shot and killed 14 fishermen in 1988 near 
the border town of El Amparo.  The decision overturned an 
already suspect 1993 ruling sentencing the defendants to only 7 
1/2 years in prison for excessive use of force when the 
circumstances of the killings strongly indicated an execution 
rather than a military action.  Human rights monitors, 
representatives of the victims, and the two survivors expressed 
extreme dissatisfaction with the verdict, asserting that the 
military court had disregarded crucial evidence and testimony 
demonstrating that the event was a planned massacre.  Their 
criticism of the verdict appears valid.  Despite the acquittal, 
only nine of the defendants in the case were released--the 
others remained in prison on charges of similar killings in 
other areas.  Three other defendants did not stand trial as 
they had gone into hiding and were fugitives from the law.

In January the Inter-American Court of Human Rights initiated a 
trial against the Government involving its alleged 
responsibility for not assuring justice in the El Amparo case.  
The case was referred to the court by the Inter-American 
Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) which charged the Government 
with failure to comply with several provisions in the American 
Convention on Human Rights, including the obligation to protect 
the lives, physical integrity, and equality under the law of 
all citizens.  Prior to referring the case to the Court, the 
IACHR reportedly made several recommendations which the 
Government did not heed, including that the Government ensure 
punishment for those responsible for the El Amparo killings, 
compensate the survivors and victims' families, and reform the 
military justice system to ensure independence and impartiality.

On January 15, 1995, the Court began formal proceedings in the 
El Amparo case.  Three days later the Foreign Minister 
acknowledged the State's responsibility and said the Government 
would pay indemnities to the victims.  The Court then issued a 
judgment taking note of the Government's declaration of 
responsibility and instructing the Government to pay a just 
indemnification to the surviving victims and the families of 
the other victims, with the amount to be determined by 
negotiations between the Government and the IACHR.

The Government withdrew charges against the rebel military 
officers responsible for the two 1992 coup attempts.  The 
authorities either released the military officers from jail or 
allowed them to return from self-imposed exile.  No one was 
prosecuted for the 34 reported extrajudicial killings and other 
serious abuse, including torture, that occurred during the coup 
attempts.  The Government failed to initiate a thorough 
investigation of the human rights abuses perpetrated during the 
coup attempts.

Likewise, the authorities never prosecuted or held anyone 
responsible for the November 1992 killing of at least 63 
prisoners at Catia prison.  The National Guard--erroneously 
claiming that coup leaders had distributed arms there--stormed 
the prison, opened cells, and fired on inmates.  The majority 
of bodies found were reportedly shot at close range, suggesting 
summary executions.  Apart from the officially recorded 63 
prisoners killed, the fate of 25 others remains unknown--either 
their bodies were not found or they escaped during or near the 
time of the killings.

Although almost 6 years have elapsed, no progress has been made 
on resolving the extrajudicial killings by security forces 
during and after the civil unrest of February-March 1989.  The 
Government maintained that 276 people died, while human rights 
groups documented some 400 cases of persons dead or missing.  
The authorities buried at least 68 victims anonymously in mass 
graves.  Some human rights organizations accused the 
authorities of doing this to conceal the identity and manner of 
death of the victims and thus protect the perpetrators.  
Although the bodies were exhumed in 1991, only three have been 
positively identified.

Approximately 300 cases stemming from the 1989 killings 
remained under consideration in military or civilian courts, 
but only 1 has been adjudicated:  a police officer was found 
guilty in 1991 of homicide and sentenced to 1 year's 
imprisonment.  The Committee of Family Members of Victims of 
the Riots (COFAVIC) continued to seek prosecutions and thorough 
investigations of the 1989 deaths.  The Government still has 
not initiated the effective investigation needed to resolve 
these killings.

     b.  Disappearance

In 1994 PROVEA reported the following three unresolved 
disappearances allegedly perpetrated by members of the security 
forces:

In January members of the National Guard stopped 20-year-old 
Elsida Ines Alvarez while she was driving between the towns of 
San Cristobal and Valencia with her mother.  When she was 
unable to produce her identity card, the National Guard took 
her into custody, and she has not been seen or heard from 
since.  Alvarez' mother repeatedly visited National Guard 
headquarters to obtain information on her daughter's whereabouts
without success.  PROVEA was aware of no official 
acknowledgment or investigation of the disappearance.

In March a group of armed men took 16-year-old Benjamin Vasquez 
from his home, saying they were searching for weapons stolen 
from the armed forces.  A few hours later, several of the men 
returned to inform Vasquez' family that he had been detained, 
although they did not specify by whom.  Vasquez has not been 
seen or heard from since.  Through third parties, the family 
heard that Military Intelligence (DIM) had taken him into 
custody, but they were unable to find any record of his 
detention and received no official acknowledgment of the 
disappearance.

In April an unidentified man believed to be a member of DISIP 
apprehended Fidel A. Sanabria in Tachira state.  Sanabria's 
wife related that he was subsequently taken to the local PTJ 
headquarters, although there was no record of his detention by 
either DISIP or the PTJ.  Sanabria's whereabouts were not known 
by the year's end.

One 1993 disappearance remained unresolved and uninvestigated.  
According to Amnesty International (AI), 14-year-old Yolanda 
Landino disappeared on March 27 following a military raid on 
her house in the state of Zulia.  Her father Mario Landino, a 
peasant leader, and her brother Henry had disappeared the 
previous day.  Soldiers interrogated the family, accused them 
of being guerrillas, and asked family members about Mario's 
activities.  Although the family was under house detention, 
Yolanda managed to leave the house; but soldiers reportedly 
captured her the next day.  She was never seen again.  Her 
father and brother were brutally tortured while in military 
custody, including application of caustic substances to the 
eyes (Mario is now almost blind) and injection of an unknown 
substance that caused a burning sensation inside the body.  
Soldiers told him Yolanda had been arrested and would be killed 
if he did not confess.  Under duress he signed papers he could 
not read--a "confession" to collaborating with guerrillas.  Mr. 
Landino and his son were transferred to a police station on 
April 4, 1993.  Mr. Landino remained in prison until March 1994 
when he was provisionally released for lack of evidence.  Henry 
Landino remains in prison awaiting trial on the basis of the 
confession extorted under torture.  The public prosecutor/
ombudsman's office initiated an investigation of the Landino 
case in November.  That office stated it was unaware of 
Landino's disappearance and of the allegations of torture until 
it received the AI information late in the year.

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

The law prohibits torture, but security forces continue to 
abuse detainees physically.  This abuse most commonly comprises 
beatings during arrest or interrogation, but there have been 
incidents when the security forces used caustic substances, 
electric shock, near suffocation, and sexual abuse against 
detainees.  In its November 1993 report, AI maintained that 
torture and ill-treatment are widespread and sometimes fatal.  
Most victims come from the poorest and least influential parts 
of society, but political activists, student leaders, and 
members of grassroots organizations have also been victimized 
for their activities.  Red de Apoyo, a respected human rights 
organization, reported 534 incidents of maltreatment and 
torture from March 1993 through February 1994.  PROVEA, 
discriminating between maltreatment and the more severe forms 
of torture, documented 2.037 incidents of maltreatment and 39 
cases of torture from October 1993 through September 1994.  
Both organizations asserted, however, that the actual numbers 
were higher, because many victims remain silent about abuse due 
to fear of retribution.  According to PROVEA, the National 
Guard was responsible for 15 of the reported torture incidents; 
the State Police, 7; the PTJ, 6; the armed forces, 4; municipal 
police, 3; military intelligence, 3; and DISIP, 1.

Torture, like extrajudicial killings, continues because the 
Government does not ensure the independent investigation of  
complaints needed to bring those responsible to justice.  In 
addition to lack of vigor by the judiciary, the Institute of 
Forensic Medicine is part of the PTJ, which 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.

Four individuals arrested in August on charges of subversion 
claimed that officials of the intelligence division of the 
Carabobo state police tortured them.  According to local human 
rights groups and the President of the Congressional 
Subcommittee on Human Rights, Jose Manuel Flores, Luben 
Sanchez, Jose Luis Sanchez, and Jose Gregorio Guedez were hung 
by handcuffs from a ceiling, beaten, and subjected to electric 
shocks applied to their tongues, testicles, and feet.  A local 
human rights monitor who visited the four in the days after the 
alleged abuse said their bodies were severely bruised and they 
had visible abrasions on their lips, seeming to confirm the 
accusations.  Family members of two of the victims filed 
complaints with the public prosecutor/ombudsman's office, 
although there was no known investigation of the alleged 
torture by the end of the year.

Prison conditions continued to be deplorable, due to 
underfunding, poorly trained staff, corruption among prison 
staff and National Guard members, and overcrowding so severe as 
to constitute inhumane and degrading treatment.  At year's end, 
33 prisons held 23,554 inmates, of whom the courts had 
sentenced only 7,508.  The Caracas main jail holds three times 
its intended capacity.  Extreme overcrowding, inadequate diet, 
minimal health care, and severe physical abuse by guards and by 
other prisoners led to many prison riots.  Inmates often have 
to pay guards as well as each other to obtain necessities such 
as space in a cell, a bed, and food.  Guns, knives, and illegal 
drugs are easily smuggled into most prisons, and violence among 
prisoners is very common.

On January 3, a conflict between two gangs in Maracaibo's 
Sabaneta prison escalated into a riot that left at least 105 
inmates dead and scores wounded.  Most of the casualties 
occurred in a cellblock the prisoners set on fire, although 
there were additional deaths by shooting, stabbing, and 
drowning in the sewage system.  Prison staff and the National 
Guard were generally unwilling to enter the facility in the 
months leading up to the riot, allowing a state of near anarchy 
to develop.  In addition, during the riot, the National Guard 
allegedly waited for at least 2 hours before entering to 
restore order, permitting numerous additional casualties to 
occur.  The government investigation of the incident led to 
charges against 52 inmates and only 2 officials--1 member of 
the National Guard and 1 prison employee.  No officials were 
held responsible for the corruption and neglect that allowed 
conditions at Sabaneta to deteriorate to such a low level.  As 
a result of a Supreme Court ruling in September that the 
National Guard member must be tried by a military court, that 
court will also try the 53 other defendants.  It had reached no 
verdict in the Sabaneta case by year's end.

Numerous other riots and incidents of violence resulted in 
deaths in prisons almost daily.  PROVEA registered a total of 
498 prisoners killed and another 1,127 wounded as a result of 
violence from October 1993 through September 1994.  In January 
9 inmates were killed and 11 wounded trying to escape from 
Aragua prison.  In April an insurrection in Caracas' Catia 
prison left 6 dead and 20 wounded, largely from a firebomb 
ignited by inmates.

In December the Government announced it would temporarily 
"militarize" six of the most violent penitentiaries in order to 
prevent unrest during the holiday season, which usually is a 
period of increased prison violence.  Consequently, the 
National Guard--which is primarily responsible for guarding the 
periphery of prisons--was ordered to maintain a strong presence 
inside the prisons.  While the militarization was generally 
perceived as a positive action to ensure order and prevent 
additional prison deaths, there were several reports of 
physical abuse of prisoners by members of the National Guard.  
Inmates in San Juan Los Carlos prison filed a complaint with 
the congressional human rights subcommittee and the public 
prosecutor/ombudsman alleging that senior Justice Ministry 
officials had ordered the National Guard to beat the prison 
population with clubs and blunt saber-like devices called 
"peinillas."

Throughout the year, the Government acknowledged the poor state 
of prisons and announced several plans to improve conditions, 
including major construction and renovation projects due to 
begin in 1995.  In addition, many prison administrators were 
replaced; the new prison director is a former human rights 
director in the public prosecutor/ombudsman's office.  
Nonetheless, funding for prisons remained extremely low, and 
the Government's programs were not yet sufficient to improve 
the deplorable conditions in most penitentiaries.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

In the days immediately after the June 27 suspension of several 
constitutional guarantees--including the freedom from arbitrary 
arrest--the press and human rights groups reported the 
detention and questioning of some 27 persons allegedly 
suspected of plotting subversion.  The authorities held 20 of 
the detainees for several hours, and the remaining 7 for over a 
week.  Some of the detainees complained that the authorities  
intimidated them because of their affiliation with a movement 
led by the released leaders of the February 1992 coup attempt.

The press and human rights groups also reported a large number 
of arbitrary detentions during anticrime sweeps in impoverished 
areas by the Metropolitan Police, DISIP, the National Guard, 
and the PTJ.  The authorities detained persons during the 
sweeps for from a few hours to up to 2 days while they checked 
criminal records; they released the majority without charges.  
While such sweeps had been conducted in previous years, the 
security forces greatly increased the frequency and size of the 
operations during the suspension of guarantees.  PROVEA 
documented 6,306 people detained during sweeps from October 
1993 through September 1994; there were 250 such detentions in 
the previous 12-month period.

The law provides for the right to judicial determination of the 
legality of detention; however, the police may hold persons 
without an arrest warrant for up to 8 days, and the courts may 
hold them up to an additional 8 days in court custody.  In many 
reported cases, the police have physically and psychologically 
abused detainees during the initial 8-day period and illegally 
held them incommunicado.  During the second 8-day period a 
judge may, on the basis of the police investigation, order 
either a formal arrest or the person's release.  Arbitrary 
arrests are common, and authorities sometimes exceed the time 
limits for holding suspects.  Prisoners often have to pay fees 
extorted by prison officials for transportation to judicial 
proceedings at which formal charges are made.  Detainees unable 
to pay are frequently unable to get to their judicial hearings.

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.  This law is susceptible to 
arbitrary and discriminatory interpretation, and police often 
apply it against people with previous criminal records who are 
detained during police sweeps.  AI noted that many detainees 
under this law, jailed merely on suspicion, are subjected to 
torture.  In May the Interior Minister urged police to continue 
to use the Vagrancy Law as a deterrent against crime until the 
Government and Congress approve an alternative.  In October the 
Ministry of Justice reported there were 187 persons in jail 
under the Vagrancy Law.  This figure did not reflect the total 
number arrested under the law and then released.

Forced exile is illegal and is not practiced.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for the right to a fair trial and considers 
the accused innocent until proven guilty in a court.  The 
justice system, however, is overburdened, inefficient, 
afflicted by the corruption of some judges, and lacking in 
public credibility.  Case backlogs and lengthy pretrial 
detentions averaging 4 1/2 years are the norm.  Judges are 
underpaid, poorly disciplined, and susceptible to political 
influence.  The law provides for public defenders for those 
unable to afford an attorney, but there are not enough public 
defenders to handle the caseload.  The Judicial Council, which 
governs the judicial branch, stated that there are 150 public 
defense attorneys with an average of 170 active cases each, but 
some have as many as 250 cases.

The judicial process is written, requiring the costly and 
time-consuming production of voluminous reports at every stage 
by judges, attorneys, and witnesses.  The civilian judiciary is 
legally independent, but the major political parties influence 
the judicial selection process and decisions in particular 
cases.

Military courts can try civilians in cases of armed subversion 
and in cases which involve armed forces members.  Military 
courts are subject to a requirement for a speedy trial and a 
statute of limitations similar to that of civilian courts.  
Persons convicted by a military court have the same right of 
appeal to the Supreme Court as those under the civilian 
system.  Military courts, however, are significantly different 
from civilian courts in that by law the President must review 
every case after the initial investigation stage and decide if 
that case will go to trial.  Human rights groups assert that 
this gives the executive excessive power to intervene in 
military cases.  In addition, the Supreme Court selects 
military judges from a list provided by the Minister of 
Defense, a process which links the careers of military judges 
to the high command.  The tendencies of military judges to be 
responsive to the views of their military leaders, to maintain 
procedural secrecy, and to act slowly in high-profile cases in 
which the military is implicated make it unlikely that 
defendants undergo an impartial or timely prosecution.  These 
factors can and do result in military offenders evading 
punishment for extrajudicial killings and other human rights 
abuses.

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

Constitutional provisions prohibit arbitrary interference with 
privacy, family, home, and correspondence.  After the 
Government suspended the freedom from search without warrant on 
June 27, however, the press reported a number of incidents of 
searches without warrants by security forces.  According to the 
media, DISIP searched the homes of a prominent Caracas 
businessman and of a noted intellectual, and the DIM similarly 
searched 30 homes in the city of Cumana.  In recent years, 
there have been some complaints of telephone surveillance, and 
human rights monitors accused the security forces of illegal 
wiretapping.  In September the Interior Minister announced that 
the telephones in his office were being wiretapped, apparently 
by former employees of his Ministry.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of the press and free 
speech, and in 1994, these liberties, along with academic 
freedom, were widely respected.  Venezuela has a free and 
lively press, which frequently criticizes the Government and 
denounces government interference in the media.

However, in December the Congress passed and the President 
signed a law which forbids persons without journalism degrees 
to practice the profession and requires journalists to be 
members of the National Association of Journalists.  Media 
owners, the Catholic Church, and certain press groups 
criticized the bill as a violation of the right to freedom of 
expression contained in the Constitution and international 
agreements on human rights.  The Newspaper Publishers' 
Association began a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality 
of nine articles in a 1972 law governing the practice of 
journalism and said it will also challenge the new regulations.

There were no prosecutions for the killing of two reporters, 
Maria Veronica Tessari and Virgilio Fernandez, by members of 
the security forces during the 1992 coup attempts.  The human 
rights committee of the National Association of Journalists, 
created in 1993, continued to seek a thorough investigation of 
the deaths and of other alleged abuses against journalists.

PROVEA documented 48 violations of freedom of expression 
between September 1993 and October 1994.  These violations 
included incidents of physical abuse of reporters by members of 
the security forces and incidents where the civilian and 
military courts sought to prevent the publication or broadcast 
of certain information.  The figures for this period, however, 
represented a positive trend, since PROVEA had documented 125 
such violations during the previous 12-month period.  Moreover, 
most of the reported instances took place at the end of 1993 or 
in early 1994, and were not characteristic of the situation 
after the new Government assumed power in February.

Venezuela has a wide variety of electronic and print media.  
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 Government normally respects the constitutional provision 
for freedom of peaceful assembly and association.  Professional 
and academic associations operate without interference, and 
public meetings, including those of all political parties, are 
generally held unimpeded.  The Government requires permits for 
public marches but does not deny them for political reasons.

As in earlier years, a number of demonstrations turned violent 
and were then repressed by security forces.  PROVEA reported, 
however, that the security forces also stopped 133 of 1,099 
reportedly peaceful demonstrations from October 1993 through 
September 1994, during which 5 people were killed and about 657 
detained.  PROVEA noted, however, that the level of repression 
was much lower than in previous years.  From 1990 through 
September 1993, security forces had killed 35 people during 
peaceful protests.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for the right for everyone to profess 
and practice a religious faith, provided it is not contrary to 
public order or good custom.  The authorities respect this in 
practice; all religious groups enjoy freedom of worship.  
Foreign missionaries proselytize actively 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.

Despite the June suspension of the freedom to travel, there was 
only one report of an effort to restrict travel.  In October 
immigration officials at the Caracas airport temporarily 
prevented an opposition Congressman from traveling outside the 
country.  The Interior Minister promptly apologized for the 
action and acknowledged that it was improper.  The suspension, 
however, was still in effect at year's end.

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 the President, both houses of Congress, and 
the state legislative assemblies are held every 5 years. 
President Rafael Caldera, elected in the December 1993 national 
elections, took office in February.

Charges of irregularities and fraud which marred the 1992 state 
and local elections, as well as the 1993 congressional 
elections, carried over into 1994.  On the basis of such 
complaints, the Supreme Court ordered new gubernatorial 
elections in three states, which took place in April.  The 
absence of automated vote counting machines undermined public 
confidence in the fairness and transparency of the election 
process.

Political views are freely expressed, and persons from the 
entire political spectrum contend for positions ranging from 
municipal council seats to the presidency.  The Democratic 
Action Party (AD) and the Social Christian Party (COPEI), both 
centrist, remain the two largest political parties.  However, 
following the 1993 elections, political power in the Congress 
is effectively divided roughly equally among four parties: AD, 
COPEI, the Convergence/Movement towards Socialism Alliance (the 
group supporting President Caldera), and the Causa R party.

Women and minorities participate fully in government and 
politics, but remain underrepresented.  There are no legal 
impediments to their participation, but traditional attitudes 
led to some de facto impediments.  Women and minorities are 
promoted into high-level positions at a slower rate than 
nonminority men.  There are 12 female deputies in the lower 
house of Congress (out of a total of 203), 4 female Senators 
(out of 53) and 1 female governor (out of 23).  Indigenous 
people have traditionally not been fully integrated into the 
political system owing to their lack of knowledge of how it 
works, low voter turnout, and residency in areas far from the 
capital and other cities.  Few indigenous people are in 
government and only one is a Deputy in Congress.

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

Numerous 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 occasional police harassment.  In the summer and 
early autumn, the Red de Apoyo human rights group received a 
series of telephone threats after some of its members were 
interviewed on local radio and television programs.  The nature 
of the threats led the group to believe that the perpetrator 
was a member of the police.

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have released 
comprehensive reports on Venezuela's human rights problems.  
These received extensive press coverage, as have those produced 
by some local organizations.  At various times in the year, 
several cabinet ministers, state governors, and members of the 
military met with representatives of local human rights groups 
to hear their concerns.  In July President Caldera and a number 
of cabinet ministers also met with foreign representatives from 
AI.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs opened a special human 
rights unit to address both domestic and international human 
rights concerns; it is too early to assess its effectiveness.

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

The Government does not sufficiently enforce laws ensuring 
children's welfare, safeguarding the rights of indigenous 
peoples, and protecting women against societal and domestic 
violence.

     Women

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of 
gender, and the Congress reformed the Civil Code 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 to their full 
participation in political and economic life.  Nonetheless, 
women are still underrepresented in political positions and in 
the top ranks of labor unions and private industry.

The Labor Code specifies that employers must not discriminate 
against women with regard to pay or working conditions, must 
not fire them during pregnancy and for a year after giving 
birth, must grant them unpaid leave (and compensation from the 
Social Security Agency) for 6 weeks before the birth of a child 
and 12 weeks after, and must provide them 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, although social security payments are often delayed.

Women face difficulty in countering institutional and societal 
prejudices regarding rape and domestic violence.  The law makes 
rape extremely difficult to prove, requiring at a minimum a 
medical examination within 48 hours of the violation.  Few 
police officers are trained in dealing responsibly with rape 
victims.  The PTJ received 3,985 reports of rape in the entire 
country in 1993.  Women's organizations, however, assert that 
this figure is very low and does not portray an accurate 
picture of the problem of rape, as the overwhelming majority of 
victims do not report the incident or press charges due to 
societal pressure and feelings of guilt.

There are very few laws to protect women against domestic 
violence other than statutes against assault and battery.  
Domestic violence against women, however, is very common and 
has been aggravated by the country's economic difficulties.  
According to local monitors, the police are generally unwilling 
to intervene to prevent domestic violence, and the courts 
rarely prosecute those accused of such abuse.  In addition, 
poor women are generally unaware of legal recourses and have 
little access to them.

     Children

Many Venezuelan children face hardship.  The Government scaled 
back its expenditure on education, health, and social services, 
leaving many impoverished children with no government 
assistance.  While the law provides for universal free 
education, children's rights groups assert that the Government 
dedicates insufficient funding to primary and secondary 
education.  Many government agencies responsible for the 
welfare of children are plagued by corruption, and government 
funding often does not reach the children it is intended to 
help.  In addition, 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 
child abuse.  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.  
The overburdened judicial system, though very slow, generally 
assures that in most situations children are removed from 
abusive households once a case has been reported.  A 
representative from the leading children's right group in 
Caracas, however, asserted that in many cases a child is better 
off even in an abusive household than in a public facility, 
where staff are often poorly trained and funding is low.

     Indigenous People

Although the 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 to a special 1992 census.

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.  For example, indigenous groups were not successful 
in obtaining the 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.  Indian rights advocates have noted that few indigenous 
people work in government agencies responsible for Indian 
affairs.

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.  High rates of cholera, hepatitis-B, malaria, and 
other diseases plague their communities.  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 title to their lands, 
and many have been displaced in recent years by government-
sponsored projects.  Fertilizer and machinery have polluted 
rivers, while strip mining and large-scale farming have 
destroyed habitats.

The Yanomami, the most primitive of the indigenous people in 
Venezuela, have been subject to persistent incursions into 
their territory by illegal Brazilian gold miners.  The miners 
have not only brought diseases but reportedly coerced some of 
the Indians to be servants and prostitutes.  In August 1993, 
miners killed at least 16 Yanomami in a remote area of Amazonas 
state.  An indigenous people's group reported two similar 
killings in 1994.  The Government began to bomb illegal 
airstrips used by the miners and to use force to try to prevent 
the miners' entry along the porous border.  Indigenous peoples' 
groups, however, strongly criticized the Government for not 
forcefully seeking the prosecution of the perpetrators of the 
1993 massacre who had retreated into Brazilian territory.

In February members of the army shot and killed three members 
of the Yucpa ethnic group after women in the group tried to 
block the soldiers from taking wood they had cut.  The military 
allegedly responded by firing indiscriminately.  To protest the 
killings, a large group of Yucpas temporarily took over several 
ranches and blocked roads.  The investigation of the killings 
was impeded in March due to a jurisdictional dispute between 
military and civilian courts.  There were no arrests by the end 
of the year.


(###)
     People with Disabilities

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.  However, 
the Government did not make a significant effort to implement 
the law, to inform the public of the new law, or to try to 
change societal prejudice against the disabled.

The physically impaired still have minimal access to public 
transportation, and ramps are practically nonexistent, even in 
government buildings.  According to local advocates, the 
disabled are discriminated against in many sectors, including 
education, health care, and employment.  There have been a few 
reported incidents in which public university programs expelled 
disabled people and hospitals turned them away, even for the 
treatment of afflictions unrelated to their disability.

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 private sector and public 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, 
AD, and the CTV and the AD reciprocally influence each other.


The law recognizes the right of public and private sector 
employees to strike.  However, public servants may only 
exercise it 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."  During 1994 most strikes occurred among 
government employees.  With the exception of a prolonged strike 
by public school teachers, 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

The Labor Code protects and encourages collective bargaining, 
which 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.  Ministry of 
Labor inspectors hear complaints regarding violations of these 
regulations, and they 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 only if the National Institute for Minors or the Labor 
Ministry grant special permission.  It states that children 
between the ages of 14 and 16 may not work without permission 
from their legal guardians .  Minors may not work in mines, 
smelters, in occupations "that risk life or health" or 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 Ministry 
of Labor and the National Institute for Minors enforce the law 
effectively in the formal sector of the economy but much less 
so in the informal sector, which accounts for 55 percent of 
total employment.  According to a 1993 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 and a national 
rural minimum wage.  The monthly minimum wage was $90 for urban 
workers and $60 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, unions now argue that purchasing power 
has declined enough over the last several years to call for a 
doubling of the minimum wage.  The law excludes only domestic 
workers and concierges 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.  The Ministry of Labor enforces 
minimum wage requirements effectively in the formal sector of 
the economy but generally does not enforce them in the informal 
sector.

The 1990 Labor Code reduced the standard workweek to a maximum 
of 44 hours, and requires "2 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.  The Ministry of Labor effectively 
enforces these standards 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 to 
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.  Inspectors from the Ministry of 
Labor appear to enforce the law effectively.  Workers can 
remove themselves from dangerous workplace situations without 
jeopardy to continued employment.



[end of document]

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