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Title:  Venezuela Human Rights Practices, 1995   
Author:  U.S. Department of State    
Date:  March 1996    
 
 
 
 
                              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.  Over three 
decades of two-party dominance ended in 1994 when former President 
Rafael Caldera was sworn in as President with the support of a coalition 
of small and medium-sized parties.  Four major political groupings now 
comprise the Congress.  On July 6, the Government reinstated 
constitutional guarantees which it had suspended in June 1994, allegedly 
because of the need to combat subversion and to address the country's 
financial crisis.  The freedoms from arbitrary arrest and detention and 
search without warrant were restored, as were freedom to travel, to 
pursue profitable activities, the right to own private property, and to 
receive compensation for assets confiscated by the State.  However, 
three of the constitutional suspensions remained in effect in some 
border areas. 
 
The security apparatus comprises 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 
cases of subversion and arms trafficking.  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. 
 
The public sector, including the petroleum industry which accounts for 
some 22 percent of the gross domestic product, dominates the economy.  
In response to a financial crisis, the Government maintained control 
over half the banking sector.  Although the Government sharply devalued 
the national currency on December 11, it retained foreign exchange and 
price controls and continued to restrict severely the availability of 
foreign exchange.  Continuing fiscal and monetary difficulties, as well 
as a drop in international reserves, led Venezuela to begin negotiations 
on an economic stabilization program with the International Monetary 
Fund in late 1995. 
 
The Government's human rights record continued to be poor in certain 
areas and included extrajudicial killings by the police and military, 
torture and abuse of detainees, 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.  Violence against women, abuse of children, 
and discrimination against the disabled are problems.  The Government 
did not take effective action to punish abusers except in a few highly 
publicized cases, such as the killing of a peasant farmer and torture of 
22 others by the military near the Cararabo marine outpost and the 
execution-style killing of a student by the Caracas police. 
 
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, primarily of criminal suspects, by the security forces 
continued.  The Venezuelan Program of Action and Education in Human 
Rights (PROVEA), one of the country's most respected human rights 
organizations, documented 126 extrajudicial killings from October 1994 
through September 1995.  The killings involved summary executions, 
indiscriminate or excessive use of force, death resulting from torture 
and mistreatment while in custody, and death resulting from abuse during 
military or public service.  According to PROVEA, the municipal police 
carried out 44 of the killings; the state police 29; the PTJ 20; the 
DISIP 12; the National Guard 9; the armed forces 5; and other branches 
of the security apparatus or a combination of branches 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 allegedly committed by their colleagues and 
characterize incidents of extrajudicial killings as "confrontations," 
even though eyewitness testimony and evidence strongly indicate 
otherwise.  In addition, the civilian judicial system remains highly 
inefficient and sometimes corrupt, and military courts are often 
strongly biased in favor of members of the armed forces accused of 
abuse.  A special pretrial summary phase called "nudo hecho," used in 
cases involving public officials, often shields members of the security 
forces from prosecution, since cases can languish in that phase for 
several years.  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. 
 
In January five members of the Caracas Metropolitan Police were arrested 
for killing three young men in the Los Anaucos neighborhood.  In 
addition, there were some other arrests of police officers accused of 
extrajudicial killings and other abuse.  In April a member of the Aragua 
state police was arrested for allegedly shooting and killing a 
protesting student.  The officer was released after 1 month, but in June 
six other arrest warrants were issued in connection with the case.  In 
May three members of the Metropolitan Police were arrested for the 
alleged extrajudicial killing of Marcos Antonio Vivas Sayago in July 
1994.  In September four members of the PTJ were arrested in connection 
with the death of 21-year-old student Hector Rojas, who was shot twice 
in the chest while in handcuffs.  A police officer was charged with the 
murder of 17-year-old student Joseph Moreno during a demonstration in 
Merida in September.  These cases are in a prolonged investigatory 
phase; nearly all other incidents of extrajudicial killings and other 
abuse went unpunished and often uninvestigated. 
 
There were no prosecutions or new revelations surrounding the discovery 
of a common grave in April 1994 in the Sierra de Perija region of Zulia 
state.  Forensic experts provided no count of the number of bodies found 
in the grave, but human rights groups placed the number at around 15.  
At least one of the bodies showed signs of execution-style killing.  
Although members of a special rural contingent of the Zulia state police 
were alleged to have committed the killings, there were no arrests.  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 as a result of killings by security forces, 
although subsequent government investigations were inconclusive.  Human 
rights groups reported that local farmers and indigenous people are 
afraid to come forward with additional information for fear of 
reprisals.  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.  The Committee of Family Members of the 
Victims of the Unrest (COFAVIC) continued to seek prosecutions and a 
thorough investigation of the Catia prison killings and other incidents 
of human rights abuse. 
 
Minimal progress was made towards resolving some 300 alleged 
extrajudicial killings by security forces during and after the civil 
unrest of February-March 1989.  There has been only one prosecution:  a 
police officer was found guilty in 1991 of killing 18-year-old Eleazor 
Ramon Mavares, shot by several police officers some 18 times at close 
range.  The courts released the officer from prison 1 year later.  In 
negotiations held with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 
(IACHR) in March, the Government agreed to initiate a new investigation 
of the Mavares case, punish those responsible, and provide indemnities 
to the victim's family.  COFAVIC referred some 40 cases surrounding the 
1989 killings to the IACHR, asserting that the Government had not 
ensured justice. 
 
In September the Inter-American Court of Human Rights agreed to decide 
the case brought against Venezuela for the killing of 14 fishermen in 
1988 by military and police officers near the border town of El Amparo.  
The military originally claimed that the deaths were the result of 
action taken against Colombian guerrillas, but the Government later 
acknowledged responsibility and said that it would pay indemnities to 
the survivors and the victims' families.  The IACHR, which brought the 
case to the court, is also demanding appropriate sanctions against those 
who ordered and carried out the attack.  In August 1994, a military 
tribunal overturned the conviction of 16 defendants in the case despite 
strong evidence that they had participated in a planned ambush. 
 
   b.   Disappearance 
 
PROVEA documented six cases of persons who disappeared in 1995 after 
reportedly being detained by the security forces.  They are Julio Rafael 
Tovar, Fidel Ernesto Croes Aleman, and Luis Martin Sanches Vargas, 
detained by the National Guard; Marco Tulio Briceno Escalona and Juan 
Daniel Monsalve, detained by the PTJ; and Jose Ramos, detained by two 
armed and uniformed officers and one civilian of an unknown security 
force. 
 
There were no developments in connection with the 1994 disappearances of 
Elsida Ines Alvarez, Benjamin Vasquez, or Fidel A. Sanabria; or the 1993 
disappearance of Yolanda Landino.  All had reportedly been detained by 
security force members prior to their disappearances. 
 
   c.   Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment 
 
The law prohibits torture, but credible human rights groups report that 
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 near suffocation and 
other forms of torture that leave no telltale signs.  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. 
 
PROVEA documented 99 cases of torture from October 1994 through 
September 1995.  Probably a large number of cases were never reported 
because the victims feared retribution.  According to PROVEA, the armed 
forces were responsible for 35 of the reported torture incidents; the 
DISIP 24; the PTJ 16; the National Guard 13; the state police 8; and the 
municipal police 3.  Almost half of these cases were in border areas 
where constitutional protections were suspended. 
 
In February after Colombian guerrillas attacked the Cararabo marine 
outpost, members of the military tortured about 23 local rural workers, 
burying some of them to the neck for long periods.  The military began 
an investigation of four of its members, but the results of the 
investigation, if completed, were not made public. 
 
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 fact that the Institute of Forensic Medicine is part of 
the PTJ also contributes to a climate of impunity, since its doctors are 
unlikely to be impartial in their examinations of cases where torture by 
members of the PTJ may be involved.  Very few instances of torture have 
resulted in convictions.  According to the Support Network for Justice 
and Peace, a respected human rights organization, the military tortured 
at least 19 peasant farmers of the village of La Victoria in Apure state 
in July, after the mayor of the nearby town of Guasdalito had been 
kidnaped by guerrillas.  The alleged victims, mostly elderly, said that 
they had been nearly suffocated with plastic bags, forced to sit in 
excrement, threatened sexually, and beaten.  Some were reportedly held 
incommunicado for as long as 12 days.  The Defense Minister said that 
the allegations were totally false and that one of the alleged victims 
had links with the guerrillas.  There was no formal investigation of the 
incident despite detailed and credible evidence pointing to torture. 
 
In October the Attorney General ordered an investigation of a PTJ unit 
in Caracas, which had allegedly beaten four youths with a hockey stick 
and threatened them with "Russian roulette" in order to extract a 
confession. 
 
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 inhuman and degrading 
treatment.  As of December 13, the 31 prisons administered by the 
Ministry of Justice held 24,928 inmates, of whom the courts had 
sentenced only 7,269.  The prisons operate on average at 190 percent of 
designed capacity.  Inadequate diet, minimal health care, a prisoner to 
guard ratio as high as 40 to 1, and physical abuse by guards and by 
other inmates 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 between prisoners is very 
common. 
 
In June two inmates in a PTJ jail for minors killed a 17-year-old inmate 
during a protest over not having had any food for a period of 4 days.  
The PTJ did not punish any of its members for gross neglect of their 
duties.  Numerous riots and incidents of violence resulted in deaths in 
prisons almost daily.  Seven inmates in Catia prison were killed and 27 
injured when violence broke out in September during a police search for 
weapons.  Inmates claimed that they were gunned down without provocation 
by police and the National Guard.  PROVEA registered a total of 116 
prisoners killed and another 288  wounded as a result of violence from 
October 1994 through September 1995. 
 
There were no prosecutions of public officials for the corruption and 
neglect that contributed to the January 1994 riot at Sabaneta prison in 
Maracaibo.  Inmates killed 105 fellow prisoners and wounded scores of 
others.  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.  As a result, the number of casualties increased 
unnecessarily. 
 
The Government acknowledged the poor state of prisons and implemented 
some plans to improve conditions.  Nonetheless, funding for prisons 
remained extremely low, preventing significant improvement in most 
penitentiaries. 
 
   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
On July 6, the Government reinstated the constitutionally protected 
freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention in all but 16 municipalities 
along the Colombian border where guerrilla activity was a continuing 
problem.  In the period prior to the Government's reinstatement of the 
protection against arbitrary arrest, the press and human rights groups 
reported a large number of arbitrary detentions during anticrime sweeps 
in impoverished areas by the Metropolitan Police, the DISIP, the 
National Guard, and the PTJ.  The authorities detained persons during 
the sweeps for up to 2 days while they checked criminal records; most 
were released without charges.  PROVEA documented 13,177 people detained 
during sweeps from October 1994 through September 1995. 
 
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 cases, the police abused 
detainees physically and psychologically 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 the 
formal arrest or the release of the suspect.  Arbitrary arrests are 
common, and authorities sometimes exceed the time limits for holding 
suspects.  Prison officials often illegally demand payment from 
prisoners for transportation to judicial proceedings at which formal 
charges are made.  Those who are unable to pay are often forced to 
forego 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 even though there is no evidence that they committed 
a punishable crime.  This law is used chiefly against people with 
previous criminal records who are detained during police sweeps.  The 
Interior Minister said in August that the Vagrancy Law was "the only 
legal instrument" the State had in the fight against crime.  The 
Ministry of Justice reported there were 106 persons in jail under the 
Vagrancy Law, but this figure does not reflect the total number arrested 
under this law and then released. 
 
Forced exile is illegal and is not practiced. 
 
   e.   Denial of Fair Public Trial 
 
The civilian judiciary is legally independent, but the major political 
parties influence the judicial selection process as well as decisions in 
particular cases.  The judicial sector is made up of the Supreme Court, 
which is the court of last appeal; the Attorney General, who provides 
opinions to the courts on prosecution of criminal cases and acts as 
public ombudsman to bring public employee misconduct or violations of 
constitutional rights of prisoners or accused to the attention of the 
proper authorities; the Ministry of Justice, which manages the national 
police force and prisons and files complaints in criminal courts; and 
the Judicial Council, which overseas the lower courts as well as the 
selection and training of judges.  The lower court system includes 
district and municipal courts as well as trial and appeal courts which 
deal with civil and criminal matters. 
 
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 and inefficient, suffers from the corruption of some 
judges, and lacks 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 reported that there are 159 public 
defense attorneys with an average of 133 active cases each. 
 
The judicial process is paper intensive, requiring the costly and time-
consuming production of voluminous reports at every stage by judges, 
attorneys, and witnesses. 
 
Military courts can try civilians in cases of armed subversion and 
whenever armed forces members are involved.  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 do those convicted by 
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 of candidates 
provided by the Minister of Defense, a process which links the careers 
of military judges to the high command.  The tendency 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 will be tried in 
an impartial or timely manner.  As a result, military offenders evade 
punishment for extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses. 
 
There were no reports of political prisoners. 
 
   f.   Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence 
 
Constitutional provisions prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, 
family, home, and correspondence.  However, for 13 months prior to July 
6, the Government had suspended the constitutional guarantee of freedom 
from search without a warrant.  Furthermore, the suspension remained in 
effect in some border areas.  Even after reinstatement of the provision, 
security forces often conducted searches of homes without warrants, 
especially during anticrime sweeps in impoverished areas.  In recent 
years, there have been some complaints of telephone surveillance, and 
human rights monitors accused the security forces of illegal telephone 
monitoring. 
 
Section 2   Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 
 
   a.   Freedom of Speech and Press 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and these 
liberties, along with academic freedom, were generally respected.  The 
press criticizes the Government and denounces government interference in 
the media. 
 
In 1994 the Congress passed and the President signed a law which forbids 
persons without journalism degrees to practice and requires journalists 
to be members of the National College of Journalists (CNP).  Media 
owners, the Catholic Church, and certain press groups continued to 
criticize this law as a violation of the freedom of expression 
guaranteed by the Constitution and international agreements on human 
rights. 
 
The newspaper photographer whose widely published photo of Hector Rojas 
in police custody just before he was killed (see Section 1.a.) led to 
the arrest of five policemen received several telephone death threats.  
The newspaper, El Nacional, took the photographer off the crime beat to 
limit his vulnerability to police retribution.  There were no 
prosecutions for the killing of two reporters, Maria Veronica Tessari 
and Virgilio Fernandez, by members of the security forces while they 
respectively covered a 1992 student demonstration and a 1992 coup 
attempt. 
 
When two newspapers, El Nacional and El Diario de Caracas, published a 
wire service story in June about an alleged coup plot by the President's 
son-in-law, directors and editors of both newspapers were called in for 
questioning by the military intelligence directorate. 
 
The Government is a significant source of advertising revenue for the 
media, and there have been instances where government advertising was 
apparently channeled for political ends.  When the newspaper El Nacional 
published articles on alleged corruption by high government officials, 
the Finance Ministry withheld its public announcements in that newspaper 
for a period of 2 months.  Some media owners abuse the right to a free 
press in their pursuit of personal political or financial advantage. 
 
   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 a result of violence that occurred at 
the Central University of Venezuela campus the day before a planned 
protest march in September, the Government ordered the march to be 
postponed.  It was held 2 weeks later. 
 
As in earlier years, many demonstrations turned violent and were quelled 
by security forces.  Hooded youths known as "encapuchados" frequently 
fomented the violence.  A student's death during a demonstration in 
Merida in September precipitated several days of violence, and the local 
governor called in the military to regain control of the streets (see 
Section 1.a.).  There were also a number of incidents when security 
forces contained or stopped peaceful protests.  According to PROVEA, 4 
people were killed during demonstrations, 82 injured, and 521 detained 
from October 1994 through September 1995. 
 
   c.   Freedom of Religion 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, provided that a faith 
does not threaten public order or violate good custom.  The authorities 
respect this right in practice; all religious groups enjoy freedom of 
worship. 
 
While foreign missionaries proselytize actively throughout the country, 
they often have to wait many months for the processing of their 
religious worker visas.  For missionaries already in the country, 
renewal of visas also can take months.  During the period of irregular 
visa status, missionaries experience harassment by authorities, 
especially at military checkpoints. 
 
   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.  Although the freedom to travel was 
suspended from June 1994 to July 1995, there were no reports of the 
Government actually restricting a person's travel in 1995.  Exchange 
controls limited the ability of individuals to obtain foreign currency 
for travel abroad. 
 
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 
 
The Constitution provides citizens with the right peacefully to change 
their government, and citizens exercise this right through periodic, 
free and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.  In 
state and local elections held on December 3, however, an antiquated and 
inefficient system for counting votes gave rise to numerous and, in some 
cases, credible allegations that the political parties that dominated 
state electoral councils had committed fraud. 
 
Women and nonwhites participate fully in Government and politics but 
remain underrepresented in senior leadership positions.  There are 12 
female deputies in the lower house of Congress (out of a total of 203), 
3 female Senators (out of 53), 
and 1 female governor (out of 23).  Indigenous people have traditionally 
not been fully integrated into the political system due 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 the 
Government, and only one is a deputy in Congress. 
 
Section 4   Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights 
 
A wide variety of human rights groups operate without government 
restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights 
cases.  Government officials, though often disagreeing with their 
findings, are generally cooperative. 
 
Section 5   Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status 
 
The law prohibits discrimination based on ethnic origin, gender, or 
disability.  The Government, however, does not sufficiently enforce laws 
which safeguard the rights of indigenous people, protect women against 
societal and domestic violence, and ensure disabled people's access to 
jobs and public services.  Very few resources are devoted to children's 
welfare;  young delinquents are locked in institutions that are unsafe 
and dangerous. 
 
   Women 
 
Women face substantial institutional and societal prejudice with respect 
to rape and domestic violence.  The law makes rape extremely difficult 
to prove, requiring at a minimum medical examination within 48 hours of 
the violation.  Few police officers are trained to deal responsibly with 
rape victims.  The PTJ received 2,599 reports of rape in the entire 
country during the period from January to September 1995 compared to 
1994 which had a total of 3,537 for the entire year.  Women's 
organizations, however, assert that this figure is very low and does not 
portray an accurate picture of the problem of rape.  The overwhelming 
majority of rape victims do not report the incident or press charges due 
to societal pressure and their own feelings of guilt. 
 
Domestic violence against women 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 remedies and have 
little access to them. 
 
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 the higher 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 benefits 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. 
 
   Children 
 
Many children face hardship.  According to a study by 
two reputable nongovernmental organizations, one in four children is 
malnourished.  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, the Government dedicates very little 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 raised the level of stress within families and led to a rise in the 
number of abandoned children and to more child abuse.  However, 
neighbors often hesitate to report cases of child abuse, due to a fear 
of entanglement with the authorities and ingrained attitudes regarding 
family privacy.  The overburdened judicial system, though very slow, 
generally ensures that in most situations children are removed from 
abusive households once a case has been reported.  Public facilities for 
such children, however, are inadequate and have poorly trained staff. 
 
 
   People With Disabilities 
 
The physically disabled 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. 
 
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 new 
law, to inform the public of it, or to try to change societal prejudice 
against the disabled. 
 
   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.  There are about 
315,000 indigenous people comprising 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.  In February representatives of the 19 indigenous groups of 
Amazonas state brought a case to the Supreme Court challenging the 
constitutionality of the law which defines political boundaries and 
commonly held land within their state.  They claim that the law, 
promulgated in 1994, jeopardizes their collective possession of 
ancestral lands. 
 
Many of the country's indigenous people live isolated from modern 
civilization and lack access to basic health and educational facilities 
available to other citizens.  High rates of cholera, hepatitis-B, 
malaria, and other diseases plague their communities.  Major epidemics 
of equine encephalitis and dengue fever in August and September were 
particularly serious among the Wayuu indigenous group of Zulia state.  
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, among the most isolated of the indigenous people, have 
been subject to persistent incursions into their territory by illegal 
Brazilian gold miners.  The miners have not only brought diseases but 
social ills as well.  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 through the porous border.  Indigenous people's 
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 1994, 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.  There were no arrests of those responsible for the 
killings. 
 
Section 6   Worker Rights 
 
   a.   The Right of Association 
 
Both the Constitution and labor law recognize and encourage the right of 
unions to organize.  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 are active 
internationally.  The CTV's top leadership includes members of several 
political parties.  The majority are affiliated with the country's 
largest party, Democratic Action (AD).  The CTV and the AD exercise 
reciprocal influence on 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 
1995 most strikes occurred among government employees.  With the 
exception of a slow-down by air traffic controllers and strikes by 
judicial workers and university professors, 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 can impose a maximum fine 
of twice the minimum monthly wage for a first infraction.  Under the 
Code, union officials enjoy special protection from dismissal.  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 to 14 years 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 years may not work without permission from their legal 
guardians.  Minors may not work in mines or 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 the age of 18 years 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 which comprises large 
numbers of children. 
 
   e.   Acceptable Conditions of Work 
 
Venezuela has a national urban minimum wage and a national rural minimum 
wage.  The monthly minimum wage was $52 (15,000 bolivars) for urban 
workers and $43 (12,500 bolivars) for rural workers.  In addition, most 
minimum-wage workers received mandatory bonuses amounting to $59 (17,000 
bolivars).  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 warrant 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 guarantees 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 "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.  The Ministry 
of Labor effectively enforces these standards in the formal sector. 
 
The 1986 Health and Safety Law is still awaiting implementation 
regulations and is not enforced.  The delay is 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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