U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Venezuela
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Venezuela, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1e1a.html [accessed 3 March 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
VENEZUELAVenezuela is a republic with an active multiparty democratic system, a bicameral congress, and a popularly elected president. 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. The Congress comprises seven major political groupings. In July 1995, the Government reinstated most of the constitutional protections for citizens' rights that it had suspended in June 1994 to combat subversion and to address the country's financial crisis. In some border areas where guerrilla activity, drug trafficking, and kidnaping were a continuing problem, suspension of freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention and search without warrant, as well as freedom to travel, remained in effect. The judiciary is legally independent, but judges are subject to influence. The security apparatus comprises civilian and military elements, both accountable to elected authorities. The Justice Ministry controls the Judicial Technical Police (PTJ), which conducts most criminal investigations. 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 General Directorate for Military Intelligence (DIM), under the Defense Ministry, is responsible for collecting intelligence related to national security and sovereignty. 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. Both police and military personnel were responsible for human rights abuses. Venezuela has abundant natural resources, but a large proportion of its people are poor. Oil accounted for 28 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), 61 percent of government revenues, and 77 percent of the country's exports in 1997. Per capita GDP of $3,500 is unevenly distributed. The public sector dominates the economy, employing one out of six workers. Public sector iron, steel, aluminum, and petrochemical products constitute one third of the country's non-oil exports. The Government privatized telecommunications and most of the steel sector, reprivatized most of the financial sector, and opened the oil industry to foreign joint ventures. The Government plans to privatize the aluminum industry and other smaller public sector enterprises in 1998. The Government's human rights record continued to be poor in certain areas and includes extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects by the police and military, torture and abuse of detainees, failure to punish police and security officers guilty of abuse, arbitrary arrests and excessively lengthy detentions, illegal searches, and corruption and severe inefficiency in the judicial and law enforcement systems. Overcrowding and violence in the prisons were so severe as to constitute inhuman and degrading treatment. Violence against women, abuse of children, discrimination against the disabled, and inadequate protection of the rights of indigenous people continue to be problems. Vigilante justice is a problem. In an effort to address these problems and formulate a national human rights agenda, the Government held a high-level symposium with nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) in July. In addition, the Government announced the creation of a National Police Committee and a human rights office in the Defense Ministry to ensure better compliance with human rights norms. In October the Supreme Court ruled that the Vagrancy Act, which permitted up to 5 years' detention without trial of persons deemed a danger to society, was unconstitutional. In December Congress approved a new Code of Criminal Procedure that provides for open public trials with oral proceedings and jury participation.