Covering events from January - December 2004

Political polarization continued to destabilize Venezuela. There were violent confrontations between supporters of the opposition and the security forces throughout the country. Scores of people were killed and injured. Hundreds more were detained amid allegations of excessive use of force and torture and ill-treatment. There were reports of unlawful killings of criminal suspects. Relatives and those who witnessed abuses were threatened and intimidated. The lack of independence of the judiciary remained a concern. Attempts were made to undermine the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders.


In August the President won a referendum on whether he should serve out the remaining two years of his six-year term. The opposition made allegations of electoral fraud but international observers and electoral authorities confirmed the legitimacy of the result. After the referendum violent confrontations between government and opposition supporters decreased. However, in November the leading prosecutor investigating a 2002 coup attempt was killed in a car bomb attack in Caracas, the capital, raising fears of renewed unrest in the country.

After local elections at the end of October, the ruling party controlled the capital and the majority of states.

In May up to 100 alleged Colombian paramilitaries were detained. Judicial proceedings against them on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government were continuing at the end of the year.

Abuses during demonstrations

At least 14 people died during nationwide anti-government demonstrations in February and March. As many as 200 were wounded and several of those detained were ill-treated or tortured by members of the security forces. Investigations into the abuses were slow and inadequate, reportedly due to the lack of impartiality of the police and judiciary.

  • Carlos Eduardo Izcaray stated that he was observing one of the demonstrations in Caracas on 1 March when the situation became increasingly violent. He tried to leave the area but was detained with others by members of the National Guard and repeatedly beaten and threatened with death in an attempt to make him admit to participating in violent acts. He filed a complaint with the Attorney General's Office after he was released without charge.

Police brutality

There were continuing reports of unlawful killings of criminal suspects by members of the police. Relatives and witnesses who reported such abuses were frequently threatened or attacked. No effective protection was granted to them despite calls by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for the authorities to do so.

  • Luis Barrios was killed in September, allegedly by members of the Aragua State police. Two days before his death he was reportedly told by members of the police that hooded men were going to pay him a visit. His brother, Narciso Barrios, was allegedly killed by the police in 2003. Since then the family had been threatened, intimidated and harassed during their quest for justice.
  • Mariela Mendoza was shot and wounded by unidentified gunmen outside her home in July in the Baraure de Araure sector of Portuguesa State. She had been a witness to the alleged police killings of her three brothers and prior to the shooting had received death threats.

Equal access to justice

There were continued concerns that the justice system lacked impartiality and independence, particularly in the context of political polarization. The failure of the justice sector to guarantee impartial and effective responses to human rights violations undermined the credibility of the judiciary, the Public Prosecutor's Office and the Human Rights Ombudsman.

There were also concerns that proposed legislative reforms would undermine the rights to freedom of expression and association.

Human rights defenders

President Hugo Chávez suggested at the beginning of the year that the activities of human rights defenders were intended to fuel political turmoil. These allegations exposed human rights defenders to serious dangers, including threats and intimidation.

  • In May, Liliana Ortega and other members of the human rights organization Committee of the Relatives of the Victims of 27 February (Comité de Familiares de Víctimas del 27 de febrero, COFAVIC) were threatened and intimidated by a leafleting campaign that targeted the organization's headquarters. The leaflets made death threats against Liliana Ortega and contained insulting language.

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