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Venezuela Politics - 2012 - Election - President

Venezuela is formally a multiparty constitutional republic. On October 7, voters reelected Hugo Chavez as president. Domestic election observers cited few irregularities on election day. Some groups noted the incumbent’s use of state resources created an unlevel electoral playing field. The process leading to the election heavily favored the candidacy of incumbent President Chavez. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) electoral “companion” mission described the elections as free and fair. In regional elections on December 16, voters elected 23 governors in elections that domestic election observers characterized as relatively free of widespread fraud but again noted the use of state resources for government candidates. There were some instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently of civilian control.

The principal human rights abuses reported during the year included corruption, inefficiency, and politicization in the judicial system; government actions to impede freedom of expression; and harsh and life-threatening prison conditions. The government did not respect judicial independence or permit judges to act according to the law without fear of retaliation. The government used the judiciary to intimidate and selectively prosecute political, union, business, and civil society leaders who were critical of government policies or actions. The government harassed and intimidated privately owned television stations, other media outlets, and journalists throughout the year, using threats, fines, property seizures, targeted regulations, and criminal investigations and prosecutions. Failure to provide for due process rights, physical safety, and humane conditions for inmates contributed to widespread violence, riots, injuries, and deaths in prisons.

In addition, the following human rights problems were reported by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the media, and in some cases the government itself: unlawful killings, including summary killings by rogue police elements; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; inadequate juvenile detention centers; arbitrary arrests and detentions; corruption and impunity in police forces; political prisoners; interference with privacy rights; corruption at all levels of government; threats against domestic NGOs; violence against women; anti-Semitism in the official media; trafficking in persons; violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and restrictions on workers’ right of association.

Impunity remained a serious problem in the security forces. The Public Ministry is responsible for initiating judicial investigations of security force abuses. The ministry’s annual report for 2011 cited 7,269 cases of human rights violations by presumed police and military officers, of which 226, or approximately 3 percent, resulted in indictments; the remainder were either dismissed or suspended. The Public Defender’s Office did not provide information regarding human rights violations committed by police and military officers.

Societal violence remained high and continued to increase. The NGO Venezuelan Observatory of Violence reported 21,692 homicides nationwide during the year (a rate of 73 killings per 100,000 inhabitants), compared with 18,850 in 2011. Criminal kidnappings for ransom were widespread in both urban centers and rural areas; kidnappings included both “express kidnappings,” in which victims were held for several hours and then released, and traditional kidnappings. According to the press (using police data) kidnappings in Caracas during the first half of the year increased 67 percent compared with 2011, when 1,150 kidnappings were reported for the entire year. NGOs and police noted that many victims did not report kidnappings to police or other authorities.

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, there was evidence that the judiciary lacked independence. There were credible allegations of corruption and political influence throughout the judiciary. During a televised interview on April 18, several weeks after the National Assembly voted to remove him from the Supreme Court because of his presumed ties to an alleged narcotrafficker, former justice Eladio Aponte Aponte asserted there was no judicial independence in Venezuela and that senior government officials, “from the president on down,” regularly told judges how to handle cases coming before their courts. He alleged that senior government officials held regular meetings in which they would review the docket for the coming weeks and determine how specific cases should be handled “according to the political landscape.”

The law makes insulting the president punishable by six to 30 months in prison without bail, with lesser penalties for insulting lower-ranking officials. Comments exposing another person to public contempt or hatred are punishable by one-to-three-year prison sentences and fines starting at Bs 55 ($13). The government took reprisals against individuals who publicly expressed criticism of the president or government policy. The law requires that practicing journalists have journalism degrees and be members of the National College of Journalists, and it prescribes jail terms of three to six months for those practicing illegally. These requirements are waived for foreigners and opinion columnists.

Senior national and state government leaders continued to harass and intimidate privately owned and opposition-oriented television stations, media outlets, and journalists throughout the year using threats, property seizures, administrative and criminal investigations, and prosecutions. Government officials, including the president, used government-controlled media outlets to accuse private media owners, directors, and reporters of fomenting antigovernment destabilization campaigns and coup attempts.

During the year government security forces used tear gas, water hoses, and rubber bullets to suppress peaceful protests. According to press reports, on May 1, officials from the CPNB threw two tear gas canisters at the female relatives of inmates incarcerated in the El Paraiso Prison in Caracas. The women had attempted to block traffic on the adjacent highway to protest the planned transfer of inmates to other prisons. On August 18, the CPNB used rubber bullets to disperse an estimated crowd of 1,260 PDVSA contract workers who were outside the Miraflores presidential palace demanding that the government convert them into permanent employees. On August 23, the press reported that the CPNB used tear gas to disperse a protest at a shelter in Caracas by a group of 2010 flood victims who were demanding permanent housing.

On July 7, a detachment of 40 CPNB officers, dressed in full riot gear, together with a few dozen supporters of President Chavez, formed a barricade to prevent presidential candidate Capriles and several hundred supporters from marching through the historically pro-Chavez neighborhood of La Vega in Caracas. After an hour of attempting to negotiate with the police, Capriles announced that he would not confront the officers. The director of the CPNB claimed that some of Capriles’ supporters were armed and that the CPNB was forced to intervene to prevent violence. On July 8, Chavez criticized the opposition for campaigning in a “highly revolutionary territory.”

While the constitution provides for freedom of association and freedom from political discrimination, the government only partially respected this right. Although indicating that professional and academic associations generally operated without interference, the associations complained that the National Electoral Council (CNE), which is responsible for convoking all elections and establishing dates and procedures for them, and the Supreme Court repeatedly interfered with their attempts to hold internal elections.

On February 12, opposition political parties held nationwide primary elections, open to all voters, to select a single presidential candidate for the October 7 presidential election as well as gubernatorial and mayoral candidates for the December 16 regional elections and the rescheduled July 14, 2013, municipal elections. Voter participation reached 17 percent in the primary elections. Although there were few incidents of voter intimidation at the polls, election observers and the press reported that the government threatened to terminate public employees who voted for the opposition. They also claimed the Supreme Court had attempted to intimidate opposition voters by prohibiting the destruction of the voter registries and requiring they be given to the CNE. The opposition had pledged to destroy the voter registries to protect the identity of voters and had already done so by the time an injunction was issued.

On October 7, voters elected Hugo Chavez Frias as president. Domestic observer groups and the Carter Center’s “study mission” noted the high voter turnout (80.5 percent) but also some irregularities on election day and claimed the process leading to the election heavily favored the candidacy of incumbent President Chavez. The study mission expressed concern with President Chavez’s illegal use of public financing for campaign propaganda and voter mobilization; use of state-owned media; and increased public spending during the election season. The UNASUR electoral “companion” mission commended Venezuelans for holding a free and transparent election.

One CNE rector, opposition political parties, and two accredited domestic election observation groups cited elements in the process leading to the election that the CNE heavily favored the candidacy of incumbent President Chavez by adopting regulations that imposed obstacles to voter registration by presumed opposition-oriented voters: not locating voter registration booths in opposition-oriented areas; imposing unconstitutional requirements for voters seeking to register abroad; and failing to establish an alternative voting center in Miami following the government’s decision in January to close its Miami consulate, thus obliging voters from the Miami consular district to travel to New Orleans to vote.

These groups also stated that the CNE failed to guarantee equal media access for the candidates. CNE regulations restricted paid campaign advertising, but state-owned media provided almost continuous pro-Chavez programming and only limited and distorted coverage of the campaign of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski. The Capriles campaign reported that President Chavez used 43 hours for mandatory broadcasts (cadenas) on all national television and radio stations from July 1 to September 21. On August 2, President Chavez defended his use of cadenas as a means of satisfying the country’s “right to be informed.”

Both campaigns charged that militants instigated violence to deter campaign events. For example, progovernment supporters alleged that Capriles supporters engaged in violence during a July 8 campaign event in Maturin, the capital of Monagas State. They claimed that several people wearing pro-Capriles shirts attacked them with knives and bottles. The state-run National Radio of Venezuela Web site reported that 10 Chavez supporters were injured in the attack, at least two of whom required medical attention.

On September 29, presumed pro-Chavez supporters shot and killed two Capriles supporters during a Capriles campaign event in Barinas State. On October 1, the Public Ministry charged Enmanuel Reyes, Jonathan Ocana, and Jose Nieves with the killing of Omar Fernandez and Jason Valero and the wounding of a third person. The court ordered Reyes to be detained; the other two suspects were conditionally released pending trial. There was no information regarding any of the investigations by year’s end.

Political Parties: Opposition political parties operated in a restrictive atmosphere, which was characterized by intimidation, the threat of prosecution or administrative sanction on questionable charges, prohibitions against receiving resources from any non-Venezuelan person or entity, and restricted media access (see section 2.a.). Opposition National Assembly deputies regularly criticized the refusal of the National Assembly’s progovernment leadership to schedule hearings on their proposed legislation, such as their draft law to guarantee access on a nonpartisan basis to the government’s social welfare programs, known as “missions.” Throughout the year government officials and the National Assembly opened or threatened to open investigations against leading opposition political figures, including opposition governors Henri Falcon, Henrique Salas Feo, Morel Rodriguez, and Cesar Perez Vivas, as well as Jose Gregorio Briceno, a government supporter turned critic, on charges ranging from corruption to money laundering.

On April 24, in a televised press conference, Justice and Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami alleged that Carabobo State Governor Henrique Salas Feo and Nueva Esparta State Governor Morel Rodriguez could be involved in a money-laundering ring involving as much as approximately Bs 43 million ($10 million). El Aissami suggested that Salas Feo “could be” the director of a front company for the ring in Carabobo and that Rodriguez used one of the companies as a principal contractor in his state.

On May 31, the progovernment majority in the National Assembly initiated three investigations against the opposition governor Henri Falcon for alleged budget irregularities and corruption in several tenders issued in the previous three years. On October 31, Falcon testified and presented documents to the Committee of Comptroller in the National Assembly to affirm his innocence. The National Assembly and Public Ministry had opened an investigation against Falcon on similar charges in September 2011. Falcon claimed the government sought to disqualify him administratively from running for reelection. Falcon had left the progovernment PSUV to join an independent party in 2010; he officially joined the opposition in 2012.

According to the Office of the Comptroller General, as of September the comptroller general had administratively disqualified 11 individuals from holding public office during the year; 247 individuals in total were subject to administrative disqualifications at year’s end.

On January 24, Leopoldo Lopez, a candidate in the opposition’s presidential primary elections, announced his withdrawal from the campaign because his 2008 administrative disqualification left doubts among voters about his electoral viability. In October 2011, following an IA Court ruling that administrative disqualification absent a trial and conviction violated the American Convention on Human Rights, the TSJ president stated that Lopez could “register and participate freely in elections” but not necessarily hold public office if elected.

On July 30, CNE Vice President Sandra Oblitas ordered the removal of television advertisements created by NGO Active Citizenship for violating the Organic Law of Electoral Processes. Oblitas claimed the advertisements, which criticized President Chavez’s use of cadenas and other public resources for campaign purposes, amounted to electoral propaganda in favor of opposition presidential candidate Capriles Radonski and that Active Citizenship was not an authorized entity to campaign on behalf of Capriles (see section 4). On September 11, Oscar Lucien, president of Active Citizenship, asked the Supreme Court to issue an injunction against the CNE. The court did not respond to Lucien’s request.

In the week of June 4, the Supreme Court issued separate decisions handing control of two political parties (Podemos and Fatherland for All) to small, progovernment factions. Both parties had endorsed opposition presidential candidate Capriles Radonski.

Participation of Women and Minorities: In the National Assembly that took office on January 5, a total of 26 of 165 deputies were women. During the year women headed three of the five branches of government (judicial, electoral, and citizen) and occupied 12 of the 31 cabinet positions. There were 14 women among the 32 justices on the TSJ. The constitution reserves three seats in the National Assembly for indigenous persons. Three deputies were elected for these seats in the 2010 elections. There was one indigenous member in the cabinet.




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