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Venezuela Politics - 2013 - Election - President

Venezuela is formally a multi-party constitutional republic, but in recent years, political power has been concentrated in a single party with an increasingly authoritarian executive exercising significant control over the legislative, judicial, human rights ombudsman, and electoral branches of government.

On March 5, President Hugo Chavez died before completing his six-year term. On March 8, the TSJ swore in Nicolas Maduro as acting president and stated Maduro would not need to relinquish his position as acting president to run in the upcoming election. Government critics and legal scholars claimed the TSJ’s decision was unconstitutional because the constitution prohibits a sitting vice president, minister, governor, or mayor from running for president while serving in one of those designated positions. Despite these objections, the CNE called a special election for April 14.

On April 14, CNE President Tibisay Lucena announced that acting president and United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) candidate Nicolas Maduro had received 50.66 percent of the votes and opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski had received 49.07 percent, amid allegations of pre- and post-election fraud based on a number of irregularities, including government interference, the use of state resources by the ruling party, and voter manipulation. The electoral and judicial bodies rejected the opposition’s claims and refused to conduct a full audit of the electoral process. The Union of South American Nations electoral “accompaniment” delegation urged all parties to respect the election results while publicly supporting an audit of the results. Some domestic election observation groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the Institute for Advanced European Studies (IAEE) questioned the constitutional legitimacy of Nicolas Maduro’s election. Authorities maintained effective control over security forces. Security forces committed human rights abuses.

The principal human rights abuses reported during the year included corruption, politicization of the judicial system, and government actions to impede freedom of expression and restrict freedom of the press. 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, arrests, and criminal investigations and prosecutions.

In addition, the following human rights problems were reported by NGOs, the media, and in some cases the government itself: unlawful killings, including summary killings by police elements; torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions and lack of due process rights that contributed to widespread violence, riots, injuries, and deaths in prisons; 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. Although the government reported no statistics on arbitrary or unlawful killings, NGOs received numerous reports that such killings occurred, including involvement by national, state, and municipal police entities, as well as the armed forces. The Public Ministry’s Office of Fundamental Rights is charged with investigating cases involving security force killings. The NGO Venezuelan Program for Education/Action on Human Rights (PROVEA) reported 138 extrajudicial killings in 2012.

Although there was no official information available on the number of public officials prosecuted or sentenced to prison for involvement in extrajudicial killings, the media reported that in 2011 the government reported 8,813 killings committed by police but classified those killings as “resistance to authority.” Of those, 97 percent were dismissed or remained pending with no action taken by the Public Ministry. On April 15-16, opposition supporters throughout the country marched to their regional National Electoral Council (CNE) headquarters to demand a full recount of the April 14 election results. According to the NGO Criminal Forum, GNB officials in Lara, Carabobo, and Barinas states arbitrarily detained 195 individuals for protesting the April 14 presidential election results. Criminal Forum reported that 11 of those individuals remained in detention at year’s end.

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 ($8.73). 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.

On March 11, Globovision--the country’s only opposition-oriented 24-hour news channel--was sold to businessmen Juan Cordero, Raul Gorrin, and Gustavo Perdomo. On September 30, CONATEL opened an administrative investigation against Globovision for reporting on food and automobile shortages in the country. CONATEL asserted the investigative report intended to generate anxiety among the population. If found guilty, the channel could face a fine of up to 10 percent of its gross income from the previous year. There remained eight pending administrative investigations and six pending fines against Globovision at year’s end.

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.

State-owned media provided almost continuous progovernment programming. In addition, private and public radio and television stations were required to transmit mandatory nationwide broadcasts throughout the year. Public Space reported that during the first seven months of the year, there were 90 hours and 27 minutes of mandatory broadcasts. Most broadcasts were progovernment propaganda on economic, political, and military issues. President Maduro used mandatory broadcasts 87 times totaling 538 minutes through public and private television and radio between April 15 and November 15. On September 9, President Maduro announced that government activities and initiatives would be transmitted twice a day through mandatory nationwide broadcasts.

On March 5, President Hugo Chavez died before completing his six-year term. On March 8, the TSJ swore in Nicolas Maduro as acting president and stated Maduro would not need to relinquish his position as acting president to run in the upcoming election. Government critics and legal scholars claimed the TSJ’s decision was unconstitutional because the constitution prohibits a sitting vice president, minister, governor, or mayor from running for president while serving in one of those designated positions. Despite these objections, the CNE called a special election for April 14.

On April 14, CNE President Tibisay Lucena announced that acting president and United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) candidate Nicolas Maduro had received 50.66 percent of the votes and opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski had received 49.07 percent. Lucena announced that the results were “irreversible.” Capriles stated in a press conference that he would not recognize the electoral results and demanded that the CNE conduct a full audit of the results. After the CNE refused to audit all electoral instruments involved in the electoral process, the Capriles campaign submitted three petitions to the TSJ requesting that it annul the April 14 elections.

Capriles’ petitions argued that before, during, and after the elections, numerous government abuses of power and other irregularities affected the election results. Abuses cited included improper assisted voting, voter intimidation, proselytizing close to the voting centers, restricting voting-center witnesses, government officials campaigning while in their official capacities, and the government candidate’s misuse of public resources during the official campaign. The Capriles campaign stated it received complaints of election-day irregularities in 3,389 voting centers, affecting approximately eight million voters. On August 7, the TSJ announced its unanimous decision to dismiss all challenges to the presidential election, including those of Capriles, and fined Capriles Bs 10,700 ($1,700) for making accusations against the judiciary and public institutions in the petitions. The TSJ requested that the Public Ministry investigate and determine whether criminal action against Capriles would be appropriate. The TSJ also dismissed seven other petitions filed by various NGOs and private citizens contesting the April 14 election.

Two accredited domestic election observation groups, Education Assembly and Venezuelan Electoral Observatory, reported the April 14 elections were more efficient than the October 2012 presidential elections, citing shorter lines and more efficient use of the biometric identification system and voting machines as examples. Both organizations expressed concern over voter intimidation at the voting tables. Another accredited domestic election observation group, Electoral Observation Network, refused to recognize the election results because of “irregularities, intimidation, and violent tactics that potentially compromised the electoral process.” Electoral Observation Network and Venezuelan Electoral Observatory released separate statements supporting the need for an audit in order to “dispel any uncertainty.”

The Carter Center, which the CNE had invited to witness the elections as an “electoral accompaniment delegation,” noted concerns with the use of government resources throughout the election campaign to gain electoral advantage. Observer organizations and other NGOs documented the government’s use of public resources for political purposes, including public vehicles to transport voters to rallies and to vote, and use of public buildings for campaign propaganda. In addition, local organizations and opposition political parties complained public officials improperly used government offices and personnel to encourage public employees to vote or to threaten them. The Madrid-based IAEE, an invited accompaniment delegation, claimed the entire April 14 election was “null and void.” According to the IAEE, the TSJ misinterpreted the constitution when deciding to allow Maduro to run for president while concurrently holding the position of vice president, thus invalidating the election entirely. The IAEE also criticized the CNE, military, and TSJ for lacking impartiality and neutrality during the electoral process.

Opposition political parties, two accredited domestic election observation groups, and one CNE rector cited elements in the pre-election process indicating the CNE heavily favored the candidacy of Nicolas Maduro. CNE regulations restricted paid campaign advertising, but state-owned media provided almost continuous programming of Nicolas Maduro and only limited and distorted coverage of the campaign of opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. During the pre-election campaign, violations reportedly included the following: Maduro’s use of more than 15 hours of mandatory nationwide broadcasts over private and public radio and television channels; more than 46 hours of coverage of Maduro’s election campaign by the government-run television channel (compared with approximately 78 seconds of coverage received by opposition candidate Capriles); exclusion from the voter registry of approximately 100,000 voters; government use of buildings, resources, and money for Maduro’s campaign; and destruction and vandalism of Capriles’ campaign propaganda. The CNE did not respond to any official denunciations by year’s end.

On March 25, CNE President Lucena suspended “get out and vote” newspaper advertisements of local NGO Women for Liberty, because the electoral law prohibited civil society groups from running “electoral propaganda.” In addition, the CNE announced an administrative investigation into two newspapers, Tal Cual and 2001, for running Women for Liberty advertisements a few days prior.

On April 15-16, opposition supporters throughout the country marched to their regional National Electoral Council (CNE) headquarters to demand a full recount of the April 14 election results. According to the NGO Criminal Forum, GNB officials in Lara, Carabobo, and Barinas states arbitrarily detained 195 individuals for protesting the April 14 presidential election results. Criminal Forum reported that 11 of those individuals remained in detention at year’s end.

On September 18, the attorney general announced that nationwide, nine individuals had been killed, 108 wounded, and 62 criminal investigations opened against individuals for inciting violence. The attorney general also stated her office was considering charging opposition leaders and holding them responsible for masterminding postelection violence, but no further action was taken at year’s end. In Lara state, 93 individuals were detained by the 47th Detachment of the National Guard. According to the human rights NGO Funpaz, the individuals were beaten on the head with frozen water bottles, forced to run in circles while yelling and singing songs expressing loyalty to President Nicolas Maduro, and forced to sign documents stating they would remain loyal to the “Bolivarian cause.”

Opposition political parties operated in a restrictive atmosphere characterized by intimidation, the threat of prosecution or administrative sanction on questionable charges, and restricted media access. On April 30, a fight between progovernment and opposition National Assembly deputies injured at least seven deputies during a legislative session. National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello had denied the request of opposition deputies to speak on the Assembly floor. Cabello argued he was within his rights because opposition deputies had violated National Assembly rules by refusing to recognize Nicolas Maduro as president. Cabello also removed opposition deputies from committee chairmanships and temporarily withheld their pay. On May 21, Cabello permitted opposition deputies to speak during the legislative session for the first time following the April 30 fight. Cabello had not reinstated opposition deputies in committee chairmanships by year’s end.

During the year the attorney general submitted three petitions to the TSJ requesting authorization to suspend temporarily National Assembly deputies in order to conduct criminal investigations against them. The TSJ approved two of the three petitions and submitted the court’s decision to the National Assembly in order for the National Assembly to vote to strip the deputies of their parliamentary immunity. On July 30, the National Assembly stripped opposition National Assembly Deputy Richard Mardo’s parliamentary immunity. That action paved the way for Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz to bring charges against him for money laundering, tax evasion, and an illegal bank transfer in connection with 11 checks Mardo allegedly received. On November 12, the National Assembly removed opposition National Assembly Deputy Maria Aranguren’s parliamentary immunity. Attorney General Diaz accused Aranguren of corruption, money laundering, and embezzlement.

During the year the National Assembly’s Accountability Committee continued ongoing and opened new investigations against five former opposition governors. In addition, the National Assembly, through various other committees, opened investigations against the country’s only three opposition governors, Henrique Capriles Radonski (Miranda), Liborio Guarulla (Amazonas), and Henri Falcon (Lara). The National Assembly did not open any investigations against the 19 PSUV governors during the year.

On November 25, the Public Ministry requested an Interpol “Red Notice” for the arrest and extradition of former Monagas state governor Jose Gregorio Briceno. On July 2, the National Assembly’s Accountability Committee released its final investigative report against Briceno. The National Assembly accused Briceno of mismanaging approximately Bs 29.86 million ($4.74 million) of government contracts while he was Monagas governor. The committee requested that the Public Ministry open a criminal investigation against him and order the freezing of his bank accounts. The committee also requested that the inspector general open an administrative investigation against him. In March 2012 Briceno criticized the national government’s response to the February 2012 oil spill in Monagas, which left residents of the state without running water for more than a month.




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