Venezuela’s democratic institutions have deteriorated since 1999, but conditions have grown sharply worse in recent years due to harsher crackdowns on the opposition and the ruling party relying on widely condemned elections to control all government branches. The authorities have closed off virtually all channels for political dissent, restricting civil liberties and prosecuting perceived opponents without regard for due process. The country’s severe humanitarian crisis has left millions struggling to meet basic needs, and driven mass emigration.
- The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and allied parties won a majority of gubernatorial and mayoral positions in November elections, despite opposition groups winning a majority of votes nationwide. While election monitors said the polls were better run than in the past, they were marred by the misuse of state resources, bans on candidates, and low turnout.
- In March, Caracas launched a military campaign against the 10th Front, a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) splinter group active in Venezuela. During the campaign, security forces engaged in arbitrary arrests, torture, and extralegal executions of civilians. The campaign subsided in late May with the military’s effective retreat.
- Security forces engaged in protracted fighting with a criminal gang in Caracas over several days in July, with the government reporting the deaths of 22 criminals and 4 police officers. Residents in the affected area were trapped in their homes during the fighting.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
The president serves six-year terms and is not subject to term limits. In January 2019, incumbent Nicolás Maduro Moros was sworn in for a new term after winning the 2018 snap presidential election. The poll saw a record-low turnout of 46 percent and by most international accounts lacked even a veneer of competitiveness. That month, the democratically elected National Assembly declared its head, Juan Guaidó, interim president as a constitutional response.
The ruling PSUV attempted to undercut Guaidó’s legitimacy by engineering the election of Luis Parra as National Assembly president in January 2020, with military forces barring opposition members from entering the chamber to participate in the vote. The Constitutional Chamber of the Maduro-aligned Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) ratified Parra’s election that May. Over 50 countries initially recognized Guaidó as interim president, though some critics subsequently questioned Guaidó’s ability to challenge chavismo. Maduro was initially recognized by fewer than 20 countries, generally historical allies and governments with an economic or other interest in the country—most prominently Russia, China, and Cuba.
The old opposition-controlled legislature, which attempted to keep control of the legislative branch by voting to extend its term in December 2020, reaffirmed Guaidó as interim president that month. International recognition of Guaidó has waned during 2021, however, with European Union (EU) member states rescinding their recognition in January.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
The unicameral National Assembly is popularly elected for five-year terms, using a mix of majoritarian and proportional-representation voting. Three seats are reserved for Indigenous representatives. Ahead of the December 2020 elections, electoral authorities announced that the new National Assembly would have 277 seats, up from 167.
The major opposition parties refused to participate in the vote for the 2021–26 National Assembly term, saying they had no reason to believe the Maduro regime would oversee a fair election and pointing to the installation of election commissioners without opposition input. The PSUV and its allies won 91 percent of seats, though most of the world’s democracies, including the United States, rejected the results as illegitimate. In late December, the outgoing, opposition-controlled National Assembly voted to extend its term into 2021. Also in December, Maduro announced that the National Constituent Assembly (CNA)—a body established in 2017 to supplant the National Assembly and filled with regime loyalists elected in a nondemocratic process—would be shuttered.
Regional and local elections were held in November 2021. The government and opposition groups held negotiations in Mexico beginning in August, which were meant in part to address the coming poll. Negotiators reached preliminary agreements on some agenda items in September. In October, the government suspended talks in response to the extradition of Álex Saab Morán, a Colombian businessman affiliated with Caracas, from Cabo Verde to the United States. Progovernment candidates won 20 out of 23 governorships and 212 out of 335 mayoralties. Several opposition coalitions contested the elections and won a majority of votes nationwide, but splits within the opposition impeded their overall performance. An EU election observation mission (EOM) reported that turnout stood at 42.5 percent, the lowest in 25 years.
The EOM called the elections relatively well conducted compared to previous polls but noted the use of state resources to support progovernment candidates. The elections were also marred by judicial interference: In late November, the TSJ ordered the National Electoral Council (CNE) to hold a new election in Barinas State after the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) candidate appeared to lead that state’s gubernatorial contest. That contest will be held a second time in 2022. EU observers were compelled to leave Venezuela in early December, after the authorities declined to renew their visas.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||0.000 4.004|
The electoral system is heavily influenced by political manipulation and pro-PSUV institutional interference. While the opposition had no influence over the slate of CNE commissioners selected ahead of the 2020 legislative elections, the slate announced in May 2021 did include opposition members, though its progovernment slant remained.
Recent polls, including the 2018 presidential election and the 2020 legislative elections, have been characterized by disqualifications of prominent opposition candidates, government abuse of public resources, uneven access to the state-dominated media, the diminished presence of international observers, and intimidation of state employees. The November 2021 local and regional elections were similarly marred by the misuse of resources and bans on candidates.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||0.000 4.004|
While opposition coalitions and parties exist, the ruling PSUV uses state resources as well security forces and the judiciary to disrupt them. In 2020, the TSJ suspended the leaders of two prominent opposition parties—Acción Democrática (Democratic Action) and Voluntad Popular—replacing them with figures who were previously suspended from those parties for supporting Parra’s engineered election to the National Assembly. The deposed leaders remained out of their posts as of the November 2021 local and regional elections. The Mesa de the Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable) ticket was banned in 2018, though the CNE reinstated it in June 2021, allowing it to contest the November elections.
Opposition leaders have long been harassed, attacked, imprisoned, and otherwise impeded from participating in political processes or leading political parties in peaceful activities. Prominent members of the Guaidó-led Voluntad Popular were targeted by authorities in July 2021. Fabiana Rosales Guerrero, Guaidó’s wife, claimed that members of the Special Action Forces (FAES) attempted to arrest Guaidó at their home but were stopped by neighbors. Guaidó ally Freddy Guevara was arrested on terrorism and treason charges in July but was released in August. Former Chacao mayor Emilio Graterón Colmenares sought refuge in a Chilean diplomatic office in Caracas in July.
Family members were also targeted by authorities during 2021. In June, Guaidó claimed that security officers harassed Rosales when she traveled to a medical appointment.
According to nongovernmental organization (NGO) Foro Penal (Criminal Forum), there were 244 political prisoners in Venezuela as of December 2021. Foro Penal also counted another 9,422 people facing potential proceedings.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||0.000 4.004|
While discontent with the Maduro regime remains widespread, the government has cut off virtually all avenues for political change. The opposition has boycotted recent national elections after claiming that international criteria of competitiveness could not be met, though opposition groups did contest the November 2021 local and regional elections.
Prominent opposition figures like Leopoldo López—who fled to Spain in 2020—and former Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles Radonski have been banned from holding public office, though President Maduro called on Capriles to participate in the November 2021 elections.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||0.000 4.004|
The Maduro regime relies on the military, paramilitary forces, and opaque support from foreign states to retain political power. Military leaders have taken control of numerous offices, and Maduro has continued to strengthen the Bolivarian Militia, a civilian militia group established by late president Hugo Chávez Frías in 2008 to support the military; Maduro claimed the militia had over 4.5 million members in April 2021.
Separately, irregular, state-affiliated armed groups known as colectivos routinely commit acts of violence against civilians, particularly at antigovernment protests, and carry out government-backed voter intimidation efforts. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) attributed deaths that occurred during protests in 2019 to colectivos.
The Maduro regime has become increasingly dependent on economic, medical, military, and other assistance from foreign allies to maintain power, particularly from Russia, Cuba, Turkey, and Iran. Russian military personnel reportedly supported Caracas’s campaign against the 10th Front on the Venezuela-Colombia border beginning in March 2021. In September, Caracas reached a deal with the Iranian government to swap oil products.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||1.001 4.004|
The PSUV’s political dominance leaves little opportunity for ethnic, minority, and other groups to advocate for their interests.
Indigenous people in Venezuela are poorly represented in politics, and members of these groups struggle to bring government attention to issues of importance, including economic inequality and destructive incursions on ancestral lands. Indigenous people were further marginalized in 2020 through changes to the National Assembly: While the total number of legislators was significantly increased from 167 to 277, the number of seats reserved for Indigenous representatives remained the same. In July 2020, the CNE revoked Indigenous groups’ right to vote directly and secretly to choose National Assembly representatives, without consulting Indigenous communities. After an outcry, the reform was rolled back in August.
Though several women hold senior positions in government, there remains a lack of policy discussion regarding issues that primarily affect women. Almost no openly LGBT+ people hold senior political or government positions in Venezuela. The first openly transgender member of the National Assembly, Voluntad Popular member Tamara Adrián, held a seat in the 2015–20 body.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||0.000 4.004|
Venezuela does not function as a representative democracy. The opposition-controlled legislature had no practical ability to carry out its constitutional mandate between 2015 and 2020 and was also supplanted by the proregime CNA, which was established under undemocratic conditions. After the opposition announced that it would boycott the 2020 National Assembly elections, effectively securing PSUV control of the chamber, Maduro announced the closure of the CNA.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||0.000 4.004|
Corruption is rampant in Venezuela. The government’s economic policies—particularly its currency and price controls—offer significant opportunities for black-market activity and collusion between public officials and organized crime networks. The United States, Canada, Panama, the EU, and others have sanctioned Venezuelan officials for corruption and other offenses that go uninvestigated in Venezuela. In June 2021, US, Canadian, and EU representatives suggested they would reconsider those policies if the country held more transparent elections.
Corruption has also affected the Venezuelan COVID-19 response. In April 2021, NGO Transparencia Venezuela reported that military and police personnel sought bribes while enforcing pandemic measures.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||0.000 4.004|
There is virtually no transparency regarding government spending. The Maduro regime has moreover consistently failed to publish reliable crime and economic data, including monthly inflation statistics and annual gross domestic product.
Watchdogs and others raised serious doubts about the veracity of government COVID-19 data, with NGOs and educational institutions calling official pandemic death figures noncredible. In May 2021, Transparencia Venezuela reported that the government withheld information on the recipients of COVID-19 vaccines imported from China and Russia. The NGO also reported that government officials made inconsistent statements on how many vaccines were administered.
|Are there free and independent media?||1.001 4.004|
Independent journalists operate within a highly restrictive regulatory and legal environment, and risk arrest and physical violence in connection with their work. Venezuela formerly possessed a vibrant newspaper sector, though large numbers of publications have closed or have narrowed their operations. In June 2021, NGO Prodavinci reported that 22 print newspapers were still operating, while 121 operated in 2013.
Journalists continued to face government pressure and arrest during 2021. In March, journalist Milagros Mata-Gil and poet Juan Manuel Muñoz were arrested after an article criticizing Attorney General Tarek William Saab was disseminated on social media. In July, the Press and Society Institute (IPYS) counted 213 press freedom violations committed by the Maduro regime and its followers in the first half of the year, targeting 88 journalists and 48 outlets along with NGOs. The IPYS counted 10 illegal arrests, 85 physical incidents, and 14 legal cases opened against journalists and outlets.
In April 2021, the TSJ’s Civil Cassation Chamber ruled in favor of PSUV vice president Diosdado Cabello Rondón over his defamation claim against newspaper El Nacional. El Nacional was ordered to pay Cabello $13.2 million, though the newspaper did not comply. In May, the TSJ authorized the seizure of the outlet’s Caracas headquarters, allowing Cabello to take control of the facility.
The Maduro regime maintains a state communications infrastructure used to propagate its political and ideological program. Maduro made 224 televised appearances in 2021 through December 20. In contrast, live-streamed speeches by Guaidó are frequently blocked. State-owned media also provided favorable coverage to the government during the November 2021 local and regional elections.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||3.003 4.004|
Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom are generally respected, though tensions between the government and the Roman Catholic Church remain high. According to the 2020 edition of the US State Department’s Report on International Religious Freedom, Roman Catholic and evangelical Christian groups reported government harassment, intimidation, and retaliation against their members, including members of the clergy. The report also noted that progovernment supporters espoused antisemitic attitudes on social networks, while progovernment media outlets carried antisemitic content during the reporting year.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||1.001 4.004|
Academic freedom has come under mounting pressure since chavismo arrived to power. Budget cuts and other funding problems have undermined universities’ autonomy and prompted an exodus of academics from the country.
The regime continued to exert its influence on academic activity during the year. In January 2021, then higher education minister César Trómpiz Cecconi announced that the regime would prioritize specific fields of study based on its economic priorities. In March, the government announced that salaries for university staff would be dispersed through Sistema Patria (Fatherland System), a centralized online platform for accessing government benefits and services. In July, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) cited the use of Sistema Patria when warning that budget troubles were threatening academic freedom in Venezuela. In September, the National Council of Universities appointed a new rector of Simón Bolívar University in an irregular session.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||1.001 4.004|
Free private expression is severely constrained in Venezuela. A May 2021 report issued by IPYS noted the government maintained strict control over telecommunications providers.
The government has also used social-service and health-care systems to surveil Venezuelans. Health-related measures were linked to the Fatherland ID card, which is required to access social services. In 2020, the government activated so-called Popular Prevention Brigades to identify people potentially infected with COVID-19 and to monitor their adherence to health advice. Brigade members are usually community members who maintain close PSUV ties. These brigades continued to operate in 2021.
In some cases, citizens continue to be targeted for their social media activity. In April 2021, Luis Morales, an Ezequiel Zamora rail system employee, was interrogated by intelligence agents for a satirical comment about the effects of a Chinese-produced COVID-19 vaccine. Morales was dismissed from his job and deleted his TikTok account on the recommendation of government officials.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||0.000 4.004|
While guaranteed by the constitution, freedom of assembly is severely restricted in practice. Protests were nevertheless common despite government restrictions, with many politically motivated protests occurring in recent years. Violent clashes between protesters and security forces are known to occur. The number of protests have fallen due to COVID-19 restrictions, however.
The Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict (OVCS) counted 3,393 protests in the first half of 2021, a 23 percent decline from the first half of 2020. The OVCS also reported that 59 protests held in the first half of 2021 were violently repressed, counting 25 arrests, 7 injuries, and 1 death during the period. In November, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened an investigation over the government’s response to demonstrations.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||1.001 4.004|
Activists and NGOs are routinely harassed, threatened, and subject to legal and administrative sanctions for their work. In January 2021, PSUV vice president Cabello denounced the Venezuelan Action Education Program on Human Rights (Provea) when the NGO claimed that the party benefited from British funds, calling for an investigation into one of the NGO’s staff members. That same month, six staff members of Azul Positivo (Blue Positive), which provides medical services in Zulia State, were arrested by intelligence personnel. In July, the director of Fundaredes (Foundations), Javier Tarazona, was arrested after discussing possible links between Caracas and Colombian guerrillas operating in Venezuela. A pretrial hearing against Tarazona, who remained in detention, was held in mid-December.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||1.001 4.004|
Workers are legally entitled to form unions, bargain collectively, and strike, with some restrictions on public-sector workers’ ability to strike. Control of unions has shifted from traditional opposition-allied labor leaders to new workers’ organizations that are often aligned with the government. The competition has contributed to a substantial increase in labor violence as well as confusion and delays during industry-wide collective bargaining.
In July 2021, a member of the Trade Union Coalition of Venezuela reported that 11 arrests against labor leaders took place during the year to date. In September, the UN high commissioner for human rights in Venezuela voiced concern over the ongoing criminalization faced by labor leaders.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||0.000 4.004|
Politicization of the judicial branch increased dramatically under Chávez and has progressed further under Maduro. Political control of the judiciary was reinforced through the appointment of new, regime-loyal judges during the 2010s.
In recent years, the TSJ has issued numerous decisions that favored the Maduro regime. In 2020, it voided the extension of the opposition-controlled National Assembly’s mandate, overruled the reelection of Juan Guaidó as the body’s president, and the changed the leadership of major opposition political parties. In September 2021, members of the UN’s human rights mission in Venezuela criticized the judiciary’s lack of independence.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||0.000 4.004|
Opponents of the government and the PSUV are routinely detained and prosecuted without regard for due process, and victims of violence at the hands of the state have no realistic avenue for redress.
In its June 2021 report, the OHCHR documented 17 killings “consistent with previously documented patterns of extrajudicial executions” between June 2020 and April 2021. In most of these cases, security officers broke into the homes of the victims. The OHCHR named three government agencies as primarily responsible: the Bolivarian National Police’s Bureau for Scientific, Criminal, and Forensic Investigations; the Directorate of Criminal Investigations; and FAES. A September 2021 UN report noted that prosecutors and judiciary members effectively aided the regime’s human rights abuses.
The military has also assumed roles previously reserved for civilian law enforcement institutions. According to Provea and Foro Penal, 870 civilians have been tried in military court proceedings between 2014 and August 2020.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||0.000 4.004|
Venezuelans face physical insecurity and violence from several sources, including irregular armed groups, security forces, and organized gangs.
In March 2021, the government launched a military campaign in the southwestern state of Apure, targeting the 10th Front, a FARC splinter group that is believed to engage in drug trafficking. The military launched aerial bombing campaigns and deployed soldiers, while the 10th Front employed guerrilla tactics. In late April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Venezuelan security forces engaged in arbitrary arrests, extralegal executions, and torture against those suspected of collaborating with the 10th Front. While Caracas did not consistently disclose casualty figures, an opposition figure claimed that several dozen soldiers were killed during the campaign, which subsided in late May with the military’s effective retreat.
Statistics for 2020, released that December by the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (OVV), placed the country’s rate of violent death—including homicides, deaths at the hands of the authorities, and other suspicious deaths—at 45.6 per 100,000 people, the highest figure in Latin America. The OVV report also noted a “sustained increase” in deaths caused by authorities since 2016; 2020 was the first year the OVV recorded more deaths by police than by other perpetrators.
Gang-related violence also puts Venezuelans at risk. Security forces engaged in protracted fighting with the Koki gang in Caracas over several days in July 2021. While the government reported the deaths of 22 “criminals” and 4 police officers, human rights advocates claimed that 4 people were killed by stray bullets. Residents were trapped in their homes during the fighting. In December, the Fourth State Court convicted 9 people over the fighting, while another 15 were facing charges including terrorism and arms trafficking.
Prison conditions in Venezuela remain among the worst in the Americas. Pranes, or gang leaders who operate from prisons, freely coordinate criminal networks throughout Venezuela. Prisoners face poor medical treatment and risk contracting COVID-19. In January 2021, Salvador Franco, a member of the Indigenous Pemón group, died in custody after suffering poor health, despite a November 2020 court order requiring him to be sent to a medical facility. In September 2021, imprisoned journalist Roland Carreño was diagnosed with COVID-19. In October, Chávez-era defense minister Raúl Isaías Baduel died of COVID-19. Isaías, who had later opposed Chávez, was imprisoned since 2017 on conspiracy charges.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||1.001 4.004|
The rights of Indigenous people, who make up 2.5 percent of the population, are upheld by the constitution but poorly protected by authorities. In practice, Indigenous groups face discrimination and unequal treatment, especially in Bolívar, where Indigenous people experience labor exploitation, extortion by paramilitary groups, sex trafficking of some women, and land grabs related to illegal mining, which also results in the destruction of forests and other natural features on Indigenous lands. According to a 2021 World Heritage Watch report, over 18,000 acres within Canaima National Park, which is home to several thousand Pemón, have been affected by illegal mining.
Although discrimination based on sexual orientation is barred, LGBT+ Venezuelans face widespread intolerance and violence. At least four transgender, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming Venezuelans were murdered in the first eight months of 2021 according to NGO Nunca Dejes de Soña (Never Stop Dreaming).
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||1.001 4.004|
A COVID-19-related state of emergency, in effect between March 2020 and March 2021, placed harsh movement restrictions on Venezuelans. Authorities and paramilitary groups arbitrarily detained, physically attacked, and tortured civilians who did not follow quarantine and other security instructions during the state of emergency.
People continued to flee Venezuela in massive numbers due to the country’s ongoing social and economic crises. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that over 5.9 million Venezuelans had fled as of October 2021. Children are known to leave Venezuela unaccompanied by adults; in May 2021, the Center of Human Rights at Andrés Bello Catholic University (CDH UCAB) reported that at least 430 children did so between October 2020 and February 2021.
Venezuelans living near the Colombian border fled while security forces waged an armed campaign against the 10th Front between March and May 2021. As many as 7,000 people fled across the border during the fighting.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||1.001 4.004|
Property rights have been damaged by years of price controls, nationalization, overregulation, and corruption. Accusations of mismanagement, underinvestment, graft, and politicized hiring practices within state-owned enterprises are common.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
The politically driven economic collapse in Venezuela has reduced the availability of reproductive health care. Maternal and infant mortality has increased. Due to restrictive legislation on abortion, many women and girls resort to frequently unsafe and unsanitary clandestine abortions or travel abroad.
Women who have been political prisoners have reported attacks by security forces including sexual violence, threats of rape, and forced nudity. Women relatives of political prisoners have faced gender-based violence (GBV) and humiliation during visits in detention centers, security operations, and house raids.
A 2007 law was designed to combat violence against women, but domestic violence and rape remain common and are rarely punished in practice. During the first half of 2021, 116 women were killed, while 137 were killed in the first half of 2020, according to NGO Femicide Monitor.
The LGBT+ community in Venezuela still lacks fundamental rights like legal marriage, child adoption, and the right to one’s gender identity.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||0.000 4.004|
Venezuelan women and children are increasingly vulnerable to sex trafficking within Venezuela and abroad, with the problem exacerbated by worsening economic conditions and the COVID-19 crisis. In August 2021, the CDH UCAB reported that 21 percent of Venezuelan migrants in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago were subjected to slavery-like conditions, including forced sex work.
With scarce job opportunities and hyperinflation outpacing wages, more Venezuelans have sought employment in the informal sector, where they are exposed to dangerous or exploitative working conditions. Among businesses that are legally registered, sanctions for labor law violations, when levied, generally target private-sector operations instead of those that are state-run.
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Global Freedom Score14 100 not free
Internet Freedom Score30 100 not free