Countries at the Crossroads

Venezuela

Venezuela

Countries at the Crossroads 2004

2004 Scores

Accountability and Public Voice
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)

3.64

Civil Liberties
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)

4.32

Rule of Law
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)

3.21

Anti-Corruption and Transparency
(0 = WORST, 7 = BEST)

2.89
Accountability and Public Voice: 


Before Chavez was elected, the government system in Venezuela was characterized by a willingness to play by rules and to search for consensus that resulted in sustained political stability, albeit tainted by corruption; power was transferred from one civilian to another eight times, seven of which involved a member of an opposition party winning the presidency in contested elections. However, Chavez and his supporters consider the search for consensus to be a sign of political weakness,[29] and in its place Chavez has concentrated power in his presidency. Shortly after the election in 1998, a constituent assembly dominated by Chavez followers drafted a new constitution, which was approved in a national referendum on December 15, 2000. The new constitution allowed a newly strengthened chief executive the right to dissolve congress and made it possible for Chavez to retain power until 2013. In November 2000, Chavez's congressional allies granted him special fast-track powers that allowed him to decree a wide range of laws without parliamentary debate. Congress and the supreme court were dismissed after the constitution was approved.

On the national level there are no truly independent government institutions. Chavez's party controls the national assembly (though narrowly), as well as the Supreme Justice Tribunal (TSJ), whose members are elected by the national assembly to a single 12-year term. Checks and balances were eliminated through measures such as the creation of a one-chamber legislative body and the stripping of much of the autonomy of the central bank, which now must "coordinate" monetary policy with the executive branch.

The country's chief executive and the national assembly are elected through free and fair elections; the July 2000 national elections were considered by international observers to be free and fair. However, concern is rising over the role played by foreign powers - specifically Cuba - in the Venezuelan government. In October 2003, U.S. News & World Report cited "senior U.S. military and intelligence officials" as saying that Cuban intelligence agents had been given posts inside Venezuela's paramilitary and intelligence apparatus, and the government was "providing assistance to Islamic radicals from the Middle East and other terrorists," a charge Chavez called "sewage ... disgusting."[30] Campaign financing is largely unregulated, although the electoral law does explicitly prohibit advertising by any government agency in political campaigns or elections.[31]

Women and minorities participate fully in government, politics, and the NGO community. Women won 20 seats in the 165-member national assembly in the July 2000 elections, and in 2002 four women served in the 18-member cabinet. Political opportunities for women are actively promoted by the national assembly's Family, Women, and Youth Committee.

The constitution sets aside three seats in the national assembly for indigenous people and also provides for "the protection of indigenous communities and their progressive incorporation into the life of the nation." In the July 2000 national elections, in addition to the three indigenous candidates elected to the national assembly, eight were elected to regional legislative congresses, and four Indians won mayoralties.

In August 2003, as the anti-Chavez referendum movement grew in strength, the Supreme Court appointed a national electoral council (CNE) after the national assembly failed to assume responsibility for its creation - a positive step that would have added legitimacy to the poll. The CNE had 30 days to validate a referendum petition and then set a vote for no more than 60 days later. It remained unclear, however, whether the government would seek to stall the vote on any validated petition by demanding that the electoral rolls be updated.

Despite Venezuela's large government bureaucracy, the civil service is not chosen through open competition or by merit. The 1961 constitution provided for a career civil service and established standards for performance, advancement, suspension, and retirement. However, these have been largely ignored in practice by both Chavez and his predecessors in favor of a system based on patronage.

Chavez's new authority to decree a broad array of laws and regulations without parliamentary debate has meant that citizens have been left without access to timely information about pending legislation, regulations, and government policy. For this same reason, the ability of civic groups to offer meaningful contributions by testifying, commenting on, or otherwise influencing government policy or legislation has been significantly reduced, although the government has created some so-called popular consultation mechanisms that are largely in the hands of its partisans. Although Venezuela has one of Latin America's best organized and extensive NGO communities, the government has done little to protect the rights of the independent civil sector.

Venezuela's constitution provides for press freedom, but a climate of permanent intimidation and hostility against the press has been established in the past few years, in large part due to violent anti-media rhetoric by the government and a significant anti-Chavez slant on the part of media owners. There are few blatant legal restrictions on press freedom, and both the print and broadcast media operate without hindrance. However, the state does allocate broadcast licenses in a biased fashion and engages in favoritism in the distribution of government advertising revenues. There are no journalists in prison as a result of their professional work, but one journalist was killed by military snipers during the 2002 coup attempt. Human Rights Watch notes that journalists "face constant physical threats," with "at least 130 assaults and threats of physical harm to journalists and press property between the beginning of 2002 and February 2003." It also noted that "Not only are members of the press often denied effective police protection, those who suffer physical attacks, or have their working tools damaged or stolen, rarely obtain redress from the Venezuelan criminal justice system."[32]

Stuck in the middle of the test of wills between Venezuela's anti-Chavez media moguls and the threats and intimidation frequently voiced by the president and his supporters, journalists find themselves hard pressed to cover the news in a fair and balanced manner. During the attempted coup and related protests of April 9 - 11, 2002, the government required opposition-controlled television and radio stations to broadcast numerous speeches by Chavez and other government officials, documenting his return to power and substantial public support, as well as other pro-government programming, and cut off the transmission of stations that refused to go along. During the general strike, Venezuelan Television (VTV), the government-owned channel, restricted its broadcasting to special programs in defense of the regime.[33]

In 2003, Chavez's government proposed several measures to tighten its control over opposition newspapers, television, and radio stations, which would allow for a selective censorship of opposition media as the country moves toward a referendum on Chavez's presidency. These include a ban on the transmission of violent images and sounds from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., a restriction that media owners say would force them to delay broadcasting news of street riots or terrorist attacks. The Social Responsibility in Radio and Television bill, also known as the Content Law, establishes government policy for creating news content and subjects the broadcast media to government control. Another bill, the Citizen Participation Law, creates a People's Watch Council to monitor the print media, empowering it to penalize those outlets that do not report in a true and impartial manner. The government also launched investigations of four media conglomerates to determine whether they violated regulations prohibiting dissemination of "false, deceitful or tendentious news" and whether the media "incites ... lack of respect for the legitimate institutions and authorities."[34]

Civil Liberties: 


The constitution and the 1999 Organic Criminal Procedures Code (COPP) provide for freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. The constitution prohibits torture and the holding of detainees incommunicado. It also provides for the prosecution of officials who instigate or tolerate torture and grants victims the right to medical rehabilitation. The magna carta also prohibits so-called forced disappearances (secret abductions), stating that an individual must refuse to obey an order to commit such a crime, and provides for the prosecution of the intellectual author of the crime.

In practice, however, widespread arbitrary detention and torture of suspects does take place in Venezuela - although the vast majority of these cases involve criminal suspects - as well as dozens of extrajudicial killings by military security forces and the police, which are often characterized officially - despite eyewitness testimony to the contrary - as the result of "confrontations." In February 2003, four opposition supporters were abducted and killed in gangland-style slayings.[2]

One by-product of the 1992 coup attempts led by Chavez was that the resulting weakened civilian governments had less authority over the military and the poorly paid police, contributing to a climate in which rights abuses were committed with impunity. The Chavez government has failed to punish police and security officers guilty of abuses against both political opponents and suspects of common crimes; its rhetoric and its concrete actions have together impeded the state from either effectively responding to or protecting against the killings of political opponents or other peaceful activists. Faced with demonstrations or when detaining criminal suspects, national and local police forces have frequently used excessive force, abuses that appear not to have been thoroughly investigated or prosecuted.[3]

The COPP specifies detailed rules concerning arrest. For example, a person accused of committing a crime cannot be incarcerated during criminal proceedings unless he or she was caught in flagrante, or if there is a judicial determination that the accused is either a flight risk or may seek to impede the investigation. Detained persons have the right to a judicial determination of the legality of their detention within 72 hours, and those accused of crimes must be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest or be freed pending charges. Confusion over the unwieldy new judicial code has meant in practice that arbitrary arrests continue to be common and some law enforcement efforts have been hampered, resulting in low rates of conviction and shorter jail terms even for convicted murderers.

The Venezuelan state has not been successful in protecting its citizens from private/non-state actors in two arenas. First, the police have been linked to vigilante death squads responsible for dozens of killings in seven states. Second, official connivance with the left-wing guerrilla forces of neighboring Colombia has lent impetus to armed assaults, kidnappings, and murders of scores of Venezuelans living and working near the countries' shared borders. Under Chavez, Venezuela has increasingly become a safe haven for Colombia's leftist guerrillas, while this year the Venezuelan military engaged in gun battles and aerial bombing of right-wing paramilitary forces from the neighboring country.[4]

The Venezuelan constitution expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of politics, age, race, sex, creed, or any other condition. The 1990 labor code says that employers must not discriminate against women with regard to pay or working conditions and sets down a series of guarantees for pregnant women and new mothers. These regulations are generally enforced in the country's formal economy but are not a factor in the informal economy, which accounts for roughly half of the active labor force. Men and women are legally equal in marriage.

Venezuelan women increasingly participate in the country's political and economic life, making important gains in the medical and legal professions, for example, but they are still underrepresented in leadership positions and, on average, earn 30 percent less than men. Women make up about half the student body at most universities.[5]

Although the constitution prohibits trafficking in persons, Venezuela is believed to be a source, destination, and transit country for trafficked men, women, and children.[6] There are no laws specifically designed to prosecute all forms of trafficking in persons, and legal action is constrained to the use of existing laws against forced disappearance and kidnapping or, in the case of minors, the 2000 Organic Law to Protect Children and Adolescents. The country's underdeveloped legal framework, the rampant corruption among immigration officials (which the Chavez government has in some ways sought to reduce), and the ready availability of fraudulent official identity documents help create ideal conditions for trafficking, as does an apparent official ignorance of the problem. Government prosecution of cases that involve the trafficking of persons is rare.

Approximately 314,000 indigenous people live in Venezuela, belonging to 29 ethnic groups.[7] The formal rights of Venezuela's Native Americans have improved under Chavez. However, those rights - specifically indigenous people's ability to make decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and allocation of natural resources - are often breached, as local political authorities seldom take their interests into account and indigenous communities typically face deforestation and water pollution. Few Indians hold title to their land, but many say they do not want to as they reject market concepts of individual property, preferring instead that the government recognize the lands traditionally held by them as native territories.[8] At the same time, indigenous communities trying to defend their legal land rights are still subject to abuses, including murder, by gold miners and corrupt rural police. The lack of effective legal rights has created an unprecedented migration by Indians to poverty-stricken urban areas.[9]

Freedom of religion, which the Venezuelan constitution guarantees on the condition that its practice does not violate public morality, decency, or the public order, is generally respected by the government. A few obstacles to full religious freedom remain. For example, to hold legal status as a religious organization and be eligible to own property, each local faith organization must fulfill the largely administrative requirement of registering with the ministry of interior and justice's directorate of justice and religion, a process some groups complain is fraught with bureaucratic inertia. A 1964 concordat between the government and the Vatican provides for official subsidies for social programs and schools of the Catholic Church, the religious faith embraced by a majority of Venezuelans. Although other creeds are free to establish and operate their own religious schools, they do not receive official subsidies.

In 2002 and 2003, senior government officials increased their attacks on the Catholic Church, which is viewed as tending to support the political opposition. In early 2002, Chavez said that the Catholic Church was a tumor that must be eradicated, and members of the clergy have received death threats, churches have been firebombed, and, in one case, a priest was shot, although the motive for that killing was unclear. On September 23, 2003, the president reportedly called the bishops "liars and crooks," "spokesmen for the opposition," "coup supporters," and "unworthy of the cloth," threatening them with "the sword of God's or Christ's rejection, through the accusing eyes of the people."[10] Although in general the state protects the rights of nonbelievers and adherents of minority religious faiths and movements, and refrains from restricting religious observance, ceremony, and education, some foreign missionaries, such as those from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, report harassment by the National Guard.[11]

The freedoms of peaceful assembly and association established by the Venezuelan constitution have been respected by the government, but less so in the turbulent period of 2002 - 03. Meetings of political parties and other civic organizations are generally conducted without interference, as are those of professional and academic associations, although mass protests have been met with excessive force. In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or those whose leaders are not Venezuelan are not part of civil society and, as a result, may not represent Venezuelan citizens in court or bring their own legal actions. It also ruled that the government has an obligation to ensure that NGOs are democratic in nature and therefore the National Electoral Council can regulate these groups' internal elections. However, the government has yet to implement the court's decision. Citizens are for the most part protected against being compelled by the state to belong to associations, although government intimidation - in the form of outspoken remarks by the president, senior members of his government, and leaders of his political party against the media, the political opposition, labor unions, the courts, human rights groups, and the Catholic Church - is a serious problem. The virulent rhetoric employed by these official and quasi-official sources is widely seen as tacitly approving violence against government opponents, which in turn has resulted in threats, intimidation, and physical harm to numerous persons. The government has also been accused by the political opposition of engaging in the illegal wiretapping of the telephones of private citizens who are members of anti-Chavez groups.

The president and his supporters have sought to break what they term a stranglehold of corrupt labor leaders on the job market, a move labor activists say tramples on the rights of private organizations. Opposition and traditional labor leaders also say that challenges by insurgent workers' organizations mask Chavez's intent to create government-controlled unions, while the president's supporters say that the old labor regime amounted to little more than employer-controlled workers' organizations. Security forces frequently break up strikes and arrest trade unionists. A two-month strike that virtually paralyzed Venezuela's all-important oil industry and closed factories and shops around the country ended February 4, 2003. National labor leader Carlos Ortega, facing an arrest warrant, was granted asylum in Costa Rica.

Rule of Law: 


The civilian judiciary in Venezuela is legally independent, but it is highly inefficient and often corrupt. Judges are subject to influence from a number of sources, not least of which is the executive branch. Chavez himself said in February 2003 that there were judges "who sell their rulings for $3,000 to $30,000."[12] Until Chavez took power, Venezuela's judicial system was headed by a nominally independent supreme court, although in practice the court was highly politicized, undermined by the chronic corruption (including the growing influence of narcotics traffickers that continues to permeate the entire political system), and unresponsive to charges of rights abuses. The constitutional reform approved in 1999 allowed Chavez partisans to be appointed to the Supreme Court, as attorney general (public prosecutor), and as comptroller general without following the procedures prescribed in the constitution.[13]

During 2002, the Executive Directorate of the Magistrature (DEM), which oversees the lower courts as well as the selection and training of judges, suspended and removed judges based on charges of incompetence or corruption. Some observers claimed that these judges' right to appeal was restricted. Competitive examinations conducted by the government to fill judicial vacancies did not allow judges with cases pending against them to participate, and those judges who had already received reprimands had points deducted from their scores. The slow pace in replacing suspended or fired judges meant that, as of November 2002, less than 25 percent of the judges in the country were permanent.[14]

Historically, Venezuela's inquisitorial criminal code caused huge backlogs within the justice system, with as many as 75 percent of Venezuelan inmates awaiting sentencing and as many as two-thirds of those incarcerated awaiting trial.[15] The 1999 COPP introduced an open adversarial system of public trials for the first time, with oral proceedings and verdicts by juries or panels of judges; however, lengthy delays in trials remained common. In August 2002, there were approximately 19,368 prisoners, 48.27 percent of whom had not been convicted of a crime.[16]

The COPP does provide for the right to a fair trial, conducted publicly, and considers the accused innocent until proven guilty in a court. This is a marked change from the old inquisitorial system, based on the Napoleonic Code, in which the presumption of innocence generally was not respected or accepted. However, the country's public defender program is seriously understaffed, and the ability of the accused to attend their own judicial proceedings often depends on whether they can pay prison officials to guarantee their own appearance in court. Public and ruling-party officials are rarely prosecuted for abuse of power or other wrongdoing.

A separate system of armed forces courts retains jurisdiction over members of the military accused of rights violations and common criminal crimes, and decisions cannot be appealed in civilian court. The Supreme Court selects candidates for military judgeships from a list provided by the minister of defense; this is seen as linking them to the views and interests of the military high command and contributing to the impunity of the armed forces. A decision in 2001 by the ministry of defense to publish its candidate list, however, was hailed by nongovernment groups as a needed step toward greater transparency in the selection process.

The National Guard, part of the Venezuelan military, has arrest powers and is largely responsible for maintaining public order. Local and state police forces are the responsibility of municipal mayors and state governors and traditionally maintain their independence from the central government, while National Guard officers frequently are appointed by the mayors and governors to command these forces. Although civilian authorities generally are seen to maintain effective control over the security forces, both National Guard and local police forces committed numerous and serious human rights abuses in 2002 and 2003.[17]

As president, Chavez has relied heavily on supporters from within the armed forces, both on active duty and retired, to staff key executive branch and parastatal enterprise posts. Since Chavez's election, Venezuela's largely unaccountable military has become an active participant in the country's social development and nation-building - or public-service - projects. The 1999 constitution assigns the armed forces a significant role in the state while not providing for civilian control over the military's budget or procurement practices or for related institutional checks. In addition, congress has been stripped of the power to approve military promotions. The military high command is loyal to a single person - the president - rather than to the constitution and the law. At least 150 armed forces officers were investigated and intimidated for adding their names to the opposition-backed presidential recall referendum.[18]

In November 2002, the Chavez government intervened in the administration of the Caracas metropolitan police, the main civilian police force in the five municipalities that form the Federal District, one of Latin America's most dangerous urban areas. Although the government alleges that the police force was repressing pro-government protests, regime opponents say that the decision to take over the metropolitan police is in keeping with other policies pursued by Chavez that undermine the autonomy of the civilian police.[19] Chavez refused to comply with a 2003 Supreme Court ruling that ordered the government to return control of the Caracas force to the city's mayor, who belongs to the political opposition.

The constitution requires equal treatment of citizens under the law. However, in practice these protections vary widely depending on political opinion, social origin, and property. The politicization of law enforcement and the administration of justice, as well as the special status enjoyed by Chavez's supporters in the armed forces, have led to claims of partiality on the part of the courts and tribunals.[20]

Property rights are respected less and less, and new laws appear to contain many hazards for some categories of property holders. In 2001, Chavez announced 49 presidential decrees that tightened state control over various industries and permitted the government to confiscate property it defined as unused. In a country where 60 percent of the arable land belongs to two percent of its landowners, the government has also embarked on land-reform initiatives ostensibly to help hundreds of thousands of subsistence farmers; however, the reforms appear to be confiscatory in nature, as cattle ranchers accuse the government of illegally taking privately held farms in full production without compensation. Under the new land law - which Chavez decreed using his special powers, thus avoiding parliamentary debate - the expropriated estates remain in government hands, with the regime fostering the creation of peasant cooperatives and collective farms. Reform opponents say that the Chavez government is putting control of the land into the hands of political supporters and military officials in exchange for their support.

Anti-Corruption and Transparency: 


The Chavez government came to power after indicting the former governing establishment as corrupt and elitist. However, Venezuela remains among the most corrupt countries in the world; in 2003 Transparency International ranked Venezuela 100 out of 133 countries surveyed, on par with Guatemala and just ahead of Bolivia, Honduras, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Haiti.[21] Despite its anticorruption rhetoric, the Chavez government has done little to free the state from excessive bureaucratic regulations, registration requirements, and other controls that increase opportunities for corruption, relying instead on attacking persons and social sectors it considers corrupt and selectively enforcing good-government laws and regulations against its opponents.

As a 2003 study by the World Bank notes, Venezuela has one of the most regulated economies in the world.[22] New regulations and controls over the economy have ensured that public officials have retained the ample opportunities for personal enrichment enjoyed under the former regime. For example, Articles 12, 300, and 301 of the 1999 constitution enshrine the concept of public ownership and management of oil and other strategic industries. In 2000, according to the World Bank, the government consumed 7 percent of GDP; the International Monetary Fund reported the same year that state-owned enterprises and government ownership of property contributed 33.64 percent of Venezuela's total revenues. An example of state intrusiveness into the private economy is seen in cases of individual insolvency; it takes nearly half the value of an estate to resolve questions of bankruptcy. The government's role in the economy has been expanded by the Chavez government's insistence on placing real power in loyal hands - often those of military cronies.

State conflict-of-interest regulations, where they existed until 2003, have rarely been enforced. In April 2003, the government adopted a Law Against Corruption that, among other things, sets out in detail such conflicts and their sanction, but that law's effectiveness is conditioned by Chavez's party's control of all national anticorruption offices. There is little state separation of public office from the personal or pecuniary interests of individuals, a problem that predates the ascendancy of the current government.[23]

Chavez's party controls the citizen power branch of government created to fight corruption by the 1999 constitution. This branch comprises the offices of the ombudsman (responsible for compelling the government to adhere to the constitution and laws), the comptroller general (who controls the revenues and expenses incurred by the government and serves as the watchdog for the national patrimony), and the public prosecutor (who provides opinions to the courts on the prosecution of criminal cases and brings to the attention of the proper authorities cases of public employee misconduct and violations of the constitutional rights of prisoners or accused persons). Because these offices are held by Chavez partisans, they are viewed by large segments of the population as neither effective nor independent.

Between 2001 and 2003, the opposition sued Chavez on charges such as misusing government stabilization funds and refusing to declare campaign funds from foreign sources. The social programs of Chavez's Plan Bolivar 2000 were authorized to carry out their business in cash transactions, which are hard to audit.[24] In Barinas, where Chavez's father is governor, a report by the state comptroller general noted that more than 50 percent of the total budget for the state had been wasted or stolen.[25] In late 2002, Tobias Nobrega, the minister of finance, reportedly managed the sale of millions of dollars in national debt bonds without using a competitive bidding process or seeking prior approval from the legislature. In practice, this meant that private investors were allowed to buy the debt bonds at a pre-established premium price that was in fact lower than face value, to be repurchased by the government at face value.[26]

Independent anticorruption investigators seeking to probe allegations about official bribery and corruption say that they have little faith in the highly politicized judiciary and personally feel that their efforts to report such cases leave them open to state-sanctioned reprisal. Although some independent institutions remain at the state and local levels to carry out investigations and prosecutions of government corruption, they are sharply circumscribed by geography and resources. In the existing highly charged political atmosphere, many prosecutions of corruption give the appearance of being ancillary features to the political contest, particularly given Chavez's penchant for tarring the broad spectrum of opposition to his government as venal. Because Venezuela's privately held media belong largely to the political opposition, allegations of official corruption receive wide and extensive airing; however, the lack of fair and balanced reporting during the country's ongoing political crises, and the country's pronounced divisions along class lines, mean that reporting about corruption is also a way of conducting politics by other means.

Until this year, Venezuela did not have meaningful public information laws and, as a rule, Venezuelans did not enjoy access to that information. The 2003 anticorruption law established a citizen's right to know and set down the state's obligations to give Venezuelans a thrice-yearly rendering of public goods and expenses "except for that having to do with security or national defense expressly established by law ... at their disposition in offices that are to be created." The law also requires most public employees to present a sworn declaration of personal assets within 30 days of assuming a post as well as 30 days after leaving it, allows for the extradition of corrupt officials and their prohibition from holding office in the future, and includes a prohibition on officials' having secret foreign bank accounts.[27]

However, the Chavez government has taken a variety of steps to remove important economic decisions, such as the sale of national debt bonds, from meaningful legislative scrutiny and review. Rather than implementing laws and regulations that ensure transparency, open bidding, and effective competition in the award of public contracts, the Chavez government appears to have replaced the old buddy system - in which personal loyalties and opportunities for mutual enrichment took precedence over public interest concerns - with a new set of "buddies" - those loyal to the president. Despite the promise contained in the new Law Against Corruption, government expenditures are not published in a detailed and timely fashion; in fact, such information is increasingly hard to obtain. A 2003 study by the free-market Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal found that: "A lack of transparency in the regulatory system and government intervention in the economy continue to concern foreign investors."[28]

Recommendations: 
  • The president and other senior government officials should refrain from highly charged, intimidating rhetoric against opponents.
  • Police and security officers guilty of abuses against political opponents and suspects of common crimes must be punished. Clear public orders to Venezuelan military, security, and law enforcement agencies should be issued that they must refrain from the use of excessive force in dealing with demonstrations and public protests.
  • In communities or regions where Native Americans represent a significant percentage of the population, the government should allow greater use of traditional law.
  • A specific law enabling prosecution for the trafficking of persons should be passed, and increased efforts should be made in enforcing relevant existing statutes.
  • The government should work with the international community to ensure that the recall petition process is both transparent and overseen by neutral third parties.
  • The president's practice of bypassing the national assembly should come to an end, and that body should be held accountable to modern parliamentary standards regarding transparency, openness, and accessibility.
  • Venezuela must live up to its international obligations regarding press freedom; in this regard, it might be useful for both private and publicly owned media to open themselves up to opposing points of view in a time frame or manner accessible to the greatest number of viewers/listeners/readers.
  • The use of agents from nondemocratic countries within Venezuela's intelligence, security, and police apparatuses is unacceptable in a true democracy and should stop.
  • A new civil service law tailored to Venezuelan realities should be enacted, incorporating modern best practices from the international community.
  • The heads of the offices of the ombudsman, comptroller general, and the public prosecutor should either be appointed by bipartisan consensus within the national assembly or, at least in the first two instances, chosen through national elections.
  • Creating truly independent government watchdog agencies may have an added benefit of allowing the national media to be less exposed as public-interest tribunes.
  • The Chavez government should make a concerted effort to free the state from excessive bureaucratic regulations, registration requirements, and other controls that provide continued opportunities for corruption.
  • The president's use of military cronies to staff non-military government agencies should come to an end.
  • Review by the national assembly of senior military appointments should be restored.
  • A law protecting government whistle-blowers should be enacted along the lines set down in the Organization of American States' model anticorruption statutes, which the government says provided the inspiration for its own anticorruption law enacted in 2003.
  • Greater steps are necessary to ensure that newly appointed judges are consensus candidates enjoying community-wide approval and not the representatives of a particular political party or interest. Increased efforts are needed to ensure that improvements continue in the justice system, including concrete steps to guarantee that the police and security forces are not used for partisan political purposes.
  • Concrete steps should also be taken to improve police performance.
  • The military's role in internal security must be limited to extraordinary circumstances in which civilian law enforcement proves unable to meet the challenge faced. Members of the armed forces should be subject to civilian courts in all cases except those concerning the lawful fulfillment of their duties as part of the military.
  • Laws governing private property rights need to be strengthened and enforced.
Notes: 


[1] Financial Times, 20 August 2003; Miami Herald, 4 May 2003.

[2] "Investigate Killings of Opposition Supporters in Venezuela" (New York: Human Rights Watch, 19 February 2003).

[3] "Venezuela: A Human Rights Agenda for the Current Crisis" (London: Amnesty International, 2003).

[4] See "Troops Battle Colombian Paramilitaries," Chicago Tribune, 31 March 2003, 14; Scott Wilson, "Venezuela Becomes Embroiled in Colombian War," 10 April 2003, A24.

[5] Venezuela, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2002 (Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 31 March 2003).

[6] Ibid.

[7] BusinessWeek Online, 10 July 2000.

[8] Inter Press Service, 4 September 2003.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Inter-American Press Association, 59th UN General Assembly Venezuela Country Report.

[11] Country Reports (U.S. Dept. of State).

[12] Inter Press Service, 20 February 2003.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Country Reports (U.S. Dept. of State).

[15] "Venezuela," in Freedom in the World (New York: Freedom House, 1998 - 99), 494.

[16] Country Reports (U.S. Dept. of State).

[17] Associated Press, 15 May 2003.

[18] Ibid., 29 April 2003; Financial Times, 7 September 2003.

[19] Associated Press, 15 May 2003.

[20] Financial Times, 8 January 2003.

[21] Corruption Perceptions Index (Berlin and London: Transparency International, 2003).

[22] "Doing Business in 2004: Understanding Regulation" (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2003), xiii, xiv.

[23] Ley Contra la Corrupcion; see also, "National Progress Reports: Venezuela" (Washington, DC: Organization of American States [OAS], Secretariat for Legal Affairs, Technical Secretariat for Legal Cooperation Mechanisms), http://www.oas.org/main/main.asp?sLang=E&sLink=http://www.oas.org/documents/eng/oasissues.asp.

[24] Global Corruption Report 2003 (Berlin and London: Transparency International, 2003) 108.

[25] PetroleumWorld.com, 23 June 2003.

[26] "Poder Moral, rencubrimiento e impunidad?," El Universal, 8 July 2002; PetroleumWorld.com, 1 July 2003.

[27] Ley Contra la Corrupcion; see also, "National Progress Reports" (OAS).

[28] 2003 Index of Economic Freedom (Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation, 2003), http://cf.heritage.org/index/country.cfm?ID=76.0.

[29] Financial Times, 8 January 2003.

[30] U.S. News & World Report, 6 October 2003; see also, "Venezuela: Chavez Plans for Terrorist Regime," Insight (Washington, DC), 24 December 2002; "From Venezuela, A Counterplot," Insight, 17 March 2003; Martin Edwin Andersen, "The Robespierre of the Andes," Washington Times, 2 September 1999; Washington Post, 9 October 2003.

[31] Financial Times, 20 August 2003; Consejo Nacional Electoral, Ley Organica del Poder Electoral, Capitulo VI, Articulo 69.

[32] Freedom House, Freedom of the Press Survey 2003; Caught in the Crossfire: Freedom of Expression in Venezuela (New York: Human Rights Watch, May 2003).

[33] Country Reports (U.S. Dept. of State); EFE Spanish news service, 12 February 2003.

[34] Los Angeles Times, 19 July 2003; Associated Press, 29 May 2003.