Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Venezuela’s political rights rating declined from 4 to 5 due to the adoption of laws designed to further marginalize the political opposition, including provisions that were rejected by referendum voters in December 2007.
In February 2009, referendum voters approved reforms backed by President Hugo Chavez Frias that abolished term limits for the presidency and other elected offices. Nevertheless, a weak economy, continued political polarization, and problems with the provision of key public services led to increased street protests during the year. Meanwhile, new laws threatened to further marginalize the political opposition, and tensions with Colombia increased the risk of armed conflict.
Venezuelan relations with neighboring Colombia deteriorated further in 2009, having soured in early 2008 after Colombian forces raided a rebel camp in Ecuador and found alleged evidence of ties between the Colombian rebels and Venezuelan officials. News of a military accord in which Colombia would allow a U.S. presence on several of its bases prompted Chavez to freeze trade ties in July, and the agreement’s official signing led him to warn of war and order troops to the border in November. Relations with the United States improved somewhat but remained tense, despite the return of the two countries’ ambassadors to their respective posts in June; in September 2008 Chavez had expelled the U.S. ambassador following a series of real and perceived bilateral irritants, prompting the United States to respond in kind. Chavez continued to accuse the United States of seeking his ouster, pointing to Washington’s allegedly weak response to a coup in Honduras as evidence of its militarist intentions in the region. Over the past several years, Chavez has increased friction with the United States and its allies by creating ostensible leftist alternatives to U.S.-backed trade pacts, garnering regional support with generous oil subsidies, seeking weapons purchases and other cooperation from Iran and Russia, and either explicitly or tacitly supporting favored electoral candidates in neighboring countries.
Venezuela is not an electoral democracy. While the act of voting is relatively free and the count is fair, the political opposition is forced to operate under extremely difficult conditions, and the separation of powers is nearly nonexistent.
Women enjoy progressive rights enshrined in the 1999 constitution, as well as benefits offered under a major 2007 law. However, Amnesty International reported in 2008 that while some programs, such as a hotline for victims of domestic abuse, have been established to assist women, much greater efforts at implementation are necessary for the law to have a tangible impact. Meanwhile, domestic violence and rape remain common, and the courts have provided limited means of redress for victims. The problem of trafficking in women remains inadequately addressed by the authorities. Women are poorly represented in government, with just 31 seats in the National Assembly.