Democracy and rights
In democracy surveys, Venezuela is among “rogue states” – the country is ranked among the most authoritarian and non-free states in the world. Democratic freedoms and rights have been eroded for 20 years, but the race has been particularly large in recent years.
During the “Bolivarian Revolution” that began when Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999, restrictions were gradually introduced in political rights and democratic functions. Power has been concentrated on the president and the government, and opinion opponents have been pressed ever more. However, when the opposition won a national-level election in 2015, the government responded by completely running over the newly elected parliament by setting up another assembly (see Political system and Modern history). The presidential elections that have been held since 2018 have been rejected as completely devoid of democratic support (see Current policy). Leading potential opposition candidates were suspended and voters subjected to harassment.
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The government has now strangled all the usual channels of political resistance. People who are perceived as opponents risk being persecuted, arrested, tortured and in some cases disappear. The security forces’ violence against protesters has claimed many people’s lives in recent years. A special police force, Faes, which was established in 2017, is accused of being behind hundreds of extrajudicial executions. According to official data, close to 18,000 people died in connection with “inviting government opposition” between 2016 and May 2019.
Regime-based militias control many neighborhoods. Citizens often have to show a special ID document to access social service and subsidized food, which gives the authorities control over them. At the same time, the economic crisis has caused severe distress and triggered mass emigration (see Economic overview and Population and language).
bbreviated as VZS by Abbreviationfinder, Venezuela is also extremely violent, and the situation has greatly worsened during the escalated crisis in recent years. According to the organization Observatorio venezolano de violencia (OVV), almost 27,000 people were murdered in 2017, which means almost 90 murders per 100,000 residents – with margin the highest figure in the world for a country where there is no war. Caracas was ranked the same year, by a Mexican organization, as the city in the world where the homicide rate is highest: 130 per 100,000 population. A decrease in the murder rate was noted in 2018, but it can be misleading as it is based on a population figure that does not reflect the extensive emigration. According to OVV, the proportion of murders that the security forces are behind has also increased and now amounts to one third, corresponding to approximately 7,500 murders in 2018.
Corruption is systematic and permeates society. Venezuela is ranked 173 out of 180 countries in the organization Transparency International’s corruption index (the full list is here). It is the worst location in the entire Western Hemisphere. In the index that measures political and civil rights, as well as freedom of expression and press, only Cuba on the American continents falls even further.
Freedom of expression and media
The constitution guarantees freedom of press and expression, but it has been dismantled step by step since Hugo Chávez took office as president. Both government-friendly and opposition media have been politicized, and independent news sources are hurting today.
The authorities are pursuing media that is considered to publish “disruptive” information. Laws that have been extended to include the Internet contain vague wording about “disrupting public order”, conducting “war propaganda” or “degrading authorities”. Reporting on environmental degradation, the black exchange rate for currency or lack of basic commodities in the stores belong to such journalism that has caused the authorities to act. A law passed in the fall of 2017 makes it possible to sentence up to 20 years in prison for disseminating “intolerant” information, via both traditional and social media. The legislation restricts the activities of journalists and leads to self-censorship.
The state also pursues government-critical votes through regime-supported legal processes, tax claims and advertising restrictions. It appears that individual journalists and entire editors are subjected to physical attacks by both security forces and civilians. The state has closed dozens of newspapers and radio and TV stations. International media has also been forced away. Lack of printing ink, paper and other material means that several magazines have had to cut down on their editions or switch to publishing online only.
Venezuela is ranked 147 out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders list of press freedom in the world (for the full list, see here).
Judicial system and legal security
The judicial system in Venezuela has become increasingly politicized and less independent of state power. Legal security is weak and opposites are often persecuted with the law as a tool. In the World Justice Project’s index of how the rule of law works in 126 countries, Venezuela ends 2019 in the absolute jumble.
After the change of power in 1999, major changes in the judiciary began with the dismissal of almost half of all the country’s judges. From 2004, the President and the National Assembly took control of the Supreme Court by appointing loyal judges and creating new opportunities to dismiss incumbent judges. Thereafter, the court went to practice the government’s cases. Even worse after the opposition victory in the parliamentary elections in 2015. Before the newly elected parliament took office, new judges were appointed in almost coup-shaped forms and the Supreme Court has since been pronounced regime loyal.
The conditions in the country’s prisons are poor. Thousands of prisoners are held for long periods in detention without trial. Prison riots are common and hundreds of people are killed each year in outbreaks of violence in prisons. The number of prisoners is more than three times greater than what the prisons are built for. Prisons are largely controlled by armed interns.
Police and military are guilty of assault, assault and torture in connection with suspected arrests. There are also reports of extrajudicial executions. Most abuses never lead to prosecution.
Venezuela was the first in the world to abolish the death penalty for all crimes, it already happened in 1863.