PROVEA Releases its 2013 Report on Human Rights in Venezuela

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

Venezuela’s most influential human rights organization has issued its Annual Report for 2013. The Venezuelan Program for Action and Education in Human Rights (PROVEA) report gives a mixed review of 2013. It points to advances in poverty reduction and access to education, but also casts doubt on the sustainability of these advances. The report also strongly criticizes the government for deterioration of the health care infrastructure

PROVEA starts its report by suggesting its human rights researched was seriously hampered in 2013 by a lack of information provided by the government. Only 9.3% of public institutions have published its 2013 annual reports [Memoria y Cuenta] on line as required by the Constitution. PROVEA says the consistency and scale of the lack of information suggests a deliberate policy.

In its report PROVEA recognizes the important achievements of the Venezuelan government in poverty reduction and particularly in the “Rights to a Proper Alimentation” of the population. However it also points to possible negative effects of high inflation and scarcity on poverty. Most worrying for PROVEA is the fact that these economic problems could have an impact in poverty reduction.

Indeed after the publication of PROVEA’s 2013 report, the Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE) published that poverty rates have suffered a significant increase in the last semester of 2013. In a strongly worded press release PROVEA condemned that “in January this year President Nicolás Maduro on national television, lied to the country by stating that extreme poverty had been reduced by 5,5%, when in reality it has increased by 8,8%.”

The right to education has also experience significant advances in Venezuela according to PROVEA: inclusion rates have improved and the country is in the path to reaching an inclusion rate of at least 95% by 2015.

On the “right to work” PROVEA points to low unemployment rates in Venezuela. However it also states that the numbers do not necessarily reflect stable jobs. Most troublesome for PROVEA is the “growing criminalization of unions that are critical of the government and of employers, both public and private. This criminalization includes judicial proceedings, layoffs, and public slandering [of critical union members].”

“Indigenous Rights” also show a mixed balance in 2013. PROVEA points to the fact that the Venezuelan State has finally delimited 5% of the national territory as part of the land belonging to native communities (comunidades originarias). But the report expresses concern about the criminalization of indigenous protests, and the lack of consultation with these communities regarding the environmental impact of mining projects planned under China-Venezuela agreements.

The “Right to Health Care” received a negative assessment. The report describes how the health care infrastructure deteriorated significantly in 2013. Of concern are the numerous reports of scarcity of basic medical supplies and medicines in the public health care system.

Regarding “Civil and Political Rights” PROVEA also registered mixed results for 2013. The report praises a decrease of 61.90% of denounced torture cases (16 cases denounced in 2013.) However, victims claiming to have received “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” by security forces significantly increased from the previous years by 44.44% (234 cases).

The “Right to Justice” receives one of the most negative evaluations in the report. Venezuela’s Judicial Branch is criticized for its lack of independence from the Executive. 94.09% of all the judicial cases against the State, studied by PROVEA were dismissed by the courts. PROVEA also argues that the judicial system is being used as an instrument for the repression of social protests: “from 2005 to 2013 close to 3,000 persons have been subjected to judicial processes for participating in pacific mobilizations.” PROVEA did not document any new cases of “political prisoners” in 2013.

The “Rights to Freedom of Expression and Information” have also suffered a significant deterioration during 2013. Three issues are of particular concern for PROVEA: documented cases of violations of the rights of reporters and journalists, restrictions to social media access, and the government’s biased use of the public media system.    

Notable in this year’s report is the Prologue written by Marcela Máspero, National Coordinator of the workers union Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNETE). It is significant because UNETE is an independent union that at times has aligned with the government on several issues. The prologue describes the falling out of this workers union with the Maduro government.

Máspero writes that she was trained as a worker in the values of humanist Christianity, democracy, human rights, solidarity, common good, ethics, autonomy, and independence, and that she “saw in the program of president Chávez the possibility of developing all that.” The union she represents supported the government “in all the nationalizations, expropriations, and recuperations of strategic industries.”

However Máspero goes on to tell of the disappointment she and her fellow workers felt when they realized that “these transformations never included the protagonistic participation of the popular sectors, and much less the participation of workers. In fact the bourgeois State remained intact.”