Once the richest country in South America, Venezuela has since been ridden with economic, socio-cultural and political turmoil. But there is hope, as the United Nations and its allies recognize the importance of salvaging the situation. Here are some important facts about human rights in Venezuela.
Facts About Human Rights in Venezuela
- Autocratic Rule
The Venezuelan President, Nicolás Maduro, uses the Venezuelan security forces to maintain authoritarian control. It was reported by The Independent in April 2017 that the forces had detained 5,000 people. In the same month, the security forces were accountable for 46 of 124 reported deaths. Their other acts of violence include raiding houses and torturing innocent civilians and those detained.
- The Opposition
To maintain an iron fist, the government has jailed several politicians on the grounds of acting as opposition. In 2017, more than 340 politicians were put in prison or brought for questioning by intelligence services. Several mayors were also subject to sentencing that did not comply with international procedure guidelines. Many leaders were also given prison sentences despite the lack of evidence supporting their charges.
- A Medical Crisis
The circumstances have cost Venezuelans their right to quality health care. Currently, 85 percent of all medication is not available, and the political instability has led 13,000 doctors to flee the country. The prevalence of communicable diseases has greatly increased, as seen in the 69 percent rise in malaria cases between 2016 and 2017. However, the head of the WHO Global Malaria Program, Pedro Alonso, is devoting resources to rid Venezuela of malaria by working with regional bodies. The Venezuelan Health Minister, Luis Lopez, has also been key in implementing vaccination and fumigation programs.
- A Disproportionate Burden On Women
Due to the heavy shortages, stores in Venezuela are missing menstrual hygiene products and birth control measures. The lack of contraception is especially alarming as Venezuela currently has the highest number of teen pregnancies in South America. Women resort to the black market to buy birth control pills or exchange basic food items like flour for pads and tampons. Fortunately, Girls Globe reports that social media has helped women gain greater access to these products.
- Consequences of Sanctions
The United States, Canada and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Venezuela, making it harder for the nation to import essential medicines and nutrients. Although initially imposed to discourage human rights abuse and corruption, these sanctions have further locked Venezuela in a situation they cannot get out of, especially without external help.
- Social Unrest
In light of the severe shortages and hyperinflation, Venezuelans have resorted to crime to make ends meet. In 2017, the murder rate reached a high of 89 deaths per 100,000 people. Moreover, close to 40 percent of residents have reported robberies in the past year alone. Venezuela currently has one of the highest crime rates in the world, which is yet another factor causing residents to migrate. However, there are several nonprofit organizations working in Venezuela’s major cities to deconstruct this image and promote revenue through tourism.
- Maternal and Infant Mortality
In 2017, the Venezuelan health minister reported that in 2016, the maternal mortality rate had increased by 65 percent and infant mortality had increased by 30 percent. These alarming statistics can be attributed to the poor infrastructure offered by hospitals and the lack of sanitation and food. Cases of severe malnutrition also increased to 14.5 percent in September 2017 from 10.2 percent in February 2017, crossing the crisis threshold defined by WHO. These circumstances are undermining Venezuelans’ right to health and nutrition
- Freedom of Speech
In Maduro’s quest to quell the opposition, several media agencies and sites have been suspended or disbanded altogether, and their journalists have been detained by security forces or had their equipment confiscated. International news agencies were also banned from entering Venezuela or detained for covering the local crises. This is in light of the Venezuelan government’s “Law Against Hatred,” which was passed in November 2017 and vaguely outlines the expected coverage content. The law even enforces a maximum jail sentence of 20 years for individuals and agencies that do not adhere.
The lack of human rights in Venezuela has left almost 1.5 million Venezuelans seeking asylum or living as refugees in neighboring countries. Colombia, the largest of the neighbors, currently hosts more than 600,000 Venezuelans. However, in early 2018, Colombia discontinued temporary visas, making it extremely difficult for Venezuelans to find jobs and settle across the border and exacerbating the situation. However, organizations like Mercy Corps are helping Venezuelans make the best of the circumstances by protecting their human rights in Colombia as well as their home country.
- The U.N.’s Commitment
In August 2017, the United Nations recognized the current state of Venezuelan politics as a violation of basic human rights and is looking to pursue charges against people at the highest levels of government. In May 2018, the United Nations Human Rights Council (OHCHR) also adopted a resolution acknowledging Venezuela’s position and declaring that the sanctions currently imposed on it do harm to the poor and the most vulnerable classes instead of serving their original purposes. With the WHO already involved in Venezuela’s malaria crisis and the OHCHR resolving to assuage these human rights violations, there is hope for collective action through the U.N.’s work.
Although Venezuela is going through a hard time, the work of non-profit organizations and allies of the U.N. has given the nation a fighting chance. With continued foreign aid, Venezuelans can expect to see better days.
– Sanjana Subramanian