Venezuela is a constitutional democracy. In December 2007 the government held a public referendum on a constitutional reform package in which voters narrowly defeated the proposed changes in a generally free and fair electoral process. The following human rights problems were reported: unlawful killings; disappearances involving security forces; torture and other abuse of detainees; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; corruption, inefficiency and politicization of the judicial system; searches of private homes; official intimidation and attacks on independent media; widespread corruption at all government levels; violence against women; trafficking in persons; and restrictions on trade union rights.
The U.S. government's strategy for promoting democratic principles, practices, and human rights focuses on supporting citizen efforts to strengthen independent civil society, particularly through support to groups working on political pluralism, respect for the rule of law, press freedom, and other human rights. The U.S. government uses public diplomacy, targeted foreign assistance, and cooperation with other governments to advance strategy objectives. These objectives encourage citizen participation, promote human rights, contribute to a free press, and strengthen democratic institutions.
Enhancing political pluralism and respect for the rule of law also remain key U.S. strategic objectives. To help strengthen the country's debilitated political parties, U.S. funding supports nonpartisan projects focused on party renewal and internal democratization. These projects, which the U.S. government offers across the political spectrum, provide technical assistance to enhance party responsiveness to members and constituents.
U.S. programs focused on promoting respect for the rule of law and strengthening judicial processes are providing training to local law enforcement institutions to combat organized crime and money laundering. One grant offers training to judges and prosecutors on due process and criminal investigative procedures. U.S. officials attend criminal trials of persons associated with the political opposition to demonstrate U.S. concern regarding the exercise of due process. Also, U.S. experts conduct programs with NGOs on anticorruption strategies. U.S. officials invite opposition leaders and government supporters to U.S. government events in the country to demonstrate U.S. support for democracy, political tolerance, and rejection of judicial intimidation.
Through a combination of laws governing libel and broadcast media content, legal harassment, and physical intimidation, the government limits freedom of speech and press, creating a climate of self-censorship. Through public diplomacy initiatives, U.S. officials continue to express concerns about government restrictions on freedom of speech and the press. U.S. officials invite media experts to the country to discuss the state of press freedom in Latin America. The United States also hosts conferences to highlight the pivotal role played by a free and independent media in democracies. U.S. programs provide grants to support press freedom seminars for law students, media involvement in human rights reporting, and strengthening the press corps' investigative journalism skills.
To address concerns about the government's proposed international cooperation law, the United States works closely with other Western Hemisphere and European partners. If passed, this law would undermine the independence and autonomy of civil society, restrict NGO ability to receive foreign donor support, and give the government greater control over NGOs. The United States provides support for a spectrum of NGOs and other civil society groups, especially those focused on encouraging peaceful debate and conflict resolution. This assistance fosters a culture of democratic participation and tolerance through civic education and by encouraging active citizen engagement in building responsible governance institutions. U.S. programs support strengthening human rights NGOs that are operating in an environment of government pressure and harassment. One program trains human rights organizations and practitioners using strategies successfully employed by human rights defenders in other countries. The program also seeks to increase NGO institutional capacity through exchanges and solidifying links with other human rights groups in the region.
The United States actively works with civil society groups that address labor rights, trafficking in persons, and women's issues. The embassy uses video conferences and exchange visits to raise awareness about human rights issues, such as eliminating violence against women. The United States supports a program to strengthen the ability of labor unions to forge collective bargaining agreements, advocate for worker rights, and educate the public on the importance of worker rights. The United States has supported several NGO efforts to present cases before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The U.S. government continues to stress to the government the need to do more to combat trafficking in persons.
To foster relationship-building on democracy topics, the United States continues a series of exchanges between young political leaders from the United States and Venezuela. One example is a 12-day study tour in Washington D.C., Mississippi, and Colorado for a delegation of Venezuelan citizens representing a wide range of political views.