Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.
In August reports emerged that the Army Intelligence Directorate wiretapped investigative journalist Mauricio Weibel, who was researching alleged corruption in the army, as well as four active or retired officers suspected of leaking documents to him. The directorate’s leadership stated the wiretaps were authorized by judicial authorities in 2016 and 2017, citing “national security” concerns. Both an internal army investigation and a congressional inquiry were launched. The investigations continued as of November.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected those rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; and the government generally respected these rights.
f. Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, including access to education and health care.
Durable Solutions: In 2018 the government announced a Democratic Responsibility visa for Venezuelans fleeing the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. In June the government halted visa-free entry for nonimmigrant Venezuelans. Under the government’s immigration reform, the Democratic Responsibility Visa is the primary means for Venezuelans to work or establish legal residency in Chile. In 2018 the government began facilitating the voluntary repatriation of more than 1,200 Haitians to Port-au-Prince under its Humanitarian Plan for Orderly Returns program. Haitians wishing to participate must sign a declaration that they will not return to Chile within nine years of departing.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the rights of workers, with some limitations, to form and join independent unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. The law also prohibits antiunion practices and requires either back pay or reinstatement for workers fired for union activity.
Workers in the private sector and in state enterprises are provided the freedom to unionize without prior approval. Police, military personnel, and civil servants working for the judiciary are prohibited from joining unions. Union leaders are restricted from being candidates or members of congress. The Directorate of Labor (DT), an independent government authority under the Ministry of Labor, has broad powers to monitor unions’ financial accounts and financial transactions. For example, unions must update their financial records daily, and ministry officials may inspect the records at any time.
The law prohibits public employees from striking, although they frequently did. While employees in the private sector and workers in formal and regulated collective bargaining units have the right to strike, the law places some restrictions on this right. For example, an absolute majority of workers, rather than a majority of those voting, must approve strikes. The law also prohibits employees of 101 private-sector companies, largely providers of services such as water and electricity, from striking, and it stipulates compulsory arbitration to resolve disputes in these companies. In addition workers employed by companies or corporations whose stoppage would cause serious damage to the health, economy, or security of the country do not have the right to strike.
Employers may not dismiss or replace employees involved in a strike. Unions must provide emergency personnel to fulfill the company’s “minimum services.” Those include the protection of tangible assets and of the company’s facilities, accident prevention, service of the population’s basic needs, ensuring the supply of essential public services, and ensuring the prevention of environmental and sanitary damages.
The law extends unions’ rights to information, requiring large companies to disclose annual reports including balance sheets, statements of earnings, and audited financial statements. Large companies must provide any public information required by the Superintendence of Securities and Insurance within 30 days following the date when the information becomes available. Smaller companies must provide information necessary for the purposes of preparing the collective bargaining process.
While the law prior to the 2017 labor reform provided for collective bargaining rights only at the company level, the reform extended such rights to intercompany unions, provided they represent workers at employers having 50 or more employees and falling within the same economic rubric or activity. An absolute majority of all covered workers must indicate through secret ballot vote that they agree to be represented by an intercompany union in collective bargaining. Intercompany unions for workers at micro or small businesses (i.e., with fewer than 50 workers) are permitted to bargain collectively only when the individual employers all agree to negotiate under such terms. The law does not provide for collective bargaining rights for workers in public institutions or in a private institution that receives more than 50 percent of its funding from the state in either of the preceding two years, or whose budget is dependent upon the Defense Ministry. It also does not provide for collective bargaining in companies whose employees are prohibited from striking, such as in health care, law enforcement, and public utilities. Whereas the previous labor code excluded collective bargaining rights for temporary workers or those employed solely for specific tasks, such as in agriculture, construction, ports, or the arts and entertainment sector, the revised labor standards eliminate these exclusions, extending bargaining rights to apprentices and short-term employees. Executives, such as managers and assistant managers, are prohibited from collective bargaining.
The government generally enforced labor laws effectively. Nevertheless, the DT commented on the need for more inspectors. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Companies are generally subject to sanctions for violations to the labor code, according to the severity of each case. Companies may receive “special sanctions” for infractions, which include antiunion practices. NGOs reported cases in labor tribunals took an average of three months to resolve. Cases involving fundamental rights of the worker often took closer to six months. NGOs continued to report it was difficult for courts to sanction companies and order remedies in favor of workers for various reasons, including if a company’s assets were in a different name or the juridical entity could not be located.
Freedom of association was generally respected. Employers sometimes did not respect the right to collective bargaining. According to Freedom House, the IndustriALL Global Union, and the International Trade Union Confederation, antiunion practices, including a threat of violence, continued to occur. In addition NGOs and unions indicated that penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining laws were insufficient to deter violations, especially in large companies. NGOs and unions reported that companies sought to inhibit the formation of unions and avoid triggering collective bargaining rights, especially among seasonal agricultural workers and in key export sectors such as mining, forestry, and fishing, by using subcontracts and temporary contracts as well as obtaining several fiscal registration or tax identification numbers when increasing the size of the workforce. In addition subcontracted employees earned lower wages than regular employees performing the same task, and many contractors failed to provide formal employment benefits, such as social security, health care, and pensions.
Labor courts can require workers to resume work upon a determination that a strike, by its nature, timing, or duration, causes serious risk to the national economy or to health, national security, and the supply of goods or services to the population. Generally, a back-to-work order should apply only when a prolonged strike in a vital sector of the economy might endanger public safety or health, and it should apply only to a specific category of workers.
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. The government generally enforced the law effectively. Penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter violations. NGOs reported many government officials responsible for identifying and assisting victims had limited resources and expertise to identify victims of labor trafficking. In addition, judges often suspended or commuted sentences. The government worked to prevent and combat forced labor through its interagency antitrafficking taskforce, which included international organizations and local NGOs. The task force published and began implementation of a new national action plan (2019-22).
Labor trafficking continued to occur. Some foreign citizens were subjected to forced labor in the mining, agriculture, domestic service, and hospitality sectors. Some children were forcibly employed in the drug trade (see section 7.c.).
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The country conforms to international standards, which dictate the minimum age for employment or work should be no less than 15 years. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 18, although it provides that children between 15 and 18 may work with the express permission of their parents or guardians as long as they attend school. They may perform only light work that does not require hard physical labor or constitute a threat to health or the child’s development. The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor.
Ministry of Labor inspectors effectively enforced regulations in the formal economy but did not inspect or enforce such regulations in the informal economy. Infractions included contracting a minor younger than age 18 without the authorization of the minor’s legal representative, failure to register a minor’s contract with the ministry, and contracting a minor younger than 15 for activities not permitted by law. Penalties and inspections were not sufficient to deter violations that mostly occurred clandestinely or in the informal economy.
The government devoted considerable resources and oversight to child labor policies. With accredited NGOs, SENAME operated programs to protect children in vulnerable situations. SENAME, in coordination with labor inspectors, identified and assisted children in abusive or dangerous situations. SENAME continued to work with international institutions, such as the International Labor Organization (ILO), and with other ministries to conduct training on identifying and preventing the worst forms of child labor. SENAME also implemented public education programs to raise awareness and worked with the ILO to operate rehabilitation programs for children withdrawn from child labor.
Multisector government agencies continued to participate in the National Advisory Committee to Eradicate Child Labor. The committee met regularly throughout the year and brought together civil society organizations and government agencies in a coordinated effort to raise awareness, provide services to victims, and protect victims’ rights. The Worst Forms of Child Labor Task Force, a separate entity, maintained a registry of cases and a multisector protocol for the identification, registration, and care of children and adolescents who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The National Tourism Service’s hotel certification procedures, developed in collaboration with SENAME, included strict norms for preventing the commercial sexual exploitation of children. This included special training for National Tourism Service staff charged with assessing and certifying hotels.
Child labor continued to be a problem in the informal economy and agriculture, primarily in rural areas. Higher numbers of violations occurred in the construction, industrial manufacturing, hotels and restaurants, and agriculture sectors.
In urban areas it was common to find boys carrying loads in agricultural loading docks and assisting in construction activities, while girls sold goods on the streets and worked as domestic servants. Children worked in the production of ceramics and books and in the repair of shoes and garments. In rural areas children were involved in caring for farm animals as well as in harvesting, collecting, and selling crops, such as wheat. The use of children in illicit activities, which included the production and trafficking of narcotics, continued to be a problem. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also continued to be a problem (see section 6, Children).
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
The law and regulations prohibit employment discrimination based on race, sex, age, civil status, union affiliation, religion, political opinion, nationality, national extraction, social origin, disability, language, sexual orientation, or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, refugee or stateless status, ethnicity or social status. The government and employers do not discriminate on the basis of refugee, stateless status, or ethnicity, but workers must have a work permit or be citizens to hold contracted jobs. The law also provides civil legal remedies to victims of employment discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic situation, language, ideology or political opinion, religion or belief, association or participation in union organizations or lack thereof, gender, sexual orientation, gender identification, marriage status, age, affiliation, personal appearance, and sickness or physical disability. A 2017 law addresses matters related to persons with disabilities. For all public agencies and for private employers with 100 or more employees, the law requires 1 percent of jobs be reserved for persons with disabilities.
The government effectively enforced applicable laws and regulations prohibiting employment discrimination. Authorities generally enforced the law in cases of sexual harassment, and there was no evidence of police or judicial reluctance to act. Companies may receive “special sanctions” for infractions such as denying maternity leave. Such penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. Nevertheless, discrimination in employment and occupation continued to occur. Persons with disabilities often faced discrimination in hiring; they constituted approximately 7.6 percent of the working-age population but only 0.5 percent of the workforce. Indigenous persons continued to experience societal discrimination in employment. Statistics regarding rates of discrimination faced by different groups were not available.
As of November 2018 the national minimum wage exceeded the poverty level. The law sets the legal workweek at six days or 45 hours. The maximum workday is 10 hours (including two hours of overtime pay), but the law provides exemptions for hours of work restrictions for some categories of workers, such as managers; administrators; employees of fishing boats; restaurant, club, and hotel workers; drivers; airplane crews; telecommuters or employees who work outside of the office; and professional athletes. The law mandates at least one 24-hour rest period during the workweek, except for workers at high altitudes, who may exchange a work-free day each week for several consecutive work-free days every two weeks. Annual leave for full-time workers is 15 workdays, and workers with more than 10 years of service are eligible for an additional day of annual leave for every three years worked. Overtime is considered to be any time worked beyond the 45-hour workweek, and workers are due time-and-a-half pay for any overtime performed.
The law establishes occupational safety and health standards, which are applicable to all sectors. Special safety and health norms exist for specific sectors, such as mining and diving. The National Service for Geology and Mines is further mandated to regulate and inspect the mining industry. The law does not regulate the informal sector. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.
The DT is responsible for enforcing minimum wage and other labor laws and regulations, and it did so effectively in the formal economy. The Ministries of Health and Labor administered and effectively enforced occupational safety and health standards. The law establishes fines for noncompliance with labor regulations, including for employers who compel workers to work in excess of 10 hours a day or do not provide adequate rest days. Companies may receive “special sanctions” for infractions such as causing irreversible injuries to an employee. An estimated 28 percent of the nonagricultural labor force worked in the informal sector, according ILO data from 2017. Workers in the informal economy were not effectively protected in regard to wages or safety.
The DT did not employ a sufficient number of labor inspectors to enforce labor laws effectively throughout the country, particularly in remote areas. NGOs commented that inspectors and labor tribunal judges needed more training and that a lack of information and economic means generated an inequality between parties in cases before the tribunals. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations, especially with larger employers. The DT worked preventively with small and medium-sized businesses to assist in their compliance with labor laws.
Minimum wage violations were most common in the real estate and retail sectors. The sectors with the most infractions in safety and health standards were construction, retail, and industrial manufacturing. The service sector experienced the most accidents during the year. Immigrant workers in the agricultural sector were the group most likely to be subject to exploitative working conditions. According to ILO data, in 2018 there were 3.1 fatal and 3,142 nonfatal occupational injuries per 100,000 workers.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the combination of laws and regulations governing libel and media content as well as legal harassment, physical intimidation of individuals and media, and executive influence on the judiciary resulted in significant repression of these freedoms. National and international groups, such as the IACHR, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Inter American Press Association, Reporters without Borders, and Committee to Protect Journalists, condemned former regime efforts throughout the year to restrict press freedom and create a climate of fear and self-censorship.
Freedom of Expression: The law makes insulting the president punishable by six to 30 months in prison without bail, with lesser penalties for insulting lower-ranking officials. In 2017 the illegitimate ANC gave final approval to the Constitutional Law against Hate, for Political Coexistence and Tolerance, which stipulates prison sentences of up to 20 years. While the former regime stated the purpose of the law was to “promote peace and tolerance,” NGOs observed the vaguely written law could be used to silence political parties, activists, and civil society leaders as well as media outlets and journalists. Comments exposing another person to public contempt or hatred are punishable by prison sentences of one to three years and fines. In April Espacio Publico reported 24 persons were arrested in 2018 for online criticism of the regime.
On June 1, members of the DGCIM arrested Karen Palacios Perez, a clarinetist, for “instigating hate.” Palacios posted tweets critical of the regime after losing her position with the National Philharmonic Orchestra for signing a petition in opposition to Maduro. On July 16, Palacios was released from prison, one month after a judge ordered her immediate release.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law provides that inaccurate reporting that disturbs the public peace is punishable by prison terms of two to five years. The requirement that media disseminate only “true” information was undefined and open to politically motivated interpretation.
The law prohibits all media from disseminating messages that incite or promote hate or intolerance for religious, political, gender-related, racial, or xenophobic reasons; incite, promote, or condone criminal acts; constitute war propaganda; foment anxiety in the population or affect public order; do not recognize legitimate government authorities; incite homicide; or incite or promote disobedience of the established legal order. Penalties range from fines to the revocation of licenses. The threat of nonrenewal of operating licenses systematically led to self-censorship on the part of several media outlets.
Despite such laws, Maduro and the regime-aligned United Socialist Party (PSUV) used the nearly 600 former regime-owned or -controlled media outlets to insult and intimidate the political opposition throughout the year. ANC president Diosdado Cabello continued to use his weekly television program to denounce individual journalists and media outlets.
The law declares telecommunications a “public interest service,” thereby giving the government authority to regulate the content and structure of radio, television, and audiovisual production sectors. The law provides that the government may suspend or revoke licenses when it judges such actions necessary in the interests of the nation, public order, or security. The law empowers the government to impose heavy fines and cancel broadcasts for violations of its norms; the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) oversees the law’s application.
The former Maduro regime continued legal actions against high-profile independent media outlets Tal Cual, El Nacional, El Nuevo Pais, La Patilla, El Pitazo, and Globovision. In June the TSJ ordered La Patilla to pay 30 billion bolivares ($1.4 million) to ANC president Cabello for “moral damage and injury” for reprinting an article by the Spanish newspaper ABC that indicated Cabello was under investigation in the United States for drug trafficking.
Espacio Publico reported 522 violations of freedom of expression between January and April, a 314 percent increase compared with the same period in 2018 and the second highest figure since the organization began tracking cases in 2002. The most common violations were aggressions against journalists and censorship. The former Maduro regime-owned and -influenced media provided almost continuous proregime programming. In addition, private and public radio and television stations were required to transmit mandatory nationwide broadcasts (cadenas) throughout the year, including a daily 15-minute news broadcast that provided reports and summaries of former regime activities. Media reported the GNB regularly barred journalists from accessing the AN to cover the legislative body’s debates and activities. NGOs noted that state regime-owned internet service provider CANTV also routinely blocked commercial streaming and web searches during Interim President Guaido’s speeches and during weekly AN sessions.
The former regime detained 39 journalists in the first three months of the year, up from 22 detentions during all of 2018, according to NGO Institute for Press and Society (IPYS). On March 11, SEBIN agents detained journalist Luis Carlos Diaz and confiscated equipment, following his reporting on nationwide blackouts that struck the country in early March, according to media reports. On his weekly television program, ANC president Cabello accused Diaz of being involved in a conspiracy to sabotage the country’s electrical system. After being charged with “instigating crimes,” Diaz was released, although he was prohibited from leaving the country or making public statements.
The law requires practicing journalists to have journalism degrees and be members of the National College of Journalists, and it prescribes jail terms of three to six months for those practicing the profession illegally. These requirements are waived for foreigners and opinion columnists.
Violence and Harassment: Senior national and state leaders of the former Maduro regime continued to harass and intimidate privately owned and opposition-oriented television stations, media outlets, and journalists by using threats, property seizures, administrative and criminal investigations, and prosecutions. The national journalists’ union reported 244 attacks on journalists from January to June. Former president Maduro and regime-aligned officials used regime-controlled media outlets to accuse private media owners, directors, and reporters of fomenting antiregime destabilization campaigns and coup attempts. Former Maduro regime officials also harassed foreign journalists working in the country.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: NGOs noted the former Maduro regime’s preference for using legal proceedings, financial sanctions, and administrative actions against unfavorable news outlets instead of shutting them down outright. Members of the independent media stated they regularly engaged in self-censorship due to fear of regime reprisals. This resulted in many journalists posting articles to their personal blogs and websites instead of publishing them in traditional media.
The former regime also exercised control over content through licensing and broadcasting requirements. CONATEL acted selectively on applications from private radio and television broadcasters for renewal of their broadcast frequencies. According to Nelson Belfort, former president of the Venezuelan Radio Chamber, and NGO reports, approximately 80 percent of radio stations were in “illegal” status throughout the country due to CONATEL’s not having renewed licenses for most radio stations since 2007.
According to the local journalists’ union (SNTP), print news outlets closed due to the former Maduro regime’s economic policies, which made it difficult for independent newspapers to access foreign currency, preventing many from purchasing critical supplies and equipment necessary for day-to-day business operations. National and regional newspapers went out of print for lack of supplies, especially newsprint, including national newspaper El Nacional, El Regional of Zulia, El Aragueno of Aragua, El Luchador of Bolivar, and Panorama of Zulia.
The former Maduro regime controlled a large portion of the country’s businesses and paid for advertising only with regime-owned or regime-friendly media.
Libel/Slander Laws: Regime-aligned officials engaged in reprisals against individuals who publicly expressed criticism of Maduro or regime policy. Maduro did not act on his 2017 announcement that he would use slander law to “defend his honor” in court against opposition leaders’ allegations that he was responsible for protest-related deaths.
National Security: The law allows the government to suspend or revoke licenses when it determines such actions necessary in the interests of public order or security. The former Maduro regime exercised control over the press through a public entity, the Strategic Center for Security and Protection of the Homeland (CESPPA), established in 2013, which is similar to the governmental entity Center for National Situational Studies (CESNA) established in 2010. CESNA and CESPPA have similar mandates and are responsible for “compiling, processing, analyzing, and classifying” both regime-released and other public information with the objective of “protecting the interests and objectives of the state.”
During the year former President Maduro renewed four times the “state of exception” he first invoked in 2016, citing a continuing economic emergency, and granted himself the power to restrict rights otherwise provided for in the constitution. The 60-day emergency decree, which by law is renewable only once and requires AN endorsement to be effective, allows the president to block any action he deems could “undermine national security” or could “obstruct the continuity of the implementation of economic measures for the urgent reactivation of the national economy.” The AN continued systematically to refuse to ratify each renewal, and the Supreme Court annulled each refusal, reasoning that the assembly’s “contempt” status made its failure to endorse the renewal “unconstitutional.” According to Human Rights Watch, the “state of exception” negatively affected the rights to freedom of association and expression.
Nongovernmental Impact: Widespread violence in the country made it difficult to determine whether attacks on journalists resulted from common criminal activity or whether criminals or others targeted media members.
The former Maduro regime restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. The former regime exercised broad control over the internet through the state-run CONATEL. Free Access, an NGO focused on freedom of expression and social justice, reported that CONATEL supported monitoring of private communications and repression of internet users who expressed dissenting opinions online. According to media reports, users of social networks accused CONATEL of monitoring their online activity and passing identifying information to regime intelligence agencies, such as SEBIN. According to Free Access, CONATEL provided information to SEBIN, including internet protocol addresses, which assisted former Maduro regime authorities in locating users.
The law puts the burden of filtering prohibited electronic messages on service providers, and it allows CONATEL to order service providers to block access to websites that violate these norms and sanctions service providers with fines for distributing prohibited messages. IPYS reported that in the first six months of the year, private and regime-controlled internet providers following CONATEL orders blocked access to 48 webpages. Seventy percent of the censored domains during this period belonged to social media platforms and news outlets, including NTN24, VIVOplay, El Pitazo, VPItv, El Nacional, Aporrea, and Noticia al dia.
CONATEL’s director, Jorge Elieser Marquez Monsalve, reiterated the claims of his predecessors that CONATEL’s role is to enforce the law and prevent dissemination of illegal information or material unsuitable for children and adolescents. Nevertheless, the former Maduro regime continued to block internet sites that posted dollar- and euro-to-bolivar currency exchange rates differing from the former regime’s official rate. The former regime-owned internet service provider CANTV facilitated blockages. According to IPYS, the regime blocked websites during events of public interest. According to Reporters Without Borders, on January 21, shortly after an attempted uprising by a military unit in Zulia State that was widely covered on social networks and by online media outlets, there were several internet cuts in the region, affecting YouTube and Google Search users in particular, combined with restrictions on access to Twitter and Instagram. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Periscope services were all temporarily blocked, according to NetBlocks.
Regime-aligned intelligence agencies, which lacked independent oversight, conducted surveillance for political purposes. Courts relied on evidence obtained from anonymous patriotas cooperantes (cooperating patriots) to harass perceived opponents of the former regime, and senior former Maduro regime-aligned officials used personal information gathered by patriotas cooperantes to intimidate regime critics and human rights defenders. Users were arrested and criminally accused for actions such as tweeting information publicly available on webpages.
In February proregime Twitter accounts published a database of opposition sympathizers’ personal data, which was the result of a former regime-linked phishing operation.
There were no substantiated reports of former Maduro regime restrictions on cultural events, but the former regime imposed restrictions on academic freedom. Aula Abierta (Open Classroom), a local human rights NGO focused on academic freedom, reported the former regime retaliated against opposition-oriented autonomous universities by providing insufficient funding and failing to adjust budgetary allocations to inflation. According to media reports, universities ran deep deficits, receiving less than 10 percent of the funds they budgeted to cover operating costs. In 2017 the National University Council, the government’s regulating body for university education, relinquished its functions to the ANC, disregarding the law requiring university autonomy.
The former Maduro regime continued to increase its control over local universities, including the admissions process.
In August the TSJ ordered the Central University of Venezuela to hold university elections in six months. The ruling, which applied to eight other public and private universities as well, stipulates that the elected candidate must win in at least three of the five electoral sectors (teachers, students, graduates, administrative staff, and laborers) and must receive an absolute majority of votes. Students and university leaders called the ruling an attack on university autonomy, in violation of the constitution, and said it would lead to the installation of regime-aligned sympathizers at the heads of universities.
The former regime continued its practice, announced in 2018, of educational financial incentives for holders of the carnet de la patria (homeland card), a regime-issued social benefits card provided primarily to regime supporters (see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation).
The constitution provides for this right, but the former Maduro regime generally repressed or suspended it. The law regulates the right to assembly. Human rights groups continued to criticize the law as enabling the former regime to charge protesters with serious crimes for participating in peaceful demonstrations. Ambiguous language in the law also allowed the former regime to criminalize organizations that were critical of it. Protests and marches require authorization from the former regime in advance and are forbidden within designated “security zones.” Citizens organized sporadic and often spontaneous small-scale protests throughout the year to demand basic goods and services such as water, gasoline, and electricity. The political opposition and civil society organized marches to support Interim President Juan Guaido and demand a transitional government and new presidential elections. The Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict documented 10,477 protests in the first six months of the year, more than double the number in the same period of 2018. According to the OHCHR, between January and May, a total of 66 persons died during protests; some of these incidents were marked by an alleged excessive use of force by FAES, the GNB, PNB, and armed colectivos. Security forces detained more than 1,300 persons during protests between January and May, according to Foro Penal.
During a July 2 protest in Tachira State, 16-year-old Rufo Chacon was blinded after police forces fired 52 rubber pellets at his face. According to media reports, a police investigation found that security forces moved to repress the protest without warning when they fired rubber bullets into the crowd. Former Maduro regime attorney general Tarek William Saab announced that authorities charged two police officers with cruel treatment in the case.
The constitution provides for freedom of association and freedom from political discrimination, but the former Maduro regime did not respect these rights. Although professional and academic associations generally operated without interference, a number of associations complained that the TSJ and the National Electoral Council (CNE), which is responsible for convoking all elections and establishing electoral dates and procedures, repeatedly interfered with their attempts to hold internal elections.
A 2016 presidential decree called on the Foreign Ministry to suspend international funding to NGOs when “it is presumed” that the funding is used with “political purposes or for destabilization.”
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; however, the former Maduro regime did not respect these rights.
On February 22, the former regime closed its borders with Aruba, Brazil, and Colombia to prevent the entry of international aid. Media reported the borders with Aruba and Brazil were reopened on May 10 and partially reopened with Colombia one month later.
In July the former Maduro regime announced the deployment of a special migration police unit in Tachira State, on the border with Colombia. Although some NGOs expressed concern the former regime would use the unit to restrict international travel of select individuals, the former regime asserted the force would essentially be customs and border patrol units. The former regime declared the migration police would provide citizen security at migration points and established 72 points of control to monitor the border situation and dispel what it called myths regarding a supposed in-country migration crisis.
Security forces often used excessive force to control residents in states along the border with Colombia, with particular violence perpetrated by colectivos against Tachira State citizens in late February.
While no official statistics were available, a women’s shelter reported recurring problems with gender-based violence and trafficking of refugee women. NGOs reported Venezuelans crossing through informal border crossings controlled by armed groups faced significant protection risks, including gender-based violence. Individuals were often forced to pay a form of taxation at the informal border crossing or be indebted to those controlling them, exposing them to risks of exploitation, harassment, and sexual violence, as well as recruitment into drug trafficking and other armed groups.
See the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
In-country Movement: The former regime restricted the movement of certain opposition leaders, preventing them from traveling on former regime-controlled airlines and refusing to allow them to board some domestic flights.
Foreign Travel: Obtaining a passport became increasingly difficult during the year. Prospective applicants waited overnight in lines and often did not receive passports after years of delays. Some applicants reportedly paid several thousands of U.S. dollars to obtain a passport. The former regime repeatedly seized passports from journalists, members of the opposition, and AN deputies at ports of entry without explanation as they attempted to depart the country.
Exile: In contrast with 2018, there were no cases of citizens denied the right to return.
f. Protection of Refugees
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: With the refugee status determination process centralized at the National Refugee Commission (CONARE) headquarters in Caracas, asylum seekers often waited for years to obtain a final decision. During this period they had to continue renewing their documentation every three months to stay in the country and avoid arrest and deportation. While traveling to the commission, particularly vulnerable groups, such as women with young children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, faced increased personal risks, such as arrest and deportation, extortion, exploitation, and sexual abuse by authorities at checkpoints and other locations.
The former regime did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR, the vast majority of asylum seekers came from Colombia. The majority of such persons remained without any protection. Most of the Colombians had not accessed procedures for refugee status determination due to the inefficiency of the process. UNHCR reported that few persons in need of international protection were legally recognized as refugees.
Access to Basic Services: Colombian asylum seekers without legal residency permits had limited access to the job market, education, and health systems. The lack of documentation created significant difficulties to achieving sufficient protection and long-term integration. Former regime authorities permitted Colombian children to attend school but inconsistently granted them diplomas or certificates of completion without residency documentation, resulting in high dropout rates for Colombian children. In June CONARE announced the creation of a new border migration control card for refugees present in the country, similar to the carnet de la patria.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides that all private- and public-sector workers (except members of the armed forces) have the right to form and join unions of their choice, and it provides for collective bargaining and the right to strike. The law, however, places several restrictions on these rights, and the former Maduro regime deployed a variety of mechanisms to undercut the rights of independent workers and unions. Minimum membership requirements for unions differ based on the type of union. Forming a company union requires a minimum of 20 workers; forming a professional, industrial, or sectoral union in one jurisdiction requires 40 workers in the same field; and forming a regional or national union requires 150 workers. Ten persons may form an employee association, a parallel type of representation the former regime endorsed and openly supported.
The law prohibits “any act of discrimination or interference contrary to the exercise” of workers’ right to unionize. The law requires all unions to provide the Ministry of Labor a membership roster that includes the full name, home address, telephone number, and national identification number for each union member. The ministry reviews the registration and determines whether the union fulfilled all requirements. Unions must submit their registration application by December 31 of the year the union forms; if not received by the ministry or if the ministry considers the registration unsatisfactory, the union is denied the ability to exist legally. The law also requires the presence of labor inspectors to witness and legitimize unions’ decisions before the Ministry of Labor. The International Labor Organization (ILO) raised concerns about the ministry’s refusal to register trade union organizations.
By law employers may negotiate a collective contract only with the union that represents the majority of its workers. Minority organizations may not jointly negotiate in cases where no union represents an absolute majority. The law also restricts unions’ ability to administer their activities. For example, the CNE has the authority to administer internal elections of labor unions, federations, and confederations. By law elections must be held at least every three years. If CNE-administered and -certified elections are not held within this period, the law prohibits union leaders from representing workers in negotiations or engaging in anything beyond administrative tasks. The ILO repeatedly found cases of interference by the CNE in trade union elections, and since 1999 it has called for delinking the CNE from the union election process.
The law recognizes the right of all public- and private-sector workers to strike, subject to conditions established by law. By law workers participating in legal strikes receive immunity from prosecution, and their time in service may not be reduced by the time engaged in a strike. The law requires that employers reincorporate striking workers and provides for prison terms sufficient to deter violations for employers who fail to do so. Replacement workers are not permitted during legal strikes. The law prohibits striking workers from paralyzing the production or provision of essential public goods and services, but it defines “essential services” more broadly than ILO standards. The ILO called on the government to amend the law to exclude from the definition of “essential services” activities “that are not essential in the strict sense of the term…so that in no event may criminal sanctions be imposed in cases of peaceful strikes.”
The minister of labor may order public- or private-sector strikers back to work and submit their disputes to arbitration if a strike “puts in immediate danger the lives or security of all or part of the population.” Other legal provisions establish criminal penalties for exercising the right to strike in certain circumstances. For example, the law prohibits specified actions and makes punishable with five to 10 years in prison anyone who “organizes, supports, or instigates the realization of activities within security zones that are intended to disturb or affect the organization and functioning of military installations, public services, industries and basic [i.e., mining] enterprises, or the socioeconomic life of the country.” The law also provides for prison terms sufficient to deter violations for those who restrict the distribution of goods and for “those…who develop or carry out actions or omissions that impede, either directly or indirectly, the production, manufacture, import, storing, transport, distribution, and commercialization of goods.” There was no information on whether penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
The former Maduro regime restricted the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining through administrative and legal mechanisms. The former regime did not effectively enforce the law.
The ILO raised concerns about violence against trade union members and intimidation by the former regime of the Associations of Commerce and Production of Venezuela. In 2018 ILO member countries voted to establish an ILO Commission of Inquiry against Venezuela to investigate longstanding complaints first lodged in 2015 of labor rights violations of ILO Conventions No. 26, 87, and 144, which pertain to minimum-wage fixing, freedom of association and protection of the right to organize, and tripartite consultation, respectively. In October the commission issued its report to the director general, noting that the former regime had repeatedly committed violations of international conventions on minimum wage, freedom of association and the right to organize, and labor standards. It also called for “the immediate release of any employer or trade unionist who may be in prison as a result of carrying out the legitimate activities of their workers’ or employers’ organization.”
Organized labor activists continued to report that the annual requirement to provide the Ministry of Labor a membership roster was onerous and infringed on freedom of association. They alleged the ministry removed member names from the rosters for political purposes, particularly if members were not registered to vote with the CNE. Labor leaders also criticized the laborious and costly administrative process of requesting CNE approval for elections and subsequent delays in the CNE’s recognition of such union processes. In addition, there reportedly was a high turnover of Ministry of Labor contractors, resulting in a lack of timely follow-through on union processes. Labor unions in both the private and public sectors noted long delays in obtaining CNE concurrence to hold elections and in receiving certification of the election results, which hindered unions’ ability to bargain collectively.
The former Maduro regime continued to support many “parallel” unions, which sought to dilute the membership and effectiveness of traditional independent unions. The former regime excluded from consideration other, independent union federations, including the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, General Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, Confederation of Autonomous Unions of Venezuela, and National Union of Workers.
The former regime continued to refuse to adjudicate or otherwise resolve the cases of 19,000 employees of the state oil company (PDVSA) who were fired during and after the 2002-03 strike. The Ministry of Labor continued to deny registration to the National Union of Oil, Gas, Petrochemical, and Refinery Workers.
The concept of striking, demonized since the 2002 national security law, was used periodically as a political tool to accuse regime opponents of coup plotting or other destabilizing activities. Some companies, especially in the public sector, had multiple unions with varying degrees of allegiance to the ruling party’s version of the “socialist revolution,” which could trigger interunion conflict and strife.
NGOs reported the former regime continued harassment of unions by prosecuting union members in military courts. Ruben Gonzalez, secretary general of miners’ union Sintraferrominera, was arrested in November 2018 after participating in a protest for collective bargaining rights and salary increases. In August a military tribunal sentenced Gonzalez to five years and nine months in prison for “outrage” to the armed forces and the GNB. Union leaders described Gonzalez’s arrest as part of the former regime’s efforts to eliminate the union and install a more pliant, parallel union while a new collective agreement is negotiated.
The law prohibits some forms of forced or compulsory labor but does not provide criminal penalties for certain forms of forced labor. The law prohibits human trafficking by organized crime groups through its law on organized crime, which prescribes penalties sufficient to deter violations for the human trafficking of adults carried out by a member of an organized-crime group of three or more individuals. The organized-crime law, however, fails to prohibit trafficking by any individual not affiliated with such a group. Prosecutors may employ other statutes to prosecute such individuals. The law increases penalties for child trafficking with the purpose of forced labor. There was no comprehensive information available regarding the former regime’s enforcement of the law. The labor group Autonomous Front in Defense of Employment, Wages, and Unions (FADESS) reported that public-sector worker agreements included provisions requiring service in the armed forces’ reserves.
There were reports of children and adults subjected to human trafficking with the purpose of forced labor, particularly in the informal economic sector and in domestic servitude (see section 7.c.). According to FADESS, more than 60,000 Cubans worked in the former Maduro regime social programs (such as the Mission Inside the Barrio) in exchange for the regime’s provision of oil resources to the Cuban government. FADESS noted Cubans worked in the Ministries of Education, Registrar, Notary, Telecommunications, and Security. FADESS also cited that the G-2 Cuban security unit was present in the armed forces and in state enterprises. Some Cuban medical personnel who participated in the social program Mission Inside the Barrio described indicators of forced labor, including underpayment of wages, mandatory long hours, limitations on movement, forced political indoctrination, and threats of retaliatory actions against workers and their families if they left the program. The Cuban government acknowledged that it withheld the passports of Cuban medical personnel in the country.
The law does not sufficiently prohibit the trafficking of boys and requires proof of the use of deception, coercion, force, violence, threats, abduction, or other fraudulent means to carry out the offense of trafficking of girls, including for commercial sexual exploitation.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum employment age at 14. Children younger than 14 may work only if granted special permission by the National Institute for Minors or the Ministry of Labor. Such permission may not be granted to minors who are younger than the legal age for work in hazardous occupations that risk their life or health or could damage their intellectual or moral development. According to the ILO, the former Maduro regime had not made publicly available the list of specific types of work considered hazardous. Children ages 14 to 18 may not work without permission of their legal guardians or in occupations expressly prohibited by law, and they may work no more than six hours per day or 30 hours per week. Minors younger than 18 may not work outside the normal workday.
Anyone employing children younger than eight is subject to a prison term that is sufficient to deter violations. Employers must notify authorities if they hire a minor as a domestic worker. The former regime did not effectively enforce the law.
No information was available on whether or how many employers were sanctioned for violations. The former regime continued to provide services to vulnerable children, including street children, working children, and children at risk of working. There was no independent accounting of the effectiveness of these and other former regime-supported programs.
Most child laborers worked in the agricultural sector, street vending, domestic service, or in small and medium-size businesses, most frequently in family-run operations. There continued to be isolated reports of children exploited in domestic servitude, mining, forced begging, and commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6), many of whom could be victims of trafficking. A study by Cecodap found that child laborers composed up to 45 percent of those working in mines.
Some doctors participating in Cuba’s overseas medical program showed indicators of forced labor. These indicators included withholding of doctors’ travel documents and pay; restricting participants’ movement; using “minders” to conduct surveillance of participants outside of work; threatening to revoke medical licenses; and retaliating against family members by imposing criminal penalties, exile, and family separation if participants left the program or did not return to Cuba as directed by government supervisors. Authorities did not investigate allegations of forced labor in the program. Additionally, doctors who deserted the program reported Cuban “minders” coerced them to indoctrinate the population into supporting the former Maduro regime and falsify records to bolster the number of individuals assisted.
The constitution prohibits employment discrimination of every citizen. The law prohibits discrimination based on age, race, sex, social condition, creed, marital status, union affiliation, political views, nationality, disability, or any condition that could be used to lessen the principle of equality before the law. No law specifically prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV/AIDS status. Media and NGOs, such as PROVEA and the Human Rights Center at the Andres Bello Catholic University, reported the regime had a very limited capacity to address complaints and enforce the law in some cases and lacked political will in some cases of active discrimination based on political motivations.
NGOs reported public employees faced discrimination for their political beliefs or activities. According to Aula Abierta, 4,876 public servants were dismissed from their jobs for political reasons in 2018. In April SEBIN detained two employees of the Central Bank of Venezuela for participating in a meeting of public workers with Interim President Guaido, according to PROVEA.
The former Maduro regime raised the national minimum wage, but it remained below the poverty line. Labor experts noted the unilateral nature of the decision contravened ILO Convention No. 26 requiring the government to consult with employers and workers prior to enacting wage increases. Legislators noted the decree violated the law, since it supplanted collective bargaining agreements. Union leaders from the petroleum, health, telecommunications, and electricity sectors highlighted that the wage-raise decree did not include wage adjustments to keep up with hyperinflation and thus remained insufficient to afford the basic food basket. It also violated the law by nullifying previously signed collective bargaining agreements, including wage tables that scaled salaries to account for seniority and merit pay.
The trade union of the industrial sector (CONINDUSTRIA) stated that only 2,500 of the 15,000 industries existing in 2000 remained as of June.
The law sets the workweek at 40 hours (35 hours for a night shift). The law establishes separate limits for “shift workers,” who may not work more than an average of 42 hours per week during an eight-week period, with overtime capped at 100 hours annually. Managers are prohibited from obligating employees to work additional time, and workers have the right to two consecutive days off each week. Overtime is paid at a 50 percent surcharge if a labor inspector approves the overtime in advance and at a 100 percent surcharge if an inspector does not give advance permission. The law establishes that, after completing one year with an employer, a worker has a right to 15 days of paid vacation annually. A worker has the right to an additional day for every additional year of service, for a maximum of 15 additional days annually.
The law provides for secure, hygienic, and adequate working conditions. Workplaces must maintain “protection for the health and life of the workers against all dangerous working conditions.” The law obligates employers to pay workers specified amounts for workplace injuries or occupational illnesses, ranging from two times the daily salary for missed workdays to several years’ salary for permanent injuries. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Penalties for violations of wage and hour and occupational safety and health laws were not sufficient to deter violations.
The law covers all workers, including temporary, occasional, and domestic workers. There was reportedly some enforcement by the Ministry of Labor of minimum wage rates and hours of work provisions in the formal sector, but 40 percent of the population worked in the informal sector, where labor law and protections generally were not enforced. The former regime did not enforce legal protections on safety in the public sector. According to PROVEA, while the National Institute for Prevention, Health, and Labor Security required many private businesses to correct dangerous labor conditions, the former regime did not enforce such standards in a similar manner in state enterprises and entities. There was no publicly available information regarding the number of inspectors or the frequency of inspections to implement health and safety, minimum wage, or hours of work provisions. Ministry inspectors seldom closed unsafe job sites. There was no information on whether penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
Official statistics regarding workplace deaths and injuries were not publicly available.