Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, making it punishable by a prison term of eight to 14 years. A man may legally avoid punishment by marrying (before he is sentenced) the person he raped. The law allows authorities to consider alternative forms of punishment, including work release, for those convicted of various crimes, including rape, if they have completed three-quarters of their sentence. The law was not consistently enforced.
The law criminalizes physical, sexual, and psychological violence in the home or community and at work, with increased penalties for intimate partner violence. The law punishes perpetrators of domestic violence with penalties for conviction ranging from six to 27 months in prison. The law requires police to report domestic violence to judicial authorities and obligates hospital personnel to notify authorities when admitting patients who are victims of domestic abuse. Police generally were reluctant to intervene to prevent domestic violence and were not properly trained to handle such cases. The law also establishes women’s bureaus at local police headquarters and tribunals specializing in gender-based violence, and two-thirds of states had specialized courts. The Public Ministry’s ’s Defense Department employed a team of lawyers, psychiatrists, and other experts who dealt exclusively with cases of femicide, gender-related violence, and other crimes against women. The law was often not followed or enforced.
The Maduro regime did not publish statistics on gender-based violence. The OHCHR reported a lack of due diligence in investigations of gender-based violence cases. According to NGOs, government efforts to protect victims of gender-based violence were ineffective or nonexistent. Enforcement of laws and access to justice were limited, as victims of gender-based violence reported a lack of progress and inability to follow up on cases after filing reports with authorities.
Many advocates observed there was a lack of public awareness among women regarding resources and support available to prevent and combat domestic violence. There were four shelters for victims of gender-based violence, one each in Aragua, Cojedes, Sucre, and Trujillo States, but only two remained open; the remaining two struggled to operate effectively due to a lack of government support. NGOs provided most domestic abuse support services.
NGOs and media reported an increase of domestic abuse and gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The NGO Center for Justice and Peace reported 207 femicides between January and September 30.
On February 21 and 22, Eduarlys Falcon and Eliannys Martinez Ronoz were killed in Turen, Portuguesa State. The two young women were missing for more 24 hours and were later found with signs indicating they were tortured and sexually assaulted before being strangled to death. On February 28, the regime attorney general declared the alleged murderer had been arrested. In his annual report before the illegitimate National Assembly, the attorney general stated since 2017 there had been 610 femicide cases, of which 50 percent had been resolved.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and punishable by fines and a prison sentence of one to three years. Although allegedly common in the workplace, sexual harassment cases were rarely reported. Several cases of harassment at the hands of security forces – both police and military – were reported during the year.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of the Maduro regime. The regime restricted access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, including emergency contraception for the clinical management of rape.
The regime’s economic mismanagement and neglect of the country’s health-care infrastructure severely restricted access to resources for menstrual health and hygiene as well as to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth. Media reported access to methods of contraception and emergency contraception were limited. When available, birth control pills cost almost 10 times the monthly minimum wage, and an intrauterine device cost 25 times the monthly minimum wage. A pack of condoms cost three times the monthly minimum wage. According to NGOs, the COVID-19 pandemic further reduced access to contraception and the ability to see doctors and pharmacies. A 2020 study by the Venezuelan Association for Alternative Sex Education (AVESA) found that fewer than 50 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods.
The IACHR found that many young women who were pregnant or had young children migrated to other countries to gain access to prenatal care and health and reproductive services. The IACHR also reported that women seeking neonatal or obstetric care had to provide their own surgical and personal protective equipment. Pregnant women frequently did not receive prenatal care or take prenatal supplements containing iron or folic acid needed for correct child formation, which affected child development and caused possible malnutrition and diseases. The precarious economic situation limited access to food to the entire population, which had a direct negative impact on pregnant women and their unborn children.
Hospitals lacked qualified health-care professionals, medicine, and necessities such as water, electricity, and cleaning supplies. The country’s health-care crisis, including the inability to attend to maternal health, was compounded by the pandemic as hospitals prioritized COVID-19 cases over other health services. AVESA also studied the impact the COVID-19 pandemic on the sexual and reproductive health of women in reproductive age in the Capital District and Miranda State. A report released during the year showed that between October and December 2020, there was a reduction of 18 percent in health assistance centers with family planning services, with no increase of the numbers of centers for assistance regarding sexually transmitted infections. Media reported sexually transmitted infections, including those passed onto children, were on the rise and citizens had limited access to resources to address them.
Women, children, and teenagers lacked the conditions and information to safely make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and also lacked access to services and contraceptive methods in a timely manner and in terms of quality. The pandemic’s mobility restrictions and closure of services aggravated the situation.
The Maduro regime claimed in its report to the UN ’s Women’s Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination towards Women that maternal mortality had dropped, which experts doubted. According to the Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology of Venezuela, the maternal death rate in 2019 was 112 per 100,000 live births, with postpartum hemorrhages, sepsis, and pregnancy-induced hypertension cited as the leading causes of maternal mortality. Doctors stated these were “predictable and treatable” conditions but were often fatal due to hospitals’ lack of adequate beds, medical resources, and medicine. Statistics were unreliable due to the compounded crisis in the country, and experts believed the numbers could potentially be higher. An increasing number of births took place at home due to faltering medical services.
According to the UN Population Fund, the adolescent birth rate in 2019 was 95 births for every 1,000 adolescents ages 15 to 19.
In October 2020 Vanesa Rosales, a human rights defender from the city of Merida, was arrested on accusations of providing information and medications for the voluntary termination of pregnancy for a 13-year-old adolescent who became pregnant as a result of rape. Rosales was charged with conspiracy, conspiracy to commit a crime, and abortion induced by a third party, exposing her to severe penalties. She was detained without due process and was released in May.
Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men under the constitution. Women and men are legally equal in marriage, and the law provides for gender equality in exercising the right to work. The law specifies that employers must not discriminate against women regarding pay or working conditions. According to the Ministry of Labor and the Confederation of Workers, regulations protecting women’s labor rights were enforced in the formal sector, although according to the World Economic Forum, women earned 36 percent less on average than men doing comparable jobs. Gender disparities persisted despite guarantees provided by law.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race. The law prohibits all forms of racial discrimination and provides for a maximum of three years’ imprisonment for acts of racial discrimination. As mandated by law, signage existed outside commercial and recreational establishments announcing the prohibition against acts of racial discrimination. Beyond signage, the Maduro regime did little to enforce laws against discrimination or prosecute cases of discrimination.
The law prohibits discrimination based on ethnic origin. The constitution provides for three seats in the National Assembly for deputies of indigenous origin to “protect indigenous communities and their progressive incorporation into the life of the nation,” but some indigenous communities continued without representation due to the TSJ’s annulment of the 2015 election of Amazonas State’s indigenous representatives.
NGOs and the press reported local political authorities seldom took account of indigenous interests when making decisions affecting indigenous lands, cultures, traditions, or allocation of natural resources. Indigenous groups continued to call for faster implementation of the demarcation process.
Indigenous groups and NGOs expressed concern regarding mining in the expanding Arco Minero, an area between the states of Bolivar, Amazonas, and Delta Amacuro. Indigenous communities reported the Maduro regime developed and expanded mining zones without consulting those native to the region, resulting in a rise in environmental degradation, water contamination, and malaria. Illegal armed groups, including the National Liberation Army and FARC-D, had a considerable presence in the area, increasing the level of violence and insecurity in the communities. There was also an unprecedented influx of disease; drugs; human trafficking, including commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor; and other illegal activities in the mining areas, putting indigenous communities at risk.
Indigenous groups regularly reported violent conflicts with miners and cattle ranchers regarding land rights. There were reports of harassment, attacks, and forced evictions against indigenous persons living in areas included as part of Maduro regime mining concessions. Indigenous persons reported a lack of consultation by the regime on the social and environmental impact of mining activity in indigenous and protected areas.
Border disputes with Colombia affected indigenous groups living in border regions. There were many reported cases in which movements of indigenous groups were restricted, including from border closures. After more than 18 months, these regions continued to suffer severe restrictions that impeded tourism and forced indigenous communities of Santa Elena de Uairen, Bolivar State, to practice mining. The tourism chamber affirmed that approximately 28 indigenous communities stopped working in tourism due to the closure of the country’s borders and gasoline shortages, which made them depend on illegal mining for 60 percent of their income.
NGOs stated that quarantine measures imposed by the Maduro regime unduly affected indigenous communities, preventing transit to and through territories and making it impossible for indigenous persons to obtain sufficient food, water, and access to medical care, which was already difficult due to gasoline shortages in the area. PROVEA alerted that the migration of indigenous communities from Amazonas State to Colombia had increased in the past five years due to the worsening of the political-economic crisis and the increase in mining activity and invasion of indigenous territories. Colombian authorities estimated 3,900 Venezuelans had registered in 25 indigenous and nonindigenous settlements in Puerto Carreno as migrants or displaced persons.
In January there was concern for the 12 indigenous members of the Pemon community detained in the Rodeo II prison, due to the poor detention conditions. All were detained on allegations of having assaulted the 513 Jungle Infantry Battalion Mariano Montilla in 2019. Foro Penal called on authorities to grant them priority medical assistance, since they had tuberculosis due to poor sanitary conditions and lack of adequate food and water. Their lawyers affirmed in their case that due process was not guaranteed and that they had been subject to cruel and inhuman treatment. Advocacy groups decried that they should have been tried in an indigenous jurisdiction to respect indigenous rights. The National Observatory for Human Rights demanded the detainees be transferred to another facility closer to their community where they could have access to family and community. They also requested as a minimum condition to receive medical assistance according to their indigenous practices. They were released on February 13.
On February 21, an assembly of indigenous leaders in Bolivar State denounced the continued presence of illegal armed groups engaged in illegal mining activities on indigenous lands and declared a state of emergency in the community of San Luis de Morichal. The National Assembly denounced environmental degradation, instability, human rights violations, and the closure of schools. Leaders condemned the inaction and complicity of the Maduro regime and called on the regime to enforce protections for indigenous communities as enshrined in the constitution.
On June 21, Fundaredes in Apure State reported FARC dissidents killed six indigenous individuals in the Macanilla sector, located in the Pedro Camejo municipality. According to the NGO, the deaths occurred on June 15 after the indigenous individuals allegedly looted a food truck that was moving from San Juan de Payara to a church in Puerto Paez, in the Codazzi parish. Fundaredes also said the indigenous communities were unprotected by the state and suffered from malnutrition, sexual abuse, human trafficking, and displacement by irregular armed groups.
Also in June the OHCHR expressed concern regarding the death of indigenous Pemon leader Salvador Franco while he was in detention and called on authorities to conduct an immediate and independent investigation and to protect the rights of the detainees, especially their right to receive medical assistance. As of November neither the Attorney General’s Office nor the human rights ombudsman had made a statement regarding the case.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory. The children’s rights NGO Cecodap reported that families struggled to register births due to quarantine measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Child Abuse: According to UNICEF and NGOs working with children and women, child abuse, including incest, occurred but was rarely reported. The Maduro regime made efforts to detain and prosecute some perpetrators of child abuse. Although the judicial system acted to remove children from abusive households, the press reported public facilities for such children were inadequate. According to NGOs, in many cases children were returned to their homes without proper reintegration measures or follow-up. An investigation by Cecodap documented the lack of information from official sources regarding the violation of child and adolescents’ rights, noting that only 23 percent of the monitored news came from official sources.
During the first quarter of the year, Cecodap identified 209 violent episodes involving child and adolescents and said they were the victims in 86 percent of the cases. Cecodap reported that 30 percent of episodes monitored involved sexual abuse and most victims were between seven and 12 years old.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for women and men, but with parental consent the minimum age is 16.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: By law conviction for having sexual relations with a minor younger than 13, with an “especially vulnerable” person, or with a minor younger than 16 when the perpetrator is a relative or guardian is punishable with a mandatory sentence of 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits the forced commercial sexual exploitation and the corruption of minors. Penalties range from 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment in cases of forced labor and some forms of sex trafficking of women and girls. The law requires a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute child sex trafficking. The law prohibits the production and sale of child pornography and establishes penalties of 16 to 20 years’ imprisonment.
Displaced Children: Children’s rights advocates and media reported an increase in the number of abandoned children living on the street. State-run facilities, already filled to capacity, were unable to support the influx. Cecodap estimated that as many as one million minors had been left behind with family members when their parents fled the country’s economic crisis, many of whom also struggled with the country’s economic downturn. These children resided in limbo, since their parents who left were unable legally to transfer guardianship to a third party. Private institutions denounced the Maduro regime’s refusal to provide subsidized food benefits to support the country’s population.
NGOs noted young girls constituted almost one-half of the children living on the streets. This shift posed particular challenges for shelters, which historically housed predominantly male populations. With institutions filled to capacity, hundreds of children accused of infractions, such as curfew violations, were confined in inadequate juvenile detention centers.
The Human Rights Center of the Catholic University Andres Bello documented that between October 2020 and February, at least 430 children and adolescents permanently left the country alone or accompanied by other minors. An additional 51,250 minors were recorded as regularly crossing the border between Venezuela and Colombia.
Save The Children affirmed that 70 percent of children and adolescents left the country to find their parents and to achieve a family reunion; the remainder fled domestic violence. Many of these children were motivated by deceptive job offers. NGOs confirmed cases of unaccompanied Venezuelan girls who were victims of sex trafficking in Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Peru.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://www.travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The Confederation of Israelite Associations in Venezuela estimated there were 10,000 Jews in the country. Jewish community leaders expressed concern regarding anti-Semitic pieces in regime-aligned media outlets. They stated regime-owned or -associated media and supporters of the Maduro regime promoted Zionist conspiracy theories. There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, including anti-Semitism.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities, but the Maduro regime did not implement the law, inform the public of it, or combat societal prejudice against persons with disabilities. The law requires that all newly constructed or renovated public parks and buildings provide access, but persons with disabilities had minimal access to public transportation, and ramps were almost nonexistent. Many persons with disabilities expressed concern that public transportation workers often were unwilling to transport them and forced them to find taxis, which were often unaffordable and frequently not equipped to support patrons with disabilities. NGOs reported hospitals lacked infrastructure to accommodate persons with mobility problems and staff to communicate with deaf persons. Parents of children with disabilities also complained they were forced to wait in long lines for services rather than receive preference as afforded by law. Online resources and access to information were generally available to persons with disabilities, although access to closed-captioned or audio-described online videos for persons with sight and hearing disabilities was limited. Leading advocates for persons with hearing disabilities lamented difficult access to public services due to a lack of interpreters in public courts, health-care facilities, and legal services, as well as a lack of other public accommodations.
The National Council for Persons with Disabilities, an independent agency, advocated for the rights of persons with disabilities and provided medical, legal, occupational, and cultural programs. All forms of organization, whether public or private, are required by law to incorporate no less than 5 percent of persons with disabilities in their work area, according to their condition, their abilities, their skills, and their specialties with the aim of seek job placement. There was no available information regarding the number of persons registered with regime health programs who were fully employed. The law was generally not followed or enforced.
Some children with disabilities attended separate schools, while others were in mainstream schools with their peers without disabilities. Media reported that schools for children with disabilities suffered from underfunding, decaying infrastructure, and little consideration for the specific needs of individual disabilities. Parents of children with disabilities reported significant difficulties in school enrollment, which prevented their children from receiving formal education. NGOs reported that in the shift to online classes due to COVID-19, children with disabilities had limited access to educational materials, and the Ministry of Education did not adapt curricula for children with disabilities.
The NGOs Cecodap and Deaf Confederation of Venezuela reported three legal cases where the accused were individuals with cognitive disabilities who were arbitrarily detained and deprived of liberty. In each case the court omitted information about the defendant’s mental disability, even when the disability was reflected and endorsed by medical reports from each of the accused. The most recent case was in December 2020, regarding a 15-year-old adolescent in Yaracuy State who allegedly was involved in crimes of extortion and kidnapping. He was linked to the crime by a cell phone that was used by his mother, who went missing at that time.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The law provides for the equal rights of persons with HIV or AIDS and their families. Nevertheless, leading advocates alleged discrimination occurred against such persons. Media and NGOs denounced that during the pandemic more than one thousand persons died due to lack of antiretroviral treatment, as well as poor care in public hospitals. Since 2016 the regime had not purchased antiretroviral medicine, which also affected a great number of children with HIV. The NGO Citizen Action Against AIDS reported there was permanent discrimination in public hospitals and refusal of medical attention against persons with HIV and mistreatment of pregnant women with HIV at the time of delivery.
The number of persons with HIV in treatment increased in the last two years from 24 percent to 54 percent in December 2020, according to UNAIDS. On January 12, DGCIM arbitrarily detained six members of NGO Azul Positivo that provided humanitarian aid to the HIV-positive population of Zulia State, raided the NGO’s offices, and seized equipment.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Local police and private security forces allegedly prevented lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons from entering malls, public parks, and recreational areas. NGOs reported the Maduro regime systematically denied legal recognition to transgender and intersex persons by preventing them from obtaining identity documents required for accessing education, employment, housing, and health care. This vulnerability often led transgender and intersex persons to become victims of human trafficking.
The armed forces criminalize homosexual relations in the military justice code, punishing members of the LGBTQI+ community with prison from one to three years and fines.
NGOs reported incidents of bias-motivated violence against LGBTQI+ persons. Reported incidents were most prevalent against transgender individuals. Leading advocates noted that law enforcement authorities often did not properly investigate to determine whether crimes were bias motivated.
In June media reported at least seven hate crimes against LGBTQI+ persons. These cases should have been processed by the Special Ombudsman’s Office for the Protection of Persons of Sexual Diversity (an entity created in December 2020 and attached to the Ombudsman’s Office), but NGOs affirmed the office was ineffective and that most related hate crimes were not investigated.
The constitution provides for equality before the law of all persons and prohibits discrimination based on “sex or social condition,” but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. According to a TSJ ruling, no individual may be subjected to discrimination because of sexual orientation, but the ruling was rarely enforced.
The law establishes the principle of no discrimination for sexual orientation as well as no discrimination in the workplace for sexual preferences; however, there were no mechanisms to denounce violations of the law.
Section 7. Worker Rights
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 Maduro regime deployed a variety of mechanisms to undercut the rights of independent workers and unions. Minimum membership requirements for unions differed 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 Maduro 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 regarding the ministry’s refusal to register trade union organizations.
By law employers may negotiate a collective contract only with unions that represent most of their 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 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. 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, but this was not enacted in practice. The law requires that employers reincorporate striking workers and provides for prison terms sufficient to deter violations for employers who fail to do so. This law also was not enforced. 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 for the law to be amended 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, 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” could be punished with five to 10 years in prison. The law also provides for prison terms sufficient to deter violations by those who restrict the distribution of goods and “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.”
The organic code of military justice establishes arrest sentences between six months and one year for expressing outrage to a sentry, a public official, or the armed forces. This type of criminal offense was used against indigenous leaders and workers unconstitutionally subjected to military jurisdiction.
The Maduro regime restricted the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining through administrative and legal mechanisms. The regime did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denial of civil rights, such as discrimination.
The ILO raised concerns regarding violence against trade union members and intimidation of the Associations of Commerce and Production of Venezuela by the Maduro regime. In 2018 ILO member countries voted to establish an ILO Commission of Inquiry (COI) for Venezuela to investigate long-standing complaints first filed in 2015 of labor rights violations of ILO Conventions Nos. 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 2019 the commission submitted its report to the ILO director general, noting the regime had repeatedly committed violations of international conventions on minimum wage, freedom of association and the right to organize, and labor standards. The report 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.”
On March 27, the ILO Governing Body agreed to increase the pressure on the Maduro regime to comply with the COI recommendations that requested “the immediate halt of all violent acts, threats, persecution, stigmatization, harassment, and aggression” against organization of workers and employers not affiliated with the Maduro regime and the adoption of measures to guarantee such acts would not be repeated in the future. The ILO COI also requested a tripartite social dialogue. The regime categorically rejected the COI recommendations and continued to detain individuals because of their union activities in cases where the activities were perceived as counter to the interests of the Maduro regime.
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 voters on the CNE’s rolls. 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 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 Maduro regime continued to support “parallel” unions, which sought to dilute the membership and effectiveness of traditional independent unions. The 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 Maduro regime continued to refuse to adjudicate or otherwise resolve the cases of thousands of PDVSA employees who were dismissed 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.
The crimes of association to commit a crime, instigation to commit a crime, obstruction of the public way, violation of the security zone, crimes against freedom of work, and terrorism were frequently used against union leaders who demanded labor rights.
The OHCHR documented at least three union leaders were arrested on charges of terrorism or terrorism financing in 2020.
NGOs reported the Maduro regime continued harassment of unions by prosecuting union members in military courts.
The Venezuelan Observatory of Union Liberty reported in February that between September 2019 and November 2020, there were 28 new cases of union leaders targeted with judicial proceedings, at least five workers deprived of liberty, and more than 100 on probation.
On January 15, the Venezuelan Teachers Union went on strike to demand better salaries, benefits, and infrastructure. As a result of the protest, the Ministry of Education dismissed 200 educators and suspended their salaries without explanation.
On July 26, a member of the College of Nurses of the State of Anzoategui, Ada Macuare, was arrested in the city of Barcelona after a WhatsApp note was circulated among medical professionals indicating Macuare’s attempt to call for a strike due to personal protective equipment and COVID-19 vaccine shortages. The nurse appeared before a judge on July 27 and faced charges of instigating hatred and terrorism. On August 5, Macuare was released and ordered to appear before a judge every 30 days.
On September 25, military intelligence officials from the DGCIM detained seven workers from the PDVSA-owned Paraguana refining complex in Falcon State on terrorism-related charges. The officials alleged the workers were involved in sabotaging the oil company. On October 4, human rights NGOs and family members of the detainees told media the workers had not been granted access to lawyers since the time of their arrest.
In November 2020 Eudis Felipe Girot, a PDVSA plant operator and executive director of the Unitary Federation of Oil Workers, was detained by the DGCIM at his residence, in the Diego Bautista Urbaneja municipality of Anzoategui State, for exercising union obligations and denouncing mismanagement of PDVSA facilities, the lack of gasoline, and the violation of workers’ rights. In a June 10 preliminary hearing, the court sentenced Girot to house arrest.
The law prohibits some forms of forced or compulsory labor but does not provide criminal penalties for certain forms of forced labor. The law on organized crime prohibits human trafficking by organized crime groups. It prescribes penalties sufficient to deter 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 Maduro 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. NGOs noted sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic service within the country increased in 2019 (see section 7.c.).
Some doctors participating in Cuba’s overseas medical program showed indicators of forced labor. According to FADESS, Cubans worked in the Maduro regime’s 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. Observers noted indications the Cuban government may have forced some Cubans to participate in its government-sponsored medical missions. 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, the use of “minders” to conduct surveillance of participants outside of work, forced political indoctrination, and threats of retaliatory actions against workers and their families if they left the program or did not return to Cuba as directed by government supervisors. The Cuban government acknowledged it withheld the passports of Cuban medical personnel in the country. Authorities did not investigate allegations of forced labor in Cuba’s overseas medical program. Additionally, doctors who deserted the program reported Cuban “minders” coerced them to indoctrinate the population into supporting the Maduro regime and to falsify records to bolster the number of individuals assisted.
The law does not criminalize all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
Illegal mining operations existed in some of the country’s most remote areas, including Bolivar State, where armed groups exploited girls in sex trafficking, forcibly recruited youth to join armed criminal groups, and forced children to work in gold mines under dangerous conditions.
Reliable reports indicated that forced labor occurred throughout the Orinoco Mining Arc, a swath of land in southern Bolivar state, where most of the country’s gold is concentrated. An estimated 300,000 to 500,000 gold miners were in the country. Mines were largely run by armed and violent criminal groups, and research showed evidence that officials from the Maduro regime, including members of security forces and local authorities, colluded with and allowed members of nonstate armed groups to commit human rights violations and labor abuses. Miners experienced unsafe working conditions, unsafe and degrading living conditions, extortion and financial penalties, limited freedom of communication, and threats of violence and torture.
The Human Rights Center of the Catholic University Andres Bello also documented forced recruitment in the Mining Arc, where irregular armed groups controlled the mining activity through corruption and extortion networks that involved the military. These groups recruited men and children under threats of violence, death, and debt manipulation to gain control over the zone.
An estimated 3,500 women and girls, between ages 12 and 35, were subjected to forced labor in the illegal mines, forced into prostitution, or exploited as washerwomen and cooks.
In 2020 the OHCHR identified a pattern of labor exploitation, a sharp increase in sexual exploitation and trafficking in mining areas, including of adolescent girls, and reports that children as young as age seven were present in mining areas, often unaccompanied, leaving them vulnerable to 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 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 time in prison. Employers must notify authorities if they hire a minor as a domestic worker. The Maduro regime did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
No information was available on whether or how many employers were sanctioned for violations. The 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 regime-supported programs.
Child labor increased 20 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the most recent report by the NGO World Vision. Most children who worked did so 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, sexual exploitation (see section 6), and human trafficking, including sex trafficking and forced criminality. Members of the Maduro regime supported the operations of the National Liberation Army and FARC-D by allowing the exploitation and human trafficking, including sex trafficking, forced labor, and forced recruitment of children for armed conflict.
Fundaredes reported that nonstate armed groups in the border states of Tachira and Apure forcibly recruited children, invaded property, charged for public services, and threatened communities.
A study by Cecodap found that child laborers constituted up to 45 percent of those working in mines. Media reported children as young as nine years old worked in mines. Underfunded schools and high rates of student dropouts pushed children into labor situations.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
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 of the Catholic University Andres Bello, reported the Maduro regime did not effectively enforce applicable law, and penalties were not commensurate to those related to civil rights infractions, such as election interference.
NGOs reported public employees faced discrimination and harassment 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 March four Siderurgica del Orinoco Alfredo Maneiro union leaders – Jose Saracual, Cesar Soto, Carlos Ramirez, and Cruz Hernandez – had their salaries frozen and were banned from entry into the workplace after they demanded the board comply with the collective contract and improve salaries. Their names and faces were used in a campaign inside the enterprise to show others what would happen if they made such demands. They were also qualified as terrorists.
Wage and Hour Laws: The national minimum wage remained below the poverty line. Labor experts noted the unilateral nature of the most recent regime decree to raise the minimum wage contravened ILO Convention No. 26, which requires 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 decree did not include wage adjustments to keep up with hyperinflation and thus remained insufficient to afford the basic food basket. The decree 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 stated that in 2020, 88 industries ceased operations and that at the end of the year only 2,121 remained, an 83 percent reduction from the more than 12,000 entities in 1997.
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.
Occupational Safety and Health: 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. Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards were not appropriate for the main industries in the country, and workers were not able to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The Maduro regime did not effectively enforce OSH law. Penalties for OSH law violations were not commensurate with those for crimes, such as negligence.
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 an estimated 40 percent of the population worked in the informal sector, where labor law and protections generally were not enforced. 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. Official statistics regarding workplace deaths and injuries were not publicly available.
Health workers were severely exposed to COVID-19 due to the lack of personal protective equipment. The Maduro regime cracked down on medical professionals who spoke about the realities they faced in their work. The NGO Medicos Unidos por Venezuela reported 736 health-worker deaths due to COVID-19 through August.
Nurses’ unions said that during the pandemic they were subjected to labor exploitation and persecution and could not reject or abandon these conditions due to threats, violence, coercion, deception, or abuse of power. Medical professionals lacked vaccines and biosafety equipment for individual protection, worked excessively long hours, and assumed the daily risk of infecting their family members.
NGOs and media reported hazardous conditions in mining areas, many of which operated illegally and exposed miners to injury, disease, and mercury poisoning.
The OHCHR documented high levels of violence and human rights violations linked to the control of and dispute over mines by organized criminal and armed groups. In some cases security forces were reportedly involved in some of the violent incidents.
NGOs reported the use of beatings, mutilation, disappearances, and killings by armed groups to enforce control in mining areas.
Informal Sector: Vast portions of the economy operated in the informal sector, where standardized labor protections did not exist, and labor violations occurred frequently. The regime made little effort to provide social protections in this area.