Cablegate: Human Rights Strategy for Venezuela

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) STATE 11875 B) 2003 STATE 333935


1. Venezuela continued to be embroiled in a political crisis
over the government of President Hugo Chavez, who was elected
in July 2000 in generally free and fair elections. The
democratic environment suffered from deteriorating rule of
law and weakened institutions that were increasingly
subordinated to political interests. Respect for political
rights continued to be of special concern as opposition
groups petitioned the National Electoral Commission (CNE) to
convoke a recall referendum on President Chavez' rule. The
Government's human rights record remained poor. Political
violence and intimidation against opposition political
parties, the media, labor groups, the courts, the Catholic
Church, and human rights groups was common, often carried out
by government sympathizers inspired by the rhetoric of the
President and other government officials. The police and
military continued to commit numerous abuses, including
extra-judicial killings of criminal suspects. Arbitrary
arrests, detentions and torture of detainees persisted.
Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening.
Impunity, one of the country's most severe human rights
problems, allowed corruption and extreme inefficiency to
flourish in the judicial system. Child labor increased as
economic conditions worsened, and violence against women and
children remained problems.


2. The embassy focused its 2003 democracy and human rights
efforts on support for political rights, while it continued
conducting programs to fight other human rights abuses. The
Ambassador and every section/agency used contact and
representational work to encourage the implementation of OAS
Resolution 833 which calls for a constitutional, democratic,
peaceful, and electoral solution to the country's political
crisis. In addition, embassy programs worked to strengthen
Venezuelan institutions, encourage communication and
dialogue, and oppose violence and extra-constitutional
changes in government. The embassy conducted programs that
can influence human rights practices through a variety of
sections including the Public Affairs (PAS), Political, and
Consular Sections, the Legal Attache Office (LEGATT), and the
OTI office of the Agency for International Development


3. To increase professionalism and lower the likelihood of
extra-judicial killings and torture committed by the security
forces, LEGATT, in conjunction with PAS and the Narcotics
Affairs Section (NAS), arranged several training programs for
law enforcement officials that incorporated rule of law and
human rights concepts. During the second half of 2003,
LEGATT sent six Venezuelan officers to a 10-day seminar in
the US on counter-terrorism; one officer to a three-month
leadership course at the FBI Academy; and three officers each
to the FBI's terrorism and police management training and
"Latin American Law Enforcement Executive Development
Seminar," respectively. LEGATT also organized a two-week
course on terrorism crime scene investigations for 50
participants and a one-week anti-kidnap seminar for 40

4. In compliance with the Leahy Amendment, the Political and
Economic Sections, DAO and LEGATT worked to vet military
units and law enforcement personnel for training and
assistance to ensure that the beneficiaries of US assistance
have not committed human rights abuses. The Political
Section's human rights officer also meets regularly with
contacts in the private sector and within the government to
foster support for human rights and track significant areas
of concern.

5. The mission's efforts to promote democracy, rule of law,
and political rights continued to be quite strong. The

USAID/OTI office funded National Democratic Institute (NDI)
activities to promote transparency in the electoral process
through domestic observation. To accomplish this objective,
NDI is working with a consortium of civil society groups
spanning the political spectrum to provide quality control in
the electoral process, including administrative procedures
and media reporting. The OTI also funded the International
Republican Institute (IRI) to provide training to political
parties in 1) execution of electoral campaigns with emphasis
on developing campaign strategies and communicating party
platforms effectively to voters; and 2) observation of
electoral processes, focused on assessment, reporting, and
establishment of a volunteer trainer network. In addition,
the OTI funded the Carter Center's continuing mediation and
electoral process observation efforts.

6. Complementing OTI activities, the mission ensured that all
press statements and speeches by the Ambassador, the DCM, and
visiting USG officials, including Members of Congress,
contained references to our strong support for OAS Resolution
833 as the way out of Venezuela's political crisis. In
addition, post ensured wide distribution of relevant remarks
by Washington policymakers and OAS officials to the media and
placed them on the embassy website. The mission also
arranged a digital video conference (DVC) on the California
gubernatorial referendum, during which the Venezuela
referendum was discussed in detail.

7. To improve the country's judicial system, the Public
Affairs Section (PAS) conducted several programs to
strengthen the administration of justice and prevent abuses.
PAS organized a DVC on judicial ethics and sponsored five
expert speakers on various aspects of the administration of
justice. PAS also sponsored a one-week workshop on
"Mediation and Conflict Resolution in Prisons" conducted by
an expert trainer in conflict resolution. The participants,
representing all sectors of the judicial and penal systems,
used their workshop experience to create a network for
continuing professional collaboration. In late 2003, PAS
arranged an additional expert speaker on victim protection
and funded an International Visitor Program on "Human Rights
and Prison Reform." A DVC on the country's human rights
situation is planned for early 2004.

8. To strengthen civil society and democratic institutions,
the mission approved $718,500 of USAID/OTI funding for 14
grants in the following program areas: justice/human rights,
transparency in government, media/freedom of expression,
conflict management, and community impact activities
(dialogue among polarized groups). For example, one project
was designed to raise public awareness of and respect for
human rights. It accomplished the goal by conducting human
rights workshops for leaders of key societal sectors and by
distributing written explanations nationwide of the main
national and international mechanisms for protection of human
rights. Another grant promoted democratic discussion between
government and opposition parties in the National Assembly on
topics such as freedom of expression. The discussions were
facilitated by an international expert.

9. Especially relevant due to the standoff between the
government and private media were embassy efforts to support
a free and democratic press. The Ambassador hosted a Press
Freedom Day event to highlight the importance of free speech.
That message was backed up by USAID/OTI grants that
emphasized the importance of an impartial media, allowing all
candidates to have air time during elections, media
regulatory systems, and the need to allow for democratic
coexistence among those with opposing viewpoints. In
conjunction with OTI, PAS arranged a DVC on the role of the
media in a democracy for pro-government and opposition
affiliated journalists. The mission issued many press
statements in suport of freedom of expression and against the
use of violence by any party for political ends.

10. To assist women's efforts to overcome discrimination and
violence, the mission co-sponsored with Vital Voices Global
Partnership a kickoff workshop for women who are business and
community leaders. The Vital Voices worldwide network helps
women organize themselves to address a range of issues,
including leadership training, coalition building, and the
fight against trafficking in women and children. The mission
also co-sponsored a one-day conference on proposed changes to
the Domestic Violence Law that would reduce protective

measures available to battered women and children.
Conference participants produced a written argument (amicus
brief) against the proposed change and presented it to the
Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court.

11. The Consular Section works with local immigration offices
to strengthen immigration controls and prevent human
smuggling and trafficking in persons. In 2003, the section
hosted one DHS Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services
officer who trained 300 employees from airlines, airport
security, and the immigration/passport agency in fraud


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