Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Venezuela is a constitutional democracy with a population of approximately 26.4 million. In February 2009 the government held a public referendum on eliminating term limits for elected officials, a measure which voters passed in a generally free and fair process, despite irregularities before voting day. The following human rights problems were reported: unlawful killings; disappearances involving security forces; torture and other abuse of detainees; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detention; persecution of political opponents; a corrupt, inefficient, and politicized judicial system; official intimidation and attacks on independent media; widespread corruption at all government levels; violence against women; trafficking in persons; anti-Semitic attacks; and restrictions on trade union rights.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The U.S. Government's human rights and democracy strategy focuses on advancing democratic principles and practices and human rights by supporting citizen efforts to strengthen independent civil society, particularly groups working on political pluralism and press freedom. The U.S. Government also encourages support for local government and citizen participation and efforts to strengthen democratic political parties. U.S. officials develop strategy priorities by working with NGOs, indigenous movements, labor unions, and other organizations to encourage reforms and discuss problems related to human rights and democracy. The U.S. Government also uses public diplomacy, targeted foreign assistance, and cooperation with other governments to advance strategic objectives.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

U.S. assistance strengthens the country's democratic political parties by funding nonpartisan projects to train interested political groups in organizational strategy and message development, internal democracy, and public outreach. This technical assistance fosters enhanced party responsiveness to public needs and interests. The U.S. Government also supports informed public participation in electoral processes through programs to help get out and protect the vote.

U.S. programs use public diplomacy to express concerns about government restrictions on freedom of speech and the press and laws governing libel and broadcast media content, harassment, and physical intimidation. U.S. officials invite media experts to the country to discuss the state of press freedom in Latin America, including media self-censorship. The United States hosts conferences to highlight the pivotal role played by a free and independent media in democracies. U.S. programs also provide grants for press freedom seminars on media involvement in human rights reporting and the development of investigative journalism skills.

U.S. support to NGO and civil society groups working to build responsible governance institutions helps foster a culture of democratic participation and tolerance through civic education and active citizen engagement. U.S. programs support strengthening human rights NGOs operating in an environment of government pressure and harassment. One program trains human rights organizations and practitioners using strategies successfully employed by human rights defenders in other countries. This expertise enables NGOs to serve as effective human rights defenders in an increasingly difficult political environment.

The United States works actively with civil society groups that address labor rights, trafficking in persons, and women's issues. U.S.-sponsored conferences and exchange visits raise awareness about eliminating violence against women and preventing trafficking in persons. The United States supports a program to strengthen the ability of labor unions to forge collective bargaining agreements, advocate for worker rights, and educate the public on the importance of worker rights.