Venezuela Report May 2019

Venezuela Report May 2019

Venezuelan workers are living in increasingly precarious conditions. Human rights violations are increasing at an unprecedented scale. Economic, social, and cultural rights appear to have been eliminated entirely by the Government’s policies.

The limited supply of basic food products and the lack of medical supplies and basic medicines has had a considerable effect on the health of the majority of the population.

A Venezuelan’s labour has been depreciated so significantly that various studies have signalled that the majority of the population (nine out of ten Venezuelans) is unable to eat even one daily meal with adequate protein content. The average weight of the population decreases year by year. Per the National Survey on Living Conditions of the Venezuelan Population – a joint project between Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB), the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), and Simón Bolívar University (USB) – the average weight of a Venezuelan in 2017 was 11kg less than in 2016, and in 2016 the average weight was 8kg less than in 2015[1]. There is no data for 2018, however, given the scarcity of food caused by the socioeconomic crisis the country is experiencing, clinical nutritionist Marianella Herrera estimates that the average amount of weight lost by Venezuelans last year approaches 18kg per person[2].

Faced with these difficulties the Government of Nicolás Maduro created Local Committees for Supply and Production (Comités Locales de Abastecimiento y Producción – CLAP). These committees are focussed on the distribution of food supplies on a house-by-house basis through a system in which the communities themselves supply and distribute priority items. However, the committees have been the subject of controversies including accusations of corruption, political manipulation, delays, unannounced cost increases, and a general lack of health standards.

The contents of a CLAP box last between 5 and 10 days. Additionally, as national production is insufficient, the National Government has opted to import and distribute products from countries like Colombia, Brazil, Panama, Turkey, and Mexico. These products do not always comply with Venezuelan standards and many of them do not include national health record information on the packaging[3]. Furthermore, the majority of CLAP boxes do not contain proteins. Occasionally boxes will include 3 to 5 cans of tuna[4], but this is very rarely the case.

In June 2018, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, then High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations, published a report in which it was determined that the CLAP program did not fulfil certain standards with regards to the right of adequate nutrition. Further, the report documented the program’s lack of a state comptroller and its use as a form of political propaganda and social control[5]. On 29 December 2016 Nicolás Maduro announced the creation of the “Homeland Card,” a companion to the CLAP program. This was described as an instrument to monitor the functioning of the CLAP program. However, as time has passed, the Homeland Card has been transformed into an obligatory item that is required for any type of interaction by the citizenry with the Government. The first major change that occurred with the Card was its connection to the records of the “Homes of the Fatherland Mission,” which required that people register and produce the government document in order to receive a “protection bond.” This bond system has been extended to other such Missions, such as Amor Mayor (which provides assistance for the elderly), Parto Humanizado (focussing on childbirth), and José Gregorio Hernández (support for the handicapped), as well as the monitoring of vacation time, festivals, and holidays. The card is also used to obtain employment in the public sector and monitoring of national elections[6]. The Government has threatened that those who are not in possession of their card will not be able to access subsidised petrol, a service that has been available in the country for over 50 years.

Despite all of these policies that the government has enacted, surveys conducted by various universities in the country indicate that the number of homes living in extreme poverty has tripled in recent years[7].

The government’s misguided and rash economic policies have provoked a massive closure of businesses and the loss of innumerable jobs. On average, the government increases the minimum salary every 3 months, resulting in the closure of small and medium-sized businesses unable to comply with the increase. This has, in turn, caused a massive exodus in the face of an absence of decent labour opportunities. From the nation’s borders with Brazil and Colombia, Venezuelans can be seen walking towards Latin America. According to a report by the Organisation of American States (OAS) in March 2019, “2018 culminated with at least 3.4 million Venezuelans, more than 10% of the country’s population, having fled the country for various destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Close to 5,000 people abandon Venezuela every day “in conditions of high vulnerability.” The report foresees more than five million refugees by the end of 2019. This would be an exodus of a magnitude similar to the crises of countries that have been victims of armed conflict such as Syria and Afghanistan[8].

This discontent over labour conditions is reflected in a constant state of conflict. Per our Labour and Union Conflict Watch, there were at least 1689 protests in 2018, for an average of between 4 and 5 protests per day, of which 1600 were on behalf of the public sector and 1223 concerned wage conditions[9].

2019 began with a refusal to acknowledge the re-election of President Nicolás Maduro. His presidential term expired on 10 January (the elections held in May 2018 had been deemed fraudulent by the National Assembly) and on 23 January 2019 the president of the National Assembly of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, was sworn in as president of Venezuela; his presidency has currently been recognised by over 50 countries, the European Union, and the multilateral Inter-American Development Bank[10]. Confronted by this situation Nicolás Maduro and his cabinet have refused to transfer power and, with the collaboration of the Armed Forces and paramilitary groups known as “collectives,” have enacted policies of repression and intimidation against Venezuelan society. These collectives are armed groups which act to repress social protests and serve as bodyguards for functionaries of the socialist party. Since 2014 the Government has realised that using collectives is an efficient strategy for dissuading the population from mobilising. Rafael Uzcátegui, general coordinator of PROVEA, states that “in 99% of cases, people are terrified of denouncing the collectives.” The collectives do not always use weapons, as often the presence of a gang of some 20 individuals on motorcycles cruising the streets of Caracas is enough to achieve the effect. These gangs roam the streets in hoods, on motorcycles, armed… “They function as a terrifying symbol.” [11]

 

Responding to this situation, the international community has donated important quantities of food, medicine, and humanitarian aid. However, on 23 February the attempt to import these materials into the country was blocked and several trucks were burned[12]. At least 7 people, 4 of whom were indigenous Venezuelans, died following repression by State security forces at the Brazilian border during the attempt to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela. The reality for indigenous Venezuelans in Bolívar state is alarming. In the Great Savanna region political persecution has led more than 800 members of the Pemón indigenous tribe to cross the border using “trochas” – alternative routes that avoid official border crossings.

As noted above, the wages that people receive are insufficient. A Venezuelan earns 18,000 Bolivars per month, an amount that equates to approximately $5.46, according to the official DICOM rate as of March 29, 2019 (3294.48 bolivars per dollar). Last year, the International Labour Organization (ILO) approved a Commission of Inquiry for Venezuela, under the belief that the Government violates the Conventions on Minimum Wage fixing methods, 1928 (No. 26), on Freedom of Association and the Right to Organize , 1948 (No.87) and on Tripartite Consultation (International Labour standards), 1976 (No. 144), all ratified by Venezuela. With respect to the violation of Convention No. 26, regarding minimum wage, it is pertinent to note that in 2012 the Organic Law of Labour and Labourers (DLOTTT) was unconstitutionally decreed; the aforementioned petition for dialogue and social agreement is non-existent in the wording of this law.

We must clarify that the unconstitutionality of this law is given, because the former president Hugo Chávez passed an enabling law because of the heavy rains that struck our country.So it was authorized to dictate decrees with rank, value and force of law in matters such as housing and habitat, infrastructure, finance, taxation, among others, to address this crisis

Therefore, the enactment of DLOTTT as a result of the aforementioned legislative authorization lacks logical meaning, resulting in a clear overreach in the powers granted to the President on that occasion, tainting the aforementioned legal text as unconstitutional.

The authoritarian fixation of the minimum wage since 2012-even before-to date, accentuates the problems of unemployment, salary scales and acquired rights.

With the imposition of the minimum wage in August 2018, the Government developed a new tabulator ignoring the expected benefits in the salary scales of the entire administration and public enterprises, violating even the recently signed collective agreements.

Violations of International Convention No. 87 range from persecution to judgment in military tribunals. The possibilities for labourers to protest their low wages and poor working conditions are minimal. Every time a union calls for a protest on the street the police and the security services cordon off the site, preventing the protest from taking place. At the same time, layoffs are made of workers who have tried to run for management positions in government-controlled unions. In other cases, union leaders are mistreated and not recognised if they question trade unionists who, due to their political support for the government, do not defend workers’ rights. This environment of harassment and bullying affects the possibility of exercising freedom of association. Through the Ministry of Labour the government has promoted the creation of thousands of new unions in order to ignore the legitimate union leadership of labourers. The state policy has been to generate an entire parallel union structure related to its political project that prevents the legitimate protests of workers from being expressed. On the violation of Convention No. 144, the Government is obliged to make effective consultations with the most representative organizations of employers and labourers regarding various matters related to the activities of the International Labour Organization. The Government ignores the most representative workers’ organizations by not consulting them. The rule of law in the country has been violated, creating an institutional breakdown. The national public authorities remain in a situation of illegitimacy, with the exception of the National Assembly, elected in 2015. Parallel institutions to those legitimately constituted have been created, as is the case of the National Constituent Assembly. This was imposed in 2017, usurping functions of the Legislative Assembly and the judiciary and deciding on the freedom of detainees for political reasons. In addition, the concentration of power in the hands of the national government and the socialist party contaminates the most diverse aspects of daily life, leading to the flagrant violation of human rights. It is common to see the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Comptroller General of the Republic and the courts acting in coordination to disqualify and deprive political opposition leaders of their freedom.   The labourers affected by these political retaliation measures are absolutely defenceless in the country, because they cannot go to any regulatory body within the system of administration of justice for the defence of their rights. On the contrary, the labour inspectorates and the Ombudsman’s Office, in general, either refuse to process their petitions, deny the facts presented by the labourers, or justify political persecution, and the same happens in the courts. Nor is there freedom of expression and information in the country. The state monopoly on the distribution of paper and concessions for the use of the radio spectrum have considerably limited the possibility of issuing and receiving impartial and objective information.

Since the beginning of the government of Nicolás Maduro until December 31, 2018, at least 115 media outlets had been closed for expressing themselves at some point against the mandate or criticising it. [13] In turn, since January 2017 in Venezuela’s offices and public institutions there are signs that say: “Here is no bad talk about Chavez.” Posters that continue to be stuck up in 2019. This is pressure on public sector workers so that they do not express themselves against the former president Chávez or the Government in general. [14].

 

The repression of any sort of political dissidence has increased in recent years. Since January 2019, the number of people imprisoned for political reasons has increased by more than 300%. By Monday 14th March 2019 there were 911 political prisoners in Venezuela, a list that was given to the UN mission,[15] according to statements by the human rights defender and Executive director of the NGO Venezuelan Penal forum, Alfredo Romero.

 

The current figure of 6 May is 857 political prisoners. It may seem that the figure is declining but we have witnessed a phenomenon called revolving door, which is to release a small group to then imprison others, so bullying towards people is greater, since “at any moment you can be incarcerated”. It is necessary to add that post-arrest torture has become a regular thing, as well as enforced disappearance. Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, denounced torture, assassinations and the increased social crisis in Venezuela during her visit in March. [16].

 

In March of this year, Venezuelan labourers were paralysed. Labour activities were stalled by an extended Carnival break and five national blackouts. Two months does not seem to have been enough time for the country to recover from the general blackout on 7 March, and the subsequent five blackouts that came from it. They lasted for 6 days.

 

After the electricity blackouts occurred in March, the normalisation of the energy distribution occurred progressively in the nationally, starting with the capital of the country, Caracas, and then in other states, where the electric outages in principle should not exceed 4 hours a day. However, in the different states of the country (except for the capital), power cuts can last between 12 and 20 hours a day. [17].

 

With regards to the private sector, businesses wanted to return to work after the 6-day (as opposed to the usual 2-day) Carnival break. However, on the second day of the start of the work, the country was affected by a blackout. The supply of goods and services resumed slowly. . The traders risked losing their merchandise to decomposition due to the lack of refrigeration. Yet they resumed work, when a new blackout affected the country on Monday March 25.This blackout lasted one day in the city of Caracas and for more than 3 days in some other cities. The third blackout happened on Friday March 29th. Despite having electric service, communications were almost nil. The losses for the private sector have been in the millions, and irreparable damage has been done to companies and businesses[18]. The losses were not only for decay of goods, but also for a wave of looting that occurred on the day, given the discontent of the people affected.

 

The reality for the public sector is not particularly different. Losses have been in the millions and some losses are irreparable. In hospitals, a significant number of deaths were caused due to the prolonged loss of electricity. At least 26 deaths were counted in the country’s hospitals directly; Maduro’s government only recognized two of them.

 

In the transport sector, the country’s rail systems had to stop providing service. In the basic industries, the aluminium manufacturing equipment used by state-owned aluminium company Venalum was damaged and the entire industry closed[19].

 

The administration of Nicolás Maduro attributes the blackouts to sabotage. Experts and sources in the state-owned National Electric Corporation (Corporación Eléctrica Nacional – Corpoelec) attribute them to a lack of maintenance and inexperience in the area.

 

During the first national blackout there were 124 arrests due to protests and more than 200 arrests for looting and more than 80% of the shops in Maracaibo, Zulia state were looted, according to Alfredo Romero.

 

The lack of electricity has resulted in the failure of the drinking water service. The population has had to resort to getting water at parks, hills, creeks and streams no matter if it is suitable drinking water or contaminated, collecting water in pots, bottles and tanks. [20]

 

During the customary march that takes place in commemoration of Workers Day on the 1st of May, hundreds of Venezuelans attended to listen closely to the announcements of the President (e) Juan Guaidóto, to ratify his support. The people were repressed by members of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) with tear gas and detonations, officials chased the marchers to a church and even shot tear gas towards the temple.

According to statements by Congresswoman Manuela Bolívar, 78 peopler were injured and 89 people arrested on that day alone in Caracas. [21].

 

With regard to the Commission of Inquiry approved for Venezuela by the ILO in March 2018, the representatives wanted to see closely the terrible working conditions faced by workers in Venezuela, conditions that have kept them In constant strikes. However, the ILO cancelled the visit to Venezuela scheduled for February 9 to 17 of this year. All due to the tense political situation that is experienced in the country, as reported by the President of the Commission of relative inquiry of Venezuela, Manuel Herrera Carbuccia. The decision was taken after the United Nations Security Department (UN) report explaining the security risks.

 

However, it was possible to run the Commission by videoconference. Union leaders denounced on Monday, May 6 at 9:00 am in front of the commission of Inquiry, the harassment against workers for claiming their labor rights. There are cases reported are of trade unionists who were arbitrarily detained and tried before military courts. The minimum wage increases were denounced in turn. On 9 May, another meeting of the trade union leadership was held with the ILO Commission, this time with a representation of the Venezuelan State and with another of Fedecámaras, where witnesses were presented to testify in particular on trade union killings, criminal proceedings for trade union leaders, difficulties in autonomously conducting trade union elections, union parallelism and other restrictions that we suffer in order to freely and autonomously exercise trade union activity.

 

[1] https://www.elmundo.es/economia/macroeconomia/2018/08/29/5b859a48e5fdeaf73b8b45d9.html

[2] http://www.diariocontraste.com/2018/09/nutrologa-promedio-de-perdida-de-peso-en-venezuela-es-de-18-kilos/#

[3] https://elcooperante.com/insalubridad-roja-productos-de-los-clap-carecen-de-control-de-calidad-y-registro-sanitario/

[4] link no longer active – https://armando.info/Reportajes/Details/2538

[5] Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (June 2018). «Violaciones de los derechos humanos en la República Bolivariana de Venezuela: una espiral descendente que no parece tener fin». p. 66, 67.

[6] http://cronica.uno/carnet-de-la-patria-una-soga-que-amarra-a-la-poblacion/

[7] See ENCOVI on https://www.ucab.edu.ve/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2018/02/ENCOVI-2017-presentaci%C3%B3n-para-difundir-.pdf

[8] https://elpais.com/internacional/2019/03/08/america/1552066560_866027.html

[9] This data can be found in bulletins 16 through 23 published by the Institute at https://www.inaesin.org.ve/index.php/documentacion/boletines

[10] https://www.dinero.com/internacional/articulo/el-bid-primer-organismo-multilateral-que-reconoce-a-juan-guaido-como-el-legitimo-presidente-de-venezuela/268368

[11] Statements by Rafael Uzcátegui, General Coordinator of PROVEA. https://www.infobae.com/america/venezuela/2017/04/23/domingo-quienes-son-y-como-operan-los-colectivos-chavistas-el-grupo-de-choque-de-nicolas-maduro/

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ML-3_T4eNlA

[13] https://www.elimpulso.com/2019/01/01/115-medios-de-comunicacion-han-cerrado-desde-que-llego-nicolas-maduro-al-poder-31dic/

[14] http://www.elimpulso.com/noticias/regionales/entes-publicos-amanecieron-cartel-aui-no-se-habla-mal-chavez

[15] https://foropenal.com/2019/03/14/foro-penal-si-el-regimen-no-permite-a-la-mision-de-la-onu-y-luego-a-bachelet-hablar-con-presos-politicos-lo-que-busca-es-una-visita-turistica/

[16]https://www.google.com/amp/s/elpais.com/internacional/2019/03/21/america/1553129485_105071.amp.html

[17] https://www.panorama.com.ve/ciudad/La-crisis-electrica-se-estaciono-en-el-Zulia-20190506-0027.html ; https://www.elnuevoherald.com/noticias/mundo/america-latina/venezuela-es/article230164754.html

[18] https://www.inaesin.org.ve/index.php/noticias/item/49-marzo-2019

[19] https://cnnespanol.cnn.com/video/venezuela-muertes-causa-apagon-carnicerias-ventas-dano-alimentos-falta-agua-live-jorge-luis-perez-valery/

[20] https://es.panampost.com/sabrina-martin/2019/03/11/venezolanos-alcantarilla/?cn-reloaded=1

[21] http://efectococuyo.com/principales/la-euforia-toma-las-calles-y-la-represion-recrudece-a-un-dia-del-alzamiento-militar-1may/