Venezuela

Last Updated 23 September 2020

The majority of Venezuelans are Catholic, who coexist with Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, and indigenous populations1https://culturalatlas.sbs.com.au/venezuelan-culture/venezuelan-culture-religion. There has been much tension between the government and Catholic officials and the Jewish community. Freedom of expression, assembly and association have been restricted.

Since 2017, Venezuela has been undergoing a severe social, economic and political crisis. In recent years, soaring hyperinflation and severe shortages of basic goods have prompted massive anti-government protests. The government under the leadership of President Nicolás Maduro has taken an increasingly authoritarian turn, disbanding democratic institutions and seeking to reverse checks and balances on the powers of the executive. While the government accuses the opposition of trying to sabotage the government and stage a coup, the authorities have been widely condemned for overreacting to protests, with dozens of civilian protesters killed. Some security service personnel have also been killed in the violence2https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25699&LangID=E; https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24958&LangID=E; http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/Venezuela2018-en.pdf. Since January 2019, the country has wrestled with two competing presidencies3https://www.crisisgroup.org/latin-america-caribbean/andes/venezuela/79-imagining-resolution-venezuelas-crisis. While Maduro’s government retains control of the nation’s institutions, Juan Guaidó – leader of the opposition – is recognised as president by 59 nations.

 
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

Article 59 of the Constitution grants protection of religious freedom under the condition that it is not contrary to morality, good customs and public order4http://www.minci.gob.ve/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/CONSTITUCION.pdf. However, it also explicitly states that the independence of religious groups are defined by the constitution and law, giving the legislature the power to limit their independence. The Constitution also limits the political influence of religious organizations by forbidding clergy from running for public office.

Venezuela’s funding system has traditionally exhibited strong favoritism toward Catholicism, discriminating against other religious groups5uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/resources/2012ARChapters/venezuela%202012.pdf. However, the state appears to be increasingly vocal in its support of the Evangelical Church.

In November 2019, the government created the position of Vice Presidency for Religious Affairs6https://www.elnacional.com/venezuela/psuv-designo-a-vielma-mora-como-vicepresidente-para-atender-asuntos-religiosos/; https://www.vtv.gob.ve/psuv-vicepresidente-jose-vielma/. Upon the appointment of José Vielma Mora to the post, Venezuela’s Vice President is quoted as stating:

“Así como tenemos organizaciones que se encargan de la educación, la juventud, la educación, ahora tendremos un espacio para atender los asuntos de la iglesia.” (“Just as we have organisations in charge of education, youth and education, now we have a section to attend to the affairs of the church”)7https://ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/politica/psuv-creo-vicepresidencia-para-asuntos-eclesiasticos/

International obligations

On 24 April 2020, Venezuela formally withdrew from the Organization of American States – a move unprecedented in the inter-American system8http://mppre.gob.ve/en/2020/04/27/venezuelas-withdrawal-oas-sovereign-decision/. As a result, it is no longer bound by its former obligations to human rights enshrined in the American Declaration. However, it remains bound to protect human rights under its obligations as a State Party to international conventions9https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/TreatyBodyExternal/Treaty.aspx?CountryID=191&Lang=EN.

Education and children’s rights

A 1964 Concordat between the Venezuelan government and the Catholic Church established special government subsidies for Catholic schools10http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/secretariat_state/archivio/documents/rc_seg-st_19941031_s-sede-venezuela_sp.html.

There has been a long-running battle over the inclusion and character of religious education in Venezuela’s schools.

Article 59 of the Constitution of Venezuela reads:

“[…] The father and mother have the right to have their sons and daughters receive religious education in accordance with their convictions.”

The Article was incorporated into the Ley Orgánica de Educación, or the Organic Law on Education, which was introduced in 1980:

“Religious education will be taught to students up to the sixth year of basic education, as long as their parents or guardians request it. In this case, two hours per week will be established within the official school hours” (Article 50)11defiendete.org/html/deinteres/LEYES%20DE%20VENEZUELA/LEYES%20DE%20VENEZUELA%20II/LEY%20ORGANICA%20DE%20EDUCACION.htm.

However, in 2009, the Venezuelan National Assembly introduced a controversial Education Law which strengthened the role of the state in education, reducing the scope for religious instruction. After the first draft was approved in 2001, the Catholic Church as well as teachers unions, an association of rectors of public and private universities and privately owned media, organized a campaign against the law claiming that the law represented a threat to the sanctity of the family and freedom of religion12venezuelanalysis.com/news/4722.

Article 7 of the 2009 law reads:

“The State will maintain in all circumstances its secular character in educational matters, preserving its independence with respect to all religious currents. Families have the right and the responsibility for the religious educations of their sons and daughters, in line with their convictions and in accordance with religious freedom and worship, constitutionally envisaged”13scribd.com/document/226204818/Ley-Organica-de-Educacion-de-Venezuela-2009.

The law does not explicitly prohibit or promote religious education in schools. The president of the Education Commission in the National Assembly clarified that “religious education in schools is not going to be prohibited, rather it will not be obligatory in the curriculum”14venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/4734.

Religion and university education

In February 2020, the Vice President for Religious Affairs reportedly announced plans for the creation of religious education workshops and seminars in universities with the aim of:

cree un enlace entre los venezolanos y la iglesia haciendo un llamado a la conciencia y fortaleciendo la paz de cada uno de los venezolanos” (“creating a link between the Venezuelan people and the church appealing to the conscience and strengthening peace in each and every Venezuelan”)15https://laicismo.org/venezuela-proponen-realizar-talleres-seminarios-y-programas-educativos-religiosos-en-universidades-del-pais/.

In December 2019, President Nicolás Maduro approved the creation of the state-funded Universidad Teológica Evangélica de Venezuela (Evangelical University of Venezuela) “as an example to the world and in order to open the doors of Venezuela and University so that evangelicals from across America may know our experience”16http://vicepresidencia.gob.ve/crearan-universidad-teologica-evangelica-de-venezuela/; https://www.vtv.gob.ve/decretado-dia-pastor-evangelico-15-enero/.

Family, community and society

Christian privilege

The government provides much funding to religious organizations, but most of it goes to Catholic institutions including social programs. Other religious groups are free to establish and fund their own. Military chaplains are almost exclusively Catholic.17berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/essays/religious-freedom-in-venezuela; justice.gov/eoir/vll/country/Religion_Public_policy/Venezuela%20Immigration%20Report.pdf

The launch of Misión Venezuela Bella18http://vicepresidencia.gob.ve/especial-mision-venezuela-bella-garantiza-el-derecho-a-la-ciudad-para-los-venezolanos-y-a-su-paso-va-dejando-brillo-y-color/; http://www.minci.gob.ve/conozca-los-objetivos-de-la-mision-venezuela-bella/ – an urban planning project designed to improve public spaces across the country – has led to publicly-funded investment in the refurbishment of  at least 749 Christian (predominantly Catholic) places of worship across the country19http://vicepresidencia.gob.ve/mision-venezuela-bella-evaluo-749-proyectos-de-rehabilitacion-de-centros-religiosos/.

Tension between the State and the Church

Despite preferential treatment toward Catholics, there has been much tension between church and state.

Members of the church who have condemned encroaching authoritarianism and violence against peaceful protestors have increasingly come under attack since 2017,20https://forbinfull.org/2019/e-la-linea-de-fuego-frente-a-la-ldrc-una-competencia-para-el-gobierno; https://olire.org/monitor/country-reports/venezuela/ including threats of prosecutions, confiscation of church properties, harassment and surveillance, most notably phone wiretapping21usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/fortnight-for-freedom/upload/Fighting-to-Feed-and-Educate-the-People-in-Venezuela.pdf.

In May 2019, police fired teargas in Our Lady of Fatima parish church in San Cristobal, Táchira state22http://violentincidents.plataformac.org/web/incident/4077; https://www.vaticannews.va/es/iglesia/news/2019-05/venezuela-ataque-iglesia-san-cristobal.html; https://www.cope.es/religion/actualidad-religiosa/iglesia-universal/noticias/iglesia-venezuela-denuncia-ataque-contra-una-parroquia-por-parte-guardia-nacional-20190502_405955.

In October 2019, José Albeiro Vivas, a pastor in the evangelical church was arrested after speaking at a March for Jesus23https://evangelicalfocus.com/world/4835/venezuelan-pastor-and-officer-arrested-for-organising-a-march-for-jesus. Albeiro Vivas, who is also a serving military major, is reported to have been placed under investigation for the crimes of misuse of decoration, badges, military titles and disobedience after he stated “Venezuela your time of freedom has arrived.”

Tensions between the State and the Jewish community

Media programs sponsored by the government have often made anti-Semitic comments24https://freedomhouse.org/country/venezuela/freedom-world/2020.

Discrimination

According to Freedom House, several groups within society are under-represented in government including women, the LGBTQ+ community and indigenous people.

Although rights of indigenous peoples are enshrined in the Constitution under Chapter 8, as well as Law on Demarcation and Guarantee of the Habitat and Lands of Indigenous Peoples (2001), the Organic Law on Indigenous Peoples and Communities (2005), and the Indigenous Languages Act (2007), they are poorly protected in practice25https://freedomhouse.org/country/venezuela/freedom-world/2020. Indigenous peoples continue to struggle with a lack of demarcation of indigenous habitat and lands, illegal mining activities, and environmental degradation26https://www.iwgia.org/en/venezuela.html.

Although discrimination based on sexual orientation is barred, members of the Venezuelan LGBTQ+ community face widespread intolerance in practice. Same-sex marriage remains illegal27https://freedomhouse.org/country/venezuela/freedom-world/2020.

The economic crisis has also led to a reduction in the availability of reproductive health care, and maternal and infant mortality has increased due to poor conditions, and the lack of medical supplies and skilled physicians. Additionally, restrictions on abortion28https://oig.cepal.org/es/laws/2/country/venezuela-23 mean that many women and girls resort to clandestine abortions that are unsanitary unless they have the means to travel abroad.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The Constitution provides protection for free speech but explicitly exempts this protection for messages that promote religious intolerance. Venezuela has co-sponsored OIC resolutions in the United Nations proposing prohibition of ‘defamation of religion’29justice.gov/eoir/vll/country/Religion_Public_policy/Venezuela%20Immigration%20Report.pdf.

In 2019, IPYS Venezuela recorded 1,032 violations of individuals’ – both journalists and ordinary citizens – exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and access to information perpetrated in the most part by state actors30https://ipysvenezuela.org/2020/02/26/voces-en-el-paredon-reporte-anual-ipysve-2019/.

This number exceeds even that recorded at the height of the protests in 2017.

Attacks on journalists have continued as the authorities have sought to control coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. IPYS Venezuela reports that at least 146 journalists attempting to cover the pandemic faced obstructions in the first four months of the year31https://ipysvenezuela.org/2020/05/03/la-verdad-en-cuarentena-dia-mundial-de-la-libertad-de-prensa/.

Censorship

Censorship – both state-enforced and self-imposed – has become increasingly prevalent in Venezuela. Direct attacks on journalists, restrictive legislation, lawsuits against media outlets, and the government’s control of imports, including printing paper have combined to stifle the climate and led to growing self-censorship32https://pen-international.org/app/uploads/PEN-Venezuela-Report-ENG-9-18-Proof2.pdf.

Criminal defamation provisions in Venezuela’s Penal Code33http://www.oas.org/juridico/spanish/mesicic3_ven_anexo6.pdf (see articles 147, 148, 149, 442, 444, 222, 240) have been frequently utilized against writers and journalists34https://pen-international.org/app/uploads/Resolution-on-the-Bolivarian-Republic-of-Venezuela-ENG.pdf; https://cpj.org/reports/2016/03/south-america/; http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/Venezuela2018-en.pdf.

The Venezuelan authorities have increasingly sought to control online expression, restricting access to websites or social media providers35https://netblocks.org/reports/social-media-restricted-in-venezuela-on-day-of-national-assembly-leadership-vote-3AnEVk82. Such measures have reportedly increased following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic36https://ipysvenezuela.org/2020/05/17/desconexion-y-censura-reporte-anual-derechos-digitales-ipysve-2019/. Access to a web portal created by members of the opposition designed to spread information about the pandemic was blocked37https://vesinfiltro.com/noticias/bloqueado_portal_coronavirus_AN; https://vesinfiltro.com/noticias/2020-04-26-phishing_healthcare_heroes.

Crimes against national security

Since 2017, the authorities have sought to limit dissent under the guise of national security legislation described by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as typifying “behaviours in a broad, vague, and ambiguous way that lend themselves to abuse in order to suppress political and critical expressions that have nothing to do with national security, from a democratic perspective.”

In November 2017, Anti-Hate Law for Tolerance and Peaceful Coexistence38https://albaciudad.org/2017/11/este-es-el-contenido-de-la-ley-contra-el-odio-por-la-convivencia-pacifica-y-la-tolerancia/(better known as the “Anti-Hate Law”) was passed by the National Constituent Assembly. The law criminalizes the fomentation, promotion or incitement of hatred on grounds of their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or of “any other nature”, providing penalties of up to 20 years in prison. The law fails to provide a definition of ‘hatred’ or ‘hate speech’, leading to fears that the lack of clarity may be used as a tool to further restrict free expression and target critics of the government. Several writers, journalists, bloggers and others have faced prosecution to date39https://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/showarticle.asp?artID=1133&lID=1; https://pen-international.org/app/uploads/PEN-Venezuela-Report-ENG-9-18-Proof2.pdf.

References   [ + ]

1. https://culturalatlas.sbs.com.au/venezuelan-culture/venezuelan-culture-religion
2. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25699&LangID=E; https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24958&LangID=E; http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/Venezuela2018-en.pdf
3. https://www.crisisgroup.org/latin-america-caribbean/andes/venezuela/79-imagining-resolution-venezuelas-crisis
4. http://www.minci.gob.ve/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/CONSTITUCION.pdf
5. uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/resources/2012ARChapters/venezuela%202012.pdf
6. https://www.elnacional.com/venezuela/psuv-designo-a-vielma-mora-como-vicepresidente-para-atender-asuntos-religiosos/; https://www.vtv.gob.ve/psuv-vicepresidente-jose-vielma/
7. https://ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/politica/psuv-creo-vicepresidencia-para-asuntos-eclesiasticos/
8. http://mppre.gob.ve/en/2020/04/27/venezuelas-withdrawal-oas-sovereign-decision/
9. https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/TreatyBodyExternal/Treaty.aspx?CountryID=191&Lang=EN
10. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/secretariat_state/archivio/documents/rc_seg-st_19941031_s-sede-venezuela_sp.html
11. defiendete.org/html/deinteres/LEYES%20DE%20VENEZUELA/LEYES%20DE%20VENEZUELA%20II/LEY%20ORGANICA%20DE%20EDUCACION.htm
12. venezuelanalysis.com/news/4722
13. scribd.com/document/226204818/Ley-Organica-de-Educacion-de-Venezuela-2009
14. venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/4734
15. https://laicismo.org/venezuela-proponen-realizar-talleres-seminarios-y-programas-educativos-religiosos-en-universidades-del-pais/
16. http://vicepresidencia.gob.ve/crearan-universidad-teologica-evangelica-de-venezuela/; https://www.vtv.gob.ve/decretado-dia-pastor-evangelico-15-enero/
17. berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/essays/religious-freedom-in-venezuela; justice.gov/eoir/vll/country/Religion_Public_policy/Venezuela%20Immigration%20Report.pdf
18. http://vicepresidencia.gob.ve/especial-mision-venezuela-bella-garantiza-el-derecho-a-la-ciudad-para-los-venezolanos-y-a-su-paso-va-dejando-brillo-y-color/; http://www.minci.gob.ve/conozca-los-objetivos-de-la-mision-venezuela-bella/
19. http://vicepresidencia.gob.ve/mision-venezuela-bella-evaluo-749-proyectos-de-rehabilitacion-de-centros-religiosos/
20. https://forbinfull.org/2019/e-la-linea-de-fuego-frente-a-la-ldrc-una-competencia-para-el-gobierno; https://olire.org/monitor/country-reports/venezuela/
21. usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/fortnight-for-freedom/upload/Fighting-to-Feed-and-Educate-the-People-in-Venezuela.pdf
22. http://violentincidents.plataformac.org/web/incident/4077; https://www.vaticannews.va/es/iglesia/news/2019-05/venezuela-ataque-iglesia-san-cristobal.html; https://www.cope.es/religion/actualidad-religiosa/iglesia-universal/noticias/iglesia-venezuela-denuncia-ataque-contra-una-parroquia-por-parte-guardia-nacional-20190502_405955
23. https://evangelicalfocus.com/world/4835/venezuelan-pastor-and-officer-arrested-for-organising-a-march-for-jesus
24, 25, 27. https://freedomhouse.org/country/venezuela/freedom-world/2020
26. https://www.iwgia.org/en/venezuela.html
28. https://oig.cepal.org/es/laws/2/country/venezuela-23
29. justice.gov/eoir/vll/country/Religion_Public_policy/Venezuela%20Immigration%20Report.pdf
30. https://ipysvenezuela.org/2020/02/26/voces-en-el-paredon-reporte-anual-ipysve-2019/
31. https://ipysvenezuela.org/2020/05/03/la-verdad-en-cuarentena-dia-mundial-de-la-libertad-de-prensa/
32. https://pen-international.org/app/uploads/PEN-Venezuela-Report-ENG-9-18-Proof2.pdf
33. http://www.oas.org/juridico/spanish/mesicic3_ven_anexo6.pdf
34. https://pen-international.org/app/uploads/Resolution-on-the-Bolivarian-Republic-of-Venezuela-ENG.pdf; https://cpj.org/reports/2016/03/south-america/; http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/Venezuela2018-en.pdf
35. https://netblocks.org/reports/social-media-restricted-in-venezuela-on-day-of-national-assembly-leadership-vote-3AnEVk82
36. https://ipysvenezuela.org/2020/05/17/desconexion-y-censura-reporte-anual-derechos-digitales-ipysve-2019/
37. https://vesinfiltro.com/noticias/bloqueado_portal_coronavirus_AN; https://vesinfiltro.com/noticias/2020-04-26-phishing_healthcare_heroes
38. https://albaciudad.org/2017/11/este-es-el-contenido-de-la-ley-contra-el-odio-por-la-convivencia-pacifica-y-la-tolerancia/
39. https://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/showarticle.asp?artID=1133&lID=1; https://pen-international.org/app/uploads/PEN-Venezuela-Report-ENG-9-18-Proof2.pdf

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