Venezuela’s Presidencies: A Legacy of Repressing Human Rights Defenders



In the wake of the Caracazo 2014 violent protests in Venezuela, which occurred from February through March, over 3,000 people were arrested and another 43 died.[1] With this tragedy, the international community began to recognize the dire political situation in Venezuela and started to take action.[2] Although it was not conclusive at first what led to the protests, it is apparent that those involved in the protests (mainly students, middle class people, and some rural poor) were being repressed by the state for trying to raise awareness of social, political, economic inequality occurring in Venezuela. Along with facing physical abuse during the protests, the Venezuelan protesters were also the victims of arbitrary arrests, police brutality, and practices of torture while in detention. In order to get an overview of this human rights issue, it is important to understand the key actors involved, the international system’s response, and the distinct perspectives between the interpretation of these protests from the international community and from the viewpoint of President Maduro

Key Actors

The key actors within Venezuela can be divided into two distinct factions: the government, armed forces, and pro-government parties, and the opposition, consisting of all those that are protesting the regime.  First off, the government and pro-government parties are comprised of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, which follow the ideology of former President Hugo Chavez referred as “chavismo”.[3] The opposition mainly consists of students, professional and the middle class population that are in parties such as the Table of Democratic Union (MUD)[4]. The leader of the opposition, and also the party coordinator of the center-left political party known as Voluntad popular, is Leopoldo Lopez.  The issues that the opposition is protesting mainly involve the high crime rates, high inflation rates, and severe shortages in basic necessities.  Along with advocating for better living conditions and economic reform, protestors are also calling for increased security for the public and the release of those detained in previous protests.[5]

2 500px-Opposition_sign_Venezuela_2014250px-June_2014_Venezuelan_protests 3

International Response

Through the help of social media and news outlets, the international community began to get involved in this issue since it was apparent that human rights were being violated within the country. Human rights organizations such as the Inter-American Council on human rights have pressured Venezuela to ensure they comply with human rights policies by publishing a report to highlight the violations. Also, the US began to play a role in trying to deter the escalating violence and passed Public Law 113-128, which imposed sanctions on the Venezuela government and also states that the US will monitor Venezuela and support anti-government groups in their pursuit of democracy and human rights.[6]  Overall, the international community has tried to introduce policies into Venezuela to curb the violence and human rights violations, but could not achieve significant success due to the resistance of the government, particularly that of Maduro.

Conflict between the Maduro Regime and International Agencies

Despite the international community’s support for the protesters, it is important to note Maduro’s perspective regarding protesters to see how it conflicts with that of the international community’s perspective. For example, many international media outlets portray the protestors as victims of an authoritarian regime; however, Maduro emphasized during several of his speeches that he views the protestors as violent terrorists who seek to overthrow a Democratically elected government. In addition, in his speeches Maduro also has denounced and criticized all international actors that have scrutinized his adherence to human rights. One of his accusations includes that the US and other international human right organizations have been unlawfully meddling with Venezuela’s sovereignty by supporting rebel groups such as the 2002 coup d’état of ex-President Hugo Chavez. According to the article “US Human Rights Abusers Not Welcome in Venezuela,” Maduro claims that the U.S. unrightfully views itself as the “police of the world”.[7] In response to this criticism, Venezuela has imposed stricter policies on US citizens travelling to Venezuela, claiming that the US does not deserve visas to Venezuela for the fact that the US is responsible for committing its own human rights violations that it needs to address and also claiming that US citizens may serve as spies within the country.[8]


Overall, the brutal treatment of protesters during this period has highlighted the instability within the government and also highlighted Maduro’s inability to adhere to his human rights commitments. It is apparent excess force, police brutality, arbitrary arrests, intimidation, censorship, ect. were being utilized by Maduro’s regime in order to repress those advocating for human rights within Venezuela. In response, the international community became involved and publically scrutinized Maduro’s role in this repression, which caused Maduro to retaliate by denouncing all those who criticized him.

Our case study focuses on the key Presidencies of Romulo Betancourt, Andres Perez, and Hugo Chavez which have been essential in shaping the despotic relationship between the Venezuelan government and its citizens. Understanding Venezuela’s history helps clarify the reasons for inflation, shortages, violent crime, violation of free speech, and manipulation of elections. This analyses is important to comprehend the emergence of these human rights violations.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 10.47.11 AMimages 5

[1] What lies behind the protests in Venezuela? – BBC News. (2014, March 27). Retrieved May 31, 2015, from

[3] Scharf, R. (n.d.). Giving Context to the Anti-Government Protests in Venezuela. Retrieved May 31, 2015, from

[4]  Ibid

[5] Venezuelan protesters abused, says HRW report – BBC News. (2014, May 5). Retrieved May 31, 2015, from

[6] Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 (2014 – S. 2142). (n.d.). Retrieved June 1, 2015, from

[7] Boothroyd, R. (n.d.). Maduro: “US Human Rights Abusers Not Welcome in Venezuela” Retrieved May 31, 2015, from

[8]  Boothroyd, R. (n.d.). Maduro: “US Human Rights Abusers Not Welcome in Venezuela” Retrieved May 31, 2015, from


1.In this image, protestors in Venezuela are gathered around a line of police with crowd control gear.  These protestors are advocating for economic reform and an end to government corruption, but the police form a solid line to prevent the protestors from moving further into the streets.

2. This is a picture of a sign used during a protest.  It translates to read “Why do Venezuelans protest? Insecurity, injustice, shortages, censorship, violence, corruption. Protesting is not a crime; it’s a right.”

3. This is a picture of people in Venezuela who are protesting the arrests of fellow protestors and the opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez.

4. This picture is an image of the February to March 1989 Caracazo protest in Caracas, Venezuela. In this image the violence of the protest is depicted through the presence of a tank.

5. This image is parallel to image number 4. The name of the protest in this image is the same as the protest of 1989. Both of these protests are called Caracazo. The Caracazo protest of 2014 occurred during the same time as the 1989 protest. The similarities of these two protests demonstrate the continuation of violence in Venezuela despite of the time difference. Furthermore, these two protests are in response to the same problems of inflation, food shortages, and violence.

For our complete report please refer to: Dossier Final

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