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Corruption and human rights violations in Venezuela

In Venezuela powdered milk meant to be served to poor school children is instead smuggled to Colombia and sold illegally. In a country where almost half are poor and known to lack even basic medical supplies, tons of medicines have been found rotting in warehouses. Government funds meant to serve the people are mismanaged, stolen or spent on companies linked to power.

Rotting medicines

Transparencia Venezuela in collaboration with an investigative journalist uncovered at least 400 tons of medicines that were left to expire in storage between 2010 and 2014. They were left to rot instead of being distributed to hospitals in a country where there is a lack of even the most basic medicines. Until now, no one was held accountable for this waste that cost people’s health and, in some cases, lives.

To improve the human rights situation and basic freedoms of millions of Venezuelan citizens, there is a dire need to tackle the pervasive corruption. This is the story Transparencia Venezuela, our national chapter, has presented in its submission to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in advance of its review of Venezuela on 2-3 June 2015.

Corruption not only obstructs the protection of human rights in Venezuela, it is also causes many human rights violations. Venezuela is acquiring one of Latin America’s worst records of human rights violations, as corruption worsens.

Why give milk to our kids when we can make money selling it?

Another investigation revealed that powdered milk imported by a state-owned company was being illegally smuggled into Colombia with the complicity of both the Colombian and Venezuelan customs authorities and militaries. Shockingly figures released by the Central Bank of Venezuela in March 2014 showed a powdered milk shortage of over 90 per cent in the country.

So it comes as no surprise that Venezuela, which has a score of only 19 out of 100 in Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perception Index, suffers from grave human rights abuses.

Need for social programmes

Venezuela needs social programmes to improve the lives of vast sectors of the population, particularly those living in poverty and in need of healthcare, education, housing or other basic services. However the unprofessional, opaque and corrupt practices in these programmes by institutions doing the bidding of a political master means they often fail to lift people out of poverty. Instead the cronies of those in power get richer.

The fact that Venezuela is oil-rich underscores the absurdity of the situation where corruption robs the poor to pay the wealthy. Instead of fulfilling the social and economic rights of millions of citizens for which huge sums of public funds were allocated in a decade of high oil prices, the efforts went to lining pockets.

Buying food with oil and then letting it rot

From 2007 to 2008, various irregularities occurred in the purchase of food by the state, especially after Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) took over a programme to ensure Venezuelans have enough food to eat. Over 1 million tons of food were bought for US$2.24 billion but only a little more than 25 per cent of the food was received. And of this figure, only 14 per cent of the food was distributed to those in need. At one port alone, 3,257 containers with a total of 122,000 tons of rotten food were found. Calls for investigations into the case were ignored.

Poorly designed social programmes leave huge space for discretion and arbitrariness by public servants, allowing the programmes to be used for personal profit and for political manoeuvring.

Millions invested, yet nothing built

In 2005, the Supreme Court purchased land for 78 million bolivars (around US$12 million based on the official exchange rate) to build the ‘Judicial City’ of Caracas, an enormous complex that was meant to house the nearly 300 courts of the capital city. Ten years later not a single courthouse has been built. No one has been prosecuted in this case.

But according to Transparencia Venezuela, it is not only the United Nations and the international community that should put pressure on the Venezuelan government to take action against corruption, people also have a role to play.

People need to take responsibility, denounce corruption and demand accountability. Otherwise the corrupt will continue to get away with it. Only by victims and witnesses denouncing corrupt acts and individuals, is there a chance for sanctions and for things to change for the better in Venezuela.”

– Mercedes De Freitas, Executive Director, Transparencia Venezuela
App Dilo aquí (Say It Here app)

In March 2015, Transparencia Venezuela launched the app Dilo Aquí (Say It Here). The app allows victims and witnesses to report cases of corruption safely and anonymously, and then to track their complaints via their mobile phone or computer. Anonymity is of immense importance in a country where there is little trust in authorities and 83 per cent of people believe the police are corrupt or extremely corrupt. In the first month, Transparencia Venezuela received over 200 corruption reports. It registers them and follows up with the relevant authorities to try to solve them. Topping the list of the most complained about institutions were the national police and the institute of ground transport.

Unfortunately for Transparencia Venezuela the problem does not end here, the abuse of human rights by the state is strongly felt by those who dare to raise their voice against the misuse of social programmes.

Freedom of expression is one of the main victims in Venezuela.

Just last month, 22 news executives from three independent media outlets were prevented from leaving the country due to a defamation lawsuit filed by one of Venezuela's most powerful politicians after he was linked to drug trafficking in news reports.

Civil society has a tough time in Venezuela as well. Transparencia Venezuela added an annex to their submission to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights documenting the series of attempts at intimidation and attacks they have suffered since 2010.

Poor governance, a concerted effort to quash the voice of the people coupled with rampant corruption are leading Venezuela to a terrible destiny.”

– Mercedes De Freitas


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