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Citizens take out a protest march against the Venezuelan dictator

Venezuelan dictator and the worst human rights violations

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

Nicolas Maduro is a Venezuelan politician who won the special Presidential elections held in 2013. He became President after the death of his predecessor Hugo Chavez who died of cancer in 2013. He was re-elected as president in 2018 but the validity of the elections has been questioned. There are around 50 countries that refuse to recognize him as the President of Venezuela. Maduro is often described as the Venezuelan dictator whose regime is accused of the worst human rights violations in the country’s history.

It is true that the autocratic and socialist policies employed by President Hugo Chavez laid the foundation for the current crisis in the Venezuelan economy. However, the situation went out of control once President Nicolas Maduro took over. His administration is accused of gross mismanagement of the economy thereby plunging the country into a severe humanitarian crisis.

As the economy fell the protests increased. Maduro responded by using lethal force against anti-government protesters and put his critics behind bars. This abuse of power led to a decline in his popularity. As hyperinflation began the standard of living declined. Subsequently, a shortage of basic necessities, poverty, and a series of human rights violations caused almost 5 million citizens to flee Venezuela. It has triggered one of the worst refugee crises in modern history. 

List of Human rights issues under the Venezuelan dictator


Extrajudicial executions by the security forces have killed nearly 18000 people in Venezuela since 2016. These executions were primarily carried out by the Bolivarian National Police through its Special Actions Force. The victims were mostly young men belonging to the low-income communities who were critical of the government. The police claimed that the victims were those who were “resisting authority”. However, there is evidence to suggest that these killings are part of a systematic plan to attack the general public who voice out against the government.


Arbitrary detentions and forced disappearances have increased in Venezuela. The police randomly detain people who are part of any protest or those perceived as a threat. They are subjected to various forms of torture and ill-treatment. In addition to this, the OCHCR reported that trade union leaders, workers, and professionals have been fired and detained for demanding decent salaries and working conditions.

Journalists are especially at risk for reporting on the situation in Venezuela. Foreign journalist Cody Weedle working for The Telegraph was detained by Venezuelan military officials. They put a hood over his head pressurized him to give up his sources and insinuated that he was working with the CIA and would be charged with treason. He was later expelled from Venezuela.

Jorge Ramos from Univision was detained inside the Presidential Palace and later expelled from Venezuela along with his entire team.


The number of cases of torture has gone up since 2014. Prisoners are subjected to all forms of torture. This not only includes brutal beatings but also, asphyxiation, electric shocks, waterboarding, and sexual violence. Tear gas and insecticides were used on some prisoners while others were isolated in dark rooms for weeks.

Cuban intelligence officers provide training to their Venezuelan counterparts. They also participate in the torture of prisoners. This has caused an increase in both severities as well as the number of cases of torture. To add to this overcrowded prisons, lack of basic hygiene and medical services lead to the spread of diseases.

Nicolas Maduro at his inauguration in 2019
Nicolas Maduro at his inauguration in 2019

Judicial Independence in Venezuela has been under threat since 2004. The former President Hugo Chavez passed laws that hampered the independence of the judiciary. These new laws interfered with the appointment of judges. More judges were appointed to temporary posts from which they could be fired or even jailed if they did not side with the government.

The most prominent case was that of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni who was jailed in 2009. She spent 4 years behind bars and had to go through physical, emotional, and sexual torture. Her crime – she passed a judgment that angered Hugo Chavez.

Under Nicolas Maduro, the situation has only worsened. The Venezuelan dictator took advantage of the economic crisis facing the country and granted himself emergency powers for 60 days. He then went on extending it indefinitely. Furthermore, during the period of 2016-17, the Supreme Court of Venezuela passed laws to dissolve The National Assembly calling it invalid.

In May 2017 Maduro unilaterally invoked a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. He completely ignored the two prerequisites. Any changes must first be approved by a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly and then by a majority vote in a referendum. The lack of an independent judiciary has let Maduro retain his absolute power.

The refugee crisis at the Venezuela - Colombia border
The refugee crisis at the Venezuela – Colombia border

Migration had started in the years of Hugo Chavez. The rich and the intellectuals were the first to leave. This was due to his socialist policies that favored the poor. However, the economic crisis truly began when Maduro came to power. Begining in 2014 the prices of oil fell globally. The poor economic decisions made by the Venezuelan dictator at this time led to a state of hyperinflation. Imports were expensive and the price of goods went so high that it was impossible for Venezuelans to purchase. The situation got worse when many businesses began to shut which rendered people jobless. Subsequently, the violence and insecurity reached exorbitant levels forcing people to leave Venezuela either as migrants or refugees. It is estimated that around 5 million people have left going mainly to other Latin American countries while some have sought asylum in the USA and Europe.


The economic crisis hit the food sector most severely. When hyperinflation set in the purchasing power of people decreased drastically which affected access to food. As a result, Venezuelans are eating poor quality food and less often. Moreover, it affected the quality of food and its distribution. As the economic crisis worsened people not only began to eat rotten food but there were even reports of people going to the zoo to eat the meat served to animals. It has also been often reported that people are offered food in exchange for their political support. This is indeed a clear violation of their right to food. Additionally, access to drinking water and sanitation is another problem. Drinking water is available only two days a week. This leads to problems especially in hospitals and prisons where lack of water can lead to the spread of diseases.

Hospital services impacted by the economic crisis
Hospital services impacted by the economic crisis

Hyperinflation led to a shortage of medicines and medical supplies. Some estimates are that around 85% of medicines are in short supply. In addition to this, frequent power outages affect medical procedures. Many of the doctors and health workers have left the country making it all the more difficult for hospitals to function. The lack of food and medicines has led to the spread of diseases. Cases of Malaria and typhoid that were once well-controlled are now on the rise. Additionally, there have been significant increases in deaths occurring due to health reasons. Maternal and infant mortality rates are high and increasing. Patients who need regular medicines and treatment like those suffering from kidney problems, cancer, or HIV are the most affected.

Police fire tear gas shells at protesters in Caracas
Police fire tear gas shells at protesters in Caracas

The police used excessive force to crackdown on peaceful protesters. Many of them have been injured and some have also died. In addition to this, police have often fired pellets at close range and have caused severe injuries.


Journalists who report on the economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela face arrest and detention. The authorities go after journalists who speak against the government. Since Maduro came to power in 2013 more than 115 news organizations have shut down. Moreover, the condition of radio stations and online websites is no different. Closing down radio stations and blocking websites that are critical of the regime is common under the Venezuelan dictator. Being a reporter in Venezuela is extremely dangerous. One could even lose their life.

Jorge Ramos, a television anchor with Univision, was detained in the Presidential Palace along with his team for asking the President an uncomfortable question. Additionally, their equipment including cell phones were confiscated.

Luis Carlos Diaz who worked at a radio station was arrested and tortured by Venezuelan intelligence officials and accused of public instigation. Agents raided his house, threatened his wife, and seized his cell phone and other equipment.


Venezuelan authorities have regularly failed to investigate and prosecute those found guilty of human rights violations. Most of the time the people involved were the security forces or those close to the Venezuelan dictator. They enjoy immunity and can get away with any crime. Moreover, the lack of judicial independence means that they can hardly ever be challenged.

SEE: Top 5 Human Rights Violations in Belarus

Hugo Chavez was a key factor in ruining the Venezuelan economy

Venezuelan Economy: 4 factors that led to a failed state

Venezuela was once the richest country in all of South America. From the 1950s to the early 1980s the Venezuelan economy was flourishing making it the most prosperous country in the region. So how exactly did the richest country in South America become one of the poorest? How did a country that once attracted many immigrants come to find itself in one of the worst refugee crises in modern times?

While some people blame socialism in Venezuela others point to the over-dependency on oil calling it the ‘oil curse’. The truth however as we shall see is that both these factors have a role to play in the crisis of Venezuela. As some have rightly pointed out Venezuela is most certainly one of the worst man-made disasters in recent times.

1. The Venezuelan economy and Oil

Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. The 2019 edition of the BP Statistical Review of World Energy estimated that the country had a whopping 303 million barrels of oil. So how did a country rich in oil become so poor? The problem was that the country focused too much on oil production while ignoring all other industries. In economics, this is known as Dutch disease.

The problem with having an oil-dependent economy is that the country does very well when the prices of oil are high but when the price of oil goes down the country begins to suffer. This was the case in the 1980s and this is what has happened since 2014. When oil prices plummeted from $115 a barrel in 2014 to nearly half that, Venezuela’s GDP shrank by 10%. By 2019 that figure was down by 25%.

2. The rise of Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chavez
Hugo Chavez

In the early 1990s, there was growing public discontent against then-President Carlos Andres Perez. Low oil prices, a contraction in the Venezuelan economy, high rates of inflation accompanied by charges of rampant corruption were among the main reasons. During that time Hugo Chavez (an officer in the military) made a coup attempt to overthrow the President. However, the coup was a failure and Chavez was imprisoned.

After his release in 1994, Hugo Chavez traveled extensively not only across the country but also around Latin America. He looked for support to his Bolivarian cause of social revolution or what he called “the Bolivarian Revolution”. The promises he made of widespread social and economic reforms gained him the support of the poor and the middle class. This ultimately led to his win in the 1999 Presidential elections.

While socialism represented by the social-democratic parties was already strong in Venezuela, the form of socialism associated with Hugo Chavez (Chavismo) was more radical in nature and with militaristic leanings.

Chavez launched the “Bolivarian Missions”, a series of social programs aimed at tackling a wide range of issues. There were different missions for food and nutrition, poverty, education, and social justice to name a few. Taxes were reduced and government spending increased. All these social programs were funded by the money earned from the country’s oil trade. These programs benefited lots of poor and middle-class Venezuelans making Chavez an extremely popular leader.

3. Problems of Venezuelan Socialism

As oil exports boomed the value of the Venezuelan Bolivar shot up which in turn made it cheaper for the country to import foreign goods. The rise in foreign products began to affect the domestic market. To add to this the government went on a spree nationalizing the production of various goods and services. This further impacted a lot of businesses forcing them to close down. By 2008 all export industries apart from oil had collapsed. To add to it there was rampant corruption and these government organizations were so poorly run that they never made a profit. In fact, they were going into losses!

Hypermarkets are empty in Caracas as food and utilities become scarce
Hypermarkets are empty in Caracas as food and utilities become scarce

There came a time when the government had to borrow money in order to fund its expenditure. The Venezuelan government did not care about the fact that the oil prices would not always be high. By this time it was so deeply in debt that any drop in oil revenues would cause serious financial hardships and bring the Venezuelan economy crashing down.

Hugo Chavez may have aimlessly thrown money at the people but there was also a dark underbelly. Chavez was an autocratic leader. During his tenure, he gradually neutralized all opposition against him and crushed all forms of dissent. This combination of authoritarianism and left-wing populism that kept him in power for more than a decade would soon prove to be the undoing of an entire nation.

In 2010, a global fall in oil prices led Chavez to announce that he was decreasing the value of the Bolivar. Devaluing the currency caused a rise in inflation that plunged the country into a downward spiral from which it has been unable to climb out ever since.

4. Maduro: The final nail in the coffin

Nicolas Maduro
Nicolas Maduro

In 2013 Chavez died of cancer. Nicolas Maduro was elected as the next President. As the oil prices continued to fall the country faced a shortage of funds. There was no money to import the daily utilities needed or to continue funding the social programs. Maduro then did what a poorly run government would do. He tried to print more money to get out of the trouble. Inflation spiraled out of control reaching a state of hyperinflation. Even the most basic utilities had become so expensive that Venezuelans could not afford them.

As time passed the situation only worsened. Food and water became scarce and expensive, malnutrition, and poverty levels increased, medicines were in short supply. Maduro was unable to stop the slide in the economy and focused rather on clamping down on those protesting against him. Venezuelans struggling to survive began to flee in their thousands to nearby countries some even seeking asylum in the US and Europe.

Venezuela is a sad story given the extent of human misery. Once a rich and prosperous country, it has been destroyed by ignorant and callous dictators whose greed for power has plunged an entire nation to near collapse.

SEE: Venezuelan dictator and the worst human rights violations

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