The Carter Center started working with Venezuelans in 1996 to help eliminate river blindness and in 1998 to observe elections, conduct media training, and undertake conflict resolution efforts to strengthen peace and democracy.
The Carter Center observed elections in Venezuela in 1998 and 2000. It also joined with the Organization of American States and U.N. Development Program to help mediate a 2002 political crisis between the government and opposition groups that temporarily removed President Hugo Chavez from office. The mediation led to a recall referendum, which the Center also was invited to observe. The Center has continued for more than a decade to study the nation's electoral processes, to train media in nonpartisan reporting practices, and to foster dialogue between Venezuela and its Andean neighbors.
In 1998, growing concern about the economy and government corruption fueled citizens' discontent with four decades of dominance by two political parties, spawning a populist movement led by Hugo Chávez. With prospective major political change and a climate of uncertainty surrounding the elections, the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE) invited significant international observation for the first time since democracy took hold in 1959.
The Carter Center's team noted the effectiveness of the country's new automated vote-count system, the first national electronic system in the world.
In its first year, the Chávez administration put forth a referendum on a new constitution, which, in December 1999, drew the support of 71 percent of voters. Every elected opposition position in the country was then presented to the voters again in 2000.
Venezuelan authorities postponed the 2000 mega-election, originally scheduled for May 28, because of technical problems. In June and July 2000, the Center worked with civil society organizations, recommending an auditing process for the electronic vote count and assessing efforts to address these problems. A newly appointed CNE decided to hold two elections instead of one mega-election — one on July 31 for the national, regional, and state posts and another at a later date for municipal offices.
The Carter Center concluded that while the election irregularities would not have changed the 2000 presidential outcome, in which Hugo Chávez won with 60 percent of the vote, the significant politicization of the elections and organizational deficiencies contributed to a lack of confidence in the process and the results for positions other than president, leading the Center to characterize the July 2000 elections as flawed.
International Tripartite Group
After Chávez's re-election in 2000, many in the country felt his confrontational style and policies were undermining democracy. The government and opposition groups had become so polarized that the political crisis threatened Venezuela's stability. President Chávez was removed from office for 48 hours in April 2002 until popular protests and a change in the military's position reinstated him. At the invitation of the government and several opposition groups, The Carter Center joined the OAS and the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) in August 2002 to begin a formal process to help resolve Venezuela's political crisis.
The international tripartite working group began talks in early November 2002 between the government and opposition groups to move the country beyond the current crisis.
After six months of intense negotiations, the OAS and the Center helped Venezuela's government and opposition agree in May 2003 on terms for a possible referendum on whether embattled President Chávez should step down.
Before moving on to the steps leading to a referendum, both sides were called upon to respect human rights, freedom of expression, and the right to petition for recall referenda of elected officials. Supporters of the government and the opposition signed an accord agreeing to these rights on May 29, 2003, witnessed by The Carter Center and the OAS.
After the accord, the Center and the OAS were invited to observe the entire recall effort. After a long and contentious period of verifying signatures requesting a recall, frustration grew. The delay in announcing the number of validated signatures and the preliminary disqualification of many of the signatures led to massive protests that turned violent in February 2004. Sufficient signatures were eventually verified in June 2004, triggering a recall vote on Aug. 15, 2004, in which President Chávez won almost 60 percent of the vote. He completed the remainder of that presidential term and was re-elected to a new six-year term in December 2006.
In 2006, The Carter Center organized a specialized, technical mission to observe the use of automated voting technology employed in the December presidential election. This mission had two main goals — to demonstrate the support of the international community for democratic elections in Venezuela and to contribute to a larger project of The Carter Center to develop and update methodologies for observing voting systems globally.
Ahead of key Oct. 7, 2012, presidential elections in Venezuela, The Carter Center conducted an independent study mission to follow the campaign and election, with political and electoral analysts interviewing political actors and technical experts on the ground. Following the election, the Center published a report for the international community about Venezuelans' perceptions of the process and the results. The report noted increased citizen confidence in the voter system compared to past contests, while also pointing out concerns about the unequal campaign conditions created by an incumbent president running for re-election. In November 2012, the Center sponsored an international seminar in Caracas on campaign conditions that examined practices in Venezuela and other countries in the hemisphere to share experiences on regulating campaigns during re-election. Read the seminar report in Spanish (PDF) or English (PDF).
At the invitation of Venezuela's National Election Council, The Carter Center sent a small delegation to the April 14 presidential election to show international interest and support. The delegation did not conduct a comprehensive evaluation.
After 2000, the chasm between those who supported and those who rejected President Hugo Chávez and his political ideology was deepened by a lack of open dialogue. Instead of facilitating such dialogue, media professionals often partitioned along the lines of pro- or anti-Chavez, exacerbating the divide.
In 2008, The Carter Center initiated a project to strengthen professional journalism to address the need for a less politicized media sector in Venezuela's polarized society. To reduce the confrontational and partisan tone in much of the nation's reporting, the Center provided technical support to reporters from both pro-government and opposition media outlets. The project encouraged ethical, balanced, and accurate reporting. It also promoted dialogue and improved relations between media professionals from public and private organizations through public seminars involving renowned international journalists and senior Venezuelan journalists and editors.
In 2012, The Carter Center held a series of similar workshops on Venezuela's electoral process ahead of the country's Oct. 7 presidential election, offering one of the few spaces where journalists from diverse media could participate together in the polarized society. Workshops and webinars focused on topics such as the automated voting process, democratic election standards, and reading and interpreting public opinion polls.
To support a healthy relationship between governments, the media, and journalists, as well as to promote policies and practices to strengthen freedom of expression, democratic governance, and the prevention and escalation of socio-political conflicts, The Carter Center held a series of discussions in countries across the Latin American region from January 2013 to November 2014 through the Contentious Issues in the Americas project.
The series of conversations was intended to enhance compliance with the essential elements of a representative democracy, the defense and practice of human rights, and a better understanding of the values and principles of the American Convention of Human Rights, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.
The Carter Center and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) initiated a forum among the five Andean countries (Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia) and the United States in 2010. The purpose of the Andean-U.S. Dialogue Forum, an 18-month series of dialogue sessions held in both the United States and the Andean region, was to:
• Identify a common agenda for the six countries,
• Address misperceptions and misunderstandings between countries,
• Propose innovative solutions to problematic issues, and
• Explore the possibility of bilateral dialogues between pairs of countries with tense
relations within the forum.
Together with its partners, The Carter Center and the Venezuela Ministry of Health are intensifying efforts to eliminate the last vestiges of the disease river blindness (onchocerciasis) from the isolated and nomadic Yanomami communities in the Amazon rainforest. The campaign is part of a Carter Center-sponsored effort to eliminate the disease from the Western Hemisphere.
Current Status: Transmission ongoing
In 2000, Venezuela had three onchocerciasis-endemic areas (North-Central, Northeast, and South) and became the last of the six original endemic countries to begin mass drug administration as part of a Carter Center-sponsored effort to eliminate the disease from the Americas. With health education and twice-per-year treatment with Mectizan® (ivermectin, donated by Merck) to at least 85 percent of the approximately 98,500 people at risk for the disease nationwide, two areas, North-Central and Northeast interrupted transmission of onchocerciasis (also known as river blindness).
Today, the only remaining endemic area in Venezuela is along a remote and difficult-to-access southern area of the country, bordering Brazil. The migratory Yanomami people living along this border are exposed to the disease as they travel throughout the Amazon Rainforest. Special ongoing efforts are made to provide the Yanomami with the medicine and health education they need to help prevent onset of the disease.
Discovery of new communities in the area has continued to be a common occurrence. Between 2008 and 2013, 57 new communities were discovered, and the program is working to consistently treat these communities. Evaluations in the Venezuelan South focus show that the share of the population infected by the parasite has dropped from 27.6 percent in 2008 to 7.8 percent in 2013.
A strong partnership between the Brazilian and Venezuelan governments remains a crucial factor in elimination of river blindness in the shared Yanomami area. At the 67th session of the World Health Assembly (held May 19-24, 2014) the Brazilian and Venezuelan ministers of health signed a formal agreement to coordinate the effort towards elimination along their border. Under this agreement they pledged to work with partners including The Carter Center's Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas (OEPA), Merck's Mectizan Donation Program, and the World Health Organization/Pan American Health Organization to reach this goal.
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Size: 912,050 square kilometers
Population: 29,275,460 (2015 est.)
Population below poverty line: 31.6 percent (2011 est.)
Life expectancy: 75 years
Ethnic groups: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arab, German, African, indigenous people
Religions: nominally Roman Catholic, Protestant, other
Languages: Spanish (official), numerous indigenous dialects
Source: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook 2016