Venezuela, once a prosperous country sitting on world's biggest oil reserves has fallen into one of the worst socio-economic and political crises, a complex humanitarian emergency. Venezuelans are now facing acute shortages of food, medicine, water, massive power outages, as well as entrenched authoritarianism and lack of freedoms. Due to extreme poverty, dysfunctional health care, but also injustice, corruption and brutality of the Venezuelan regime, countless Venezuelans have been dying and over 5 million have fled the country. The legitimacy of President Nicolás Maduro, who has been in power since his predecessor Hugo Chávez died in 2013 and was controversially re-elected in 2018, has not been recognized by a number of countries and boycotted by most of the opposition parties and civil society organizations. The climate for journalists, activists, regime critics, opposition lawmakers, and human rights defenders has been hostile since the onset of the political crisis in 2016 and has further worsened. While many have chosen to flee in desperate search of refuge, many Venezuelans continue to live through the crisis without even the most fundamental human rights guaranteed.
People in Need in Venezuela: 2014-2022
In 2014, People in Need started helping Venezuelan civil society and building its human rights program in the country. Our priority was to defend and promote political and civil rights. We started supporting local human rights lawyers, emerging journalistic projects, human rights defenders at risk, documentation of human rights abuses, workshops on human rights, leadership programme for indigenous community leaders, activities strengthening communities and civil society. By supporting local initiatives, we contributed to strengthen mid-size organizations in larger cities and, most importantly, reached out to emerging grassroots groups of activists and journalists in remote towns and rural areas.
The deterioration of the economic crisis in later years hit vulnerable groups of the population including the low-resource people, women and children particularly hard. In reaction to the evolving situation, we expanded the scope of work, supporting projects that promoted gender equality education in schools, aimed to prevent gender-based violence in communities, denounced critical health situation, dealt with human rights violations faced by indigenous peoples or sought to raise awareness about impacts of extractive activities and environmental degradation on local populations. With the political, socio-economic and health crisis combined, the situation in Venezuela is ever-deteriorating. Over the past years, projects have evolved in its operational forms and often grew adapting to new needs and challenges. Yet, our goal to strengthen Venezuela’s civil society and protect fundamental human rights and freedoms remains unchanged.
1. CIVIL SOCIETY SUPPORT
• Goal: To strengthen Venezuelan civil society organizations and groups and help them achieve desired impact, and to empower grassroots organisations and help them grow to function independently
• Who we support: Human rights NGOs, university centres, independent schools’ projects, community organizations, women groups
• How we support:
- Direct support
Each semester, we open a call for applications from civil society organisations, conduct a selection process and award selected organisations with microgrants. We aim to support grassroots organizations located in remote areas, including unregistered ones, but we also cooperate with already well-established ones in the capital city. Small organizations learn to implement projects, grow and eventually operate independently. Larger organizations can use microgrants to try their new project ideas. In past we have supported projects that focused on: helping victims of political repression, documentation of human rights abuses, advocacy for freedom of expression, denouncing health situation, aiding women that face violence, training of woman activists, supporting women that work at mines, human rights capacity-building for indigenous communities, among other themes. We are also able to give an ad hoc emergency support to respond to a serious threat faced by an organization or a human rights defender.
- Capacity building
We provide technical guidance and capacity building to our beneficiary organizations. We guide grassroots organizations in operational aspects, including basics of project and financial management. When need arises, we offer guidance on how to think of projects or how to prepare proposals and reports. We have organized workshops for representatives of Venezuelan organizations on topics such as holistic security, digital security, project cycle management, audio-visual work and campaigning.
We hold interregional workshops in Costa Rica where civil society members from Venezuela and Nicaragua learn together, share experiences and exchange best practices. It has contributed to deepen mutual understanding and inspire each other.
2. FREE MEDIA
• Goal: To support Venezuelan critical journalists and independent media outlets to defend freedom of expression and improve access to information on Venezuela, and to empower emerging journalistic collectives and help them grow
• Who we support: NGOs that engage in journalistic work, media outlets, collectives of journalists
• How we support: We strive to preserve the vocation of independent journalism that has become increasingly difficult and at times dangerous under Venezuela’s current regime. First, a number of non-state media offering critical account of events had to close, due to political pressure or economic hardship. Later on, the rise in cases of harassment, intimidation and even physical attacks forced many journalists to flee the country. Thus, we support those organizations and individuals who come up with interesting journalistic projects in the country, seeking to cover diverse human rights topics. We welcome proposals from various Venezuela’s states and less accessible locations, as the struggle for dignified life varies greatly from place to place. In past, we have supported publication of long stories about unknown political prisoners, reportages about negligence and abuses suffered by vulnerable groups, projects that help acquire techniques to identify fake news, production of podcast or local radio programs.
Due to the dangers stemming from journalistic work in Venezuela, we prioritize protection of those at risk. With holistic security training, participants learn how to better protect themselves in the areas of physical, digital and emotional security. We are also able to give an ad hoc emergency support to respond to a serious threat faced by an organization or a journalist.
1. Radio Station Humano Derecho Focusing on Human Rights
With the increasing influence of the government on media, there was soon close to no space for free and independent media in Venezuela. In our effort to defend the freedom of expression and the right to information, we helped local NGO to establish a radio station called Humano Derecho. It started from only a few broadcastings per week, but today it is operating as a full-fledged medium that addresses various social issues from different perspectives.
2. Repainting Walls Filled by Propaganda
One of the projects in the early years of People in Need in Venezuela targeted children and youth from poor districts. We supported a local initiative that summoned them to paint new images on the walls filled by then-president Hugo Chavez propaganda. In their communities, they decided to replace political slogans and made their own art, painting positive words and messages promoting concepts such as solidarity. While depoliticising their neighbourhood and cultivating a positive atmosphere, participants learned about and discussed what is the role of propaganda.
This project sought to empower Venezuelan youth and women, help them become social leaders and promote peace culture in their often-violent neighbourhoods of Caracas. To be able to advocate for peace and conflict resolution through dialogue, hundreds of women, teenage girls and boys enrolled in an educational program composed of trainings, community workshops and university lectures focusing on community leadership, civil society strengthening, peace culture, negotiation and audio-visual work. To foment discussion on human rights and strengthen community ties, human rights film festivals were organized.
The project aimed to establish a solid basis on which the people of Venezuela will actively engage in their communities and promote pacific solutions, human rights and democratic values long after the project ends. The educational program was designed to cultivate the culture of knowledge transmission where not only selected students, women and other participants but also wider communities can benefit. The students that were trained through our programme have become peer educators training community leaders. In turn, such community leaders are holding workshops for their community members where the knowledge is transmitted even further, contributing to a long-lasting societal change.
An interview with a project participant:
About first human rights festival:
4. SOS Venezuela
Who we support: NGOs that engage in journalistic work, media outlets, collectives of journalists