Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Chavez Is Failing Women: Venezuela's Leader May Be a Self-Proclaimed Feminist, but His Country Still Has a Shocking Record on Domestic Violence

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Chavez Is Failing Women: Venezuela's Leader May Be a Self-Proclaimed Feminist, but His Country Still Has a Shocking Record on Domestic Violence

Article excerpt

On 21 May 2004 Alexandra Hidalgo was kidnapped after leaving work at the Central Bank of Venezuela in Caracas. As she drove out of the car park, two men emerged from a van blocking the street and approached her car, banging on the windows with guns. They forced Hidalgo into the van, where a group of six men raped her for several hours. Among them was her ex-husband, Ivan Sosa Rivero. Afterwards, the men left her on a deserted street. "In the beginning I was struggling, but by the end I had no strength left," she says.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Five years later, Hidalgo is still fighting to bring her ex-husband to justice. In 2004 he was charged with assault, but was released after four months and has since gone into hiding. In 2005 an arrest warrant was issued, but the police have never tried to recapture him.

In cases of rape or domestic violence, justice is not easily won in Venezuela, a country where violence against women is widespread: last year the Venezuelan daily newspaper Diario Vea reported that five women are killed each week in gender-related violent incidents, and it is estimated that every 15 minutes at least one Venezuelan woman is attacked.

In March 2007, the government's Organic Law on the Right of Women to a Life Free of Violence came into effect; it defines 19 forms of violence against women, including psychological abuse. The law has won praise from women's rights campaigners, but they say that the government has not provided enough resources for implementing it. According to data taken from the Venezuelan Observatory for the Human Rights of Women, only 4 per cent of cases of violence against women have been prosecuted since the law was passed.

Even in the event of prosecution, women rarely receive justice. The man who tortured and raped Linda Loaiza over a period of four months in 2001 is already walking free. Loaiza was kidnapped by Luis Carrera Almoina--son of the president of the Central University of Venezuela. The violence she suffered left her in need of surgery, and she can no longer have children. Loaiza was rescued from Almoina's apartment and he was brought into custody. But 59 judges declined to take the case. When Almoina was finally convicted in 2004, he was charged with deprivation of liberty and severe assault, rather than the original charges of rape, torture and attempted homicide. Sentenced to six years, Almoina served only two because he was in custody for four years beforehand.

Venezuela's poor record on violence against women is not exceptional in the region: up to 40 per cent of women in Latin America and the Caribbean are physically or sexually abused at some point during their lifetime. But what sets Venezuela apart is that its leader is a self-proclaimed feminist.

Hugo Chavez calls for the empowerment of women through his socialist political project the Bolivarian Revolution. At the World Social Forum in January he announced that "true socialism is feminist". But women's rights groups say that the government is dragging its feet on the issue of violence against women. "If the president is really feminist, he should be investing in improving the system for women to access justice," says Sonia Obregon from the UN Development Fund in Venezuela. …

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