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Venezuela: Information regarding the situation of homosexuals: interview with the director of Acción Ciudadanía contra el SIDA (ACCSI)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 1 January 1998
Citation / Document Symbol VEN28654.FE
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Venezuela: Information regarding the situation of homosexuals: interview with the director of Acción Ciudadanía contra el SIDA (ACCSI), 1 January 1998, VEN28654.FE, available at: [accessed 19 May 2023]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Interview with the director of Acción Ciudadanía contra el SIDA (ACCSI) conducted in Caracas on 26 February 1997.  ACCSI is a non-governmental organization that provides legal advocacy services for HIV-positive homosexuals in Venezuela.  The opinions expressed in this text are those of the director.  For further information regarding the situation of homosexuals in Venezuela, please see Response to Information Requests VEN28658.FE and VEN28664.FE of 21 January 1998.

The following information, which provides more recent information on the Law on Vagrants and Crooks, was obtained during a telephone interview on 15 January 1998 with the director of Amnesty International-Venezuela in Caracas. The director said the law had been declared unconstitutional and struck down by a Supreme Court decision on 14 October 1997.  The director said that the decision was a historical one in that many judges, politicians and police chiefs consider the law to be the only effective tool in combating the widespread criminality in Venezuela.  The director added that the decision to strike down the law is part of the process now under way to reform the Venezuelan penal code and justice system.  Although the decision has not yet been published in the Official Gazette of the Congress of the Republic, the law is now no longer enforced in practice.  The director also pointed out that the Law on Vagrants and Crooks is no longer used against homosexuals as a result of the Supreme Court decision.

The Daily Journal points out that the House of Deputies' commission on domestic policy is currently studying four bills that may replace the Law on Vagrants and Crooks.  The bills propose penalties that include community work and suspension of work permits and would create special rehabilitation centres that would provide job training and counseling services (18 October 1997).  The article does not say when a new law will come into effect.

General Situation of Homosexuals in Venezuela

        The situation of homosexuals in Venezuela has improved.  The public is showing greater openness toward homosexuals, who are now publicly defending their rights.  More information on the subject is available in the media.  However, a large segment of the Venezuelan population continues to have a negative perception of homosexuality, and that attitude leads to discrimination against homosexuals.  Social prejudice against homosexuality persists.

Venezuela has no legislation prohibiting or penalizing homosexual relations; the criminal code does not prohibit them.  There are laws such as the Law on Vagrants and Crooks (Ley de Vagos y Maleantes), which states that those involved in prostitution, or transvestism for the purpose of prostituting themselves, are subject to sanctions.  In 1996, groups of homosexuals encountered problems with the police in certain areas of Caracas, such as the pedestrian street of Sabana Grande, where raids on taverns were carried out.  People were taken to the police station and held for some 72 hours.  Still, ACCSI is convinced that the Venezuelan government does not have an official policy of persecution aimed at homosexuals in Venezuela.

         ACCSI Assistance to Homosexuals

        When a homosexual has been the victim of a human rights violation, ACCSI refers the case to the Movimiento Ambiente de Venezuela (MAV), an organization whose mandate is to defend homosexual rights in general.  ACCSI focuses essentially on human rights cases when an HIV-positive homosexual is denied an individual right because of the virus infection.  The majority of ACCSI's clients are homosexuals because in Venezuela they represent about 80 per cent of AIDS cases.  Discrimination against homosexuals in Venezuela is largely based on the link that the public makes between homosexuality and the AIDS virus.  ACCSI has also dealt with cases involving police violence against homosexuals, and works in conjunction with Red de Apoyo por la Justicia y la Paz, a well-known and respected human rights organization in Venezuela.  The two organizations recently filed a habeas corpus for the release of an AIDS-infected transvestite being held under the Law on Vagrants and Crooks.  ACCSI works closely with Red de Apoyo por la Justicia y la Paz, because the latter organization keeps a record of all the arrests made under the Law on Vagrants and Crooks which are brought to its attention.  In ACCSI's view, this problem warrants special, urgent attention.

         Advocacy of Homosexual Rights by Traditional Non-governmental Organizations

        This depends on the nature of the complaint and the complainant.  For example, when constitutional rights were suspended in 1994, many raids were carried out on homosexual bars and many people were detained for 72 hours, but no one filed a complaint.  An ACCSI staff member, himself a homosexual, filed a complaint with a non-governmental human rights organization in Caracas which showed interest in his complaint and took action.  In addition, Red de Apoyo por la Justicia y la Paz conducted an anti-corruption campaign in homosexual bars, encouraging clients to assert their rights and not pay bribes to the police.

         Homosexuality and Social Class in Caracas 

        The situation of homosexuals in Venezuela is closely linked to social class.  If a homosexual belonging to the middle, upper middle or upper class is in a gay bar during a raid, his situation will likely be very different from that of a homosexual from a lower social class.  In Venezuela, there is a very distinct separation of the social classes that is echoed in the gay community.  People are either from West Caracas (primarily lower middle and disadvantaged classes) or East Caracas (primarily middle, upper middle and upper classes. Those who frequent gay bars in the eastern part of the city are essentially protected by the bar owners who, following a common practice in Venezuela, pay the police not to raid their establishments.  Police raids are, of course, carried out as part of drug control activities, but generally bar owners try to protect their clients.

Homosexuals are totally accepted in the arts community.  Although, they may face jokes made in poor taste, they are accepted as individuals and can become fully integrated members of society when they work in the arts or cultural community.  Generally, the level of education in Venezuela is very low.  This is a factor in the way homosexuals are perceived by society and treated in general.

In Venezuela, relations between the police and certain types of foreigners and people who are black, poorly dressed, or perceived as being marginal or homosexual are always sensitive.  For example, anyone who looks or dresses like an Ecuadorian, or a person from another Andean country, will be certain to encounter problems with the police each time they leave home and will constantly be asked to show their papers.  In the eyes of the police, all Latino foreigners have a reputation of being without papers and residing illegally in the country.

Given these prejudices, the police act with greater brutality in the lower-class bars and taverns as the clients who frequent them have fewer economic resources and less general education to assert their rights or provide for their own defence.  In the bars of East Caracas, one can find minors, drug addicts and people from a variety of social classes, as well as the protection system which exists between the bar owners and the police.  Also, in the eastern part of the city, such as in the Altamira and Chacao districts, the police are much less violent than the police operating in the area with gay bars and taverns closer to downtown Caracas.  In the Altamira and Chacao areas, the police have fewer prejudices about how people dress and are less likely to see this as grounds for arresting someone in the street.  Until quite recently, police would react to people who dressed extravagantly (for example, yellow-coloured hair and high-heeled, platform shoes) and target such people since they associated their attire with vicious conduct, transvestism and homosexuality.

         Organized Violence Directed Against Homosexuals

        There are no "death squads" that target homosexuals or "social cleansing" (limpieza social) groups as in other Latin American countries, either in Caracas or in the interior of the country.  Naturally, there are groups of young people who insult prostitutes and transvestites on Libertador Avenue in Caracas, but that is the extent of it.  ACCSI has no information about any organized physical violence directed against homosexuals by individuals or groups, or about any hate campaigns against homosexuals.

         Police Raids on Homosexual Establishments

        "Social cleansing" operations are occasionally carried out by local, municipal or national police in bars and other places where young people of any sexual orientation gather.  The authorities conduct these operations in search of drugs but, given the continuing social prejudice that associates homosexuality with vice, enticement of children and the consumption and trafficking of drugs, it would appear that these operations in gay bars are carried out with added zeal.

In 1996, a police raid provoked strong reaction from the homosexual rights movement, which denounced the police action before Congress.  In early 1997, the police arrested a number of female prostitutes at the downtown bus terminal.  The association representing female sex-trade workers took legal action to demand the release of the women who were being detained.

Police raids in gay bars can be carried out for a number of reasons.  The police occasionally use them to line their own pockets with bribes from clients, a practice known as matraca (the billy club) or mordida (the bite).  They occasionally use them simply to disrupt what is going on, order the music turned off or demand money from the owner.  Some police visits, however, have nothing to do with such raids.  ACCSI staff have seen police officers in gay bars who are there as customers.  They talk with people and bother no one.  The Flamingo, for example, is a bar that is owned by a well-known homosexual who works in the cosmetic industry and which has a mixed homosexual-heterosexual clientele.  Uniformed police from the Chacao district are often seen in this bar having a drink and talking with customers, and not causing any trouble.  It should be borne in mind that police raids can be conducted in any bar and that they are not meant to harass homosexuals in particular but rather to combat the drug trafficking that takes place in many of the bars in Caracas.

Police identification of homosexuals was practice which occurred only rarely and which in fact was eliminated under a Caracas prefectural order.  This practice was most common during the military recruitment period (la recluta).  In Venezuela, military service is compulsory at the age of 18.  To avoid it, a person must demonstrate that he is studying at university or is married. The police and soldiers would pick up young people and force them into trucks, in a kind of "recruitment by force" during which they were obliged to show their I.D. card (cédula) to identify themselves.

This practice was never carried out systematically and did not have the specific goal of targeting homosexuals just to harass them.  It was used primarily to determine whether a person had a criminal record or had served any time in prison.

Each district (jefatura) has a quota to fill, namely a specific number of men that must be recruited for military service.  Soldiers found it much easier to practise their "recruitment by force" in gay bars because they could achieve their quotas more quickly.  Since the men in these bars had no desire to perform military service, they paid off the soldiers on site to avoid being recruited.  This "recruitment by force" is no longer practised.  The economic situation in Venezuela in the past three years has led young people to volunteer for military service.  In the armed forces, they receive pay, food and lodging.

         Treatment of Homosexuals in Police Stations

        ACCSI goes to the police station when prostitutes or transvestites are held under the Law on Vagrants and Crooks.  Their treatment is a matter of chance; that is, it depends on the attitude of the police in a given station.  No one has been held longer than the 72 hours provided for in the law, and we have never noticed any injuries or other physical signs of torture of the detainees.

But ACCSI has witnessed the following types of incident in connection with the detention of homosexuals: verbal violence; detentions of over 24 hours for a simple computerized check of their criminal record; release decided rather arbitrarily; ban on telephone calls; confiscation of personal effects (shoes, money); release in an area far from home without personal belongings being returned.

Although the situation with the municipal police is changing, it can be said that any contact with the Venezuelan police will generally be a negative experience for just about anyone.  Given the current climate of crime and violence in the country, any citizen at all can be pressured or harassed if detained.  If the person is a homosexual or a transvestite, a period in detention can be more complicated.

         Perception of Homosexuality in the Interior of the Country

        Homosexuals in the interior of the country belong to specific social classes in much the same way as they do in Caracas.  However, homosexuality is generally more repressed than in Caracas, where people enjoy some measure of anonymity and are able to live alone without disturbing the neighbours.  In contrast, people in most cities in the interior do not know that there are gay bars and generally learn about them only when they are closed down after a few months.

On an island such as Margarita, for example, a well-known tourist destination, there are no gay bars.  ACCSI has no information about gay bars or discotheques operating outside Caracas.  Members of the gay community in cities such as Maracay and Valencia go to the bars in Caracas.  In cities such as Valencia, there are gay meeting centres, but they are disappearing.  The public associates homosexuality with having a "bad reputation", and demands that these meeting places be closed down.  In the interior of the country, a homosexual will go to one of the gay meeting places in the company of a heterosexual woman so as not to raise any suspicions, something that would happen only rarely in Caracas.

In Andean-area locations such as Mérida, San Cristóbal de Táchira and Trujíllo, attitudes are still extremely conservative and prejudices against homosexuality hold fast.  What is normal for a homosexual in Caracas may be highly unusual in this part of the country.  On the whole, the situation of homosexuals is more uncertain in the interior of Venezuela than it is in Caracas.

         Situation of Lesbians

        The situation of lesbians is very paradoxical.  First, there are fewer lesbians than there are male homosexuals.  It should be remembered that, in Venezuelan society, men enjoy greater freedom than women do.  Therefore, lesbians, because they are women, are as repressed as heterosexual women in Venezuela.  However, in the public's view it is normal to see two women kissing or holding hands as they walk in the street.  Such behaviour in no way suggests their sexual orientation and shields them from discrimination or harassment.  Clearly, it is not considered acceptable for two men to do the same thing in the street.

There are two or three lesbian bars in Caracas in the Las Mercedes district.  The arts community is more tolerant, but because it is a very small community, it is much like a ghetto. In addition, just as male homosexuals are not easily accepted by society as a whole, lesbians are not easily accepted by some male homosexuals.  This type of discrimination also exists.

         Treatment and Perception of People with AIDS in Venezuela

        There are no clinics or hospitals that specialize in the treatment of AIDS sufferers.  However, many hospitals in the capital and in the interior of the country do have sections, in particular immunology departments, which provide care for AIDS patients. The Domingo Luciani hospital and the clinic hospital in Caracas, for example, have sections that treat and hospitalize people with the HIV virus and keep records of the cases.  Persons who are HIV-positive are also treated in hospitals in other large cities in Venezuela such as Merida, Maracaibo, Valencia,  Barquesimeto and Ciudad Bolivar.  In Venezuela, the standard medical practice is to focus more on treating the consequences of the virus rather than the virus itself.  That is, if an individual has contracted tuberculosis because of the virus, he will be referred to a hospital specializing in the treatment of tuberculosis.

Attitudes toward AIDS have changed in Caracas hospitals, but people in the interior of the country are still averse to the idea of a person being HIV-positive.  The social class of a person with AIDS is therefore a crucial factor.  For example, if the infected person is black and poor or comes from one of the Andean countries (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile), the person will undoubtedly face discrimination.  However, if the infected person is homosexual but is neat looking and well dressed and comes from an affluent social class, the person may suffer less discrimination or none at all.  HIV-infected people will receive proper treatment from medical staff if the latter are well informed about AIDS.  In the interior of the country, AIDS awareness among medical staff still leaves much to be desired, as attested to by the little care that AIDS patients receive.

At present, there are 6,500 known cases of AIDS that are formally listed in the registries of the hospitals and clinics that treat such cases in Venezuela.  ACCSI believes that this total should be multiplied by three to reflect the actual incidence of the disease in the country.   In fact, the number of AIDS cases in Venezuela has been estimated at about 20,000, to which should be added several thousand people with the HIV virus.  These figures are, of course, approximate.

It is possible for an HIV-positive homosexual to be the victim of repression.  ACCSI is aware of a case in the city of Maracay where a homosexual was declared to be HIV-positive after a medical examination.  The nurse who conducted the examination lived in the same building as the patient and his family and passed on the information to the building residents, who then evicted the family.  While not frequent, this type of situation does occur.

ACCSI has not recommended that AIDS or HIV-infected people travel outside the country to seek treatment.

This response does not purport to be an exhaustive study of the country under review or to be conclusive as to the merits of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


        Acción Ciudadanía contra el SIDA (ACCSI), Caracas. 26 February 1997. Interview with director in Caracas.

Amnesty International, Caracas. 15 January 1998.  Telephone conversation with director of Venezuela section.

The Daily Journal [Caracas, English-language]. 18 October 1997. "Committee Seeks Plan for 'Vagrants'."


Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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