Update: An Introduction to Venezuelan Governmental Institutions and Primary Legal Sources
By Antonio Ramírez
Updated by Luis Bergolla
Luis Bergolla is an attorney with experience in international commercial arbitration, business organizations, secured transactions, and international business transactions. Mr. Bergolla received his first degree in law from the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (Venezuela), his Master of Laws (LL.M.) from the University of Georgia, and his Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Arizona (Rogers). Mr. Bergolla is currently a Law Fellow at the James E. Rogers College of Law for the academic year of 2015-2016. Previous working experience includes service as attorney with the Department of International Law of the Organization of American States. Mr. Bergolla is licensed to practice law in Venezuela, Spain, and is registered as Special Legal Consultant with the bar of the District of Columbia.
Antonio Ramírez received his law degrees from the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (Venezuela) and Duke University Law School and a library science degree from St. John’s University (U.S.A.). He currently works as a reference librarian at the St. John’s University Law School Library. Previous working experience includes years of service at the Attorney General Office in Venezuela, New York University Law School Library, and Columbia University Law School Library.
Published October 2015
(Previously updated by Antonio Ramírez in May/June 2011)
1.1. Executive Branch
1.2. Legislative Branch
1.2.1. Legislative Process
1.2.2.Types of Legislation
1.3. Judicial Branch
1.4. Citizen Branch
1.5. Electoral Branch
2.1. Legal Codification
1. Venezuela’s Political Organization (See Const., Title V)
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is a federal republic comprising 23 states, two federal territories, one capital district, and 11 federal dependencies (groups of islands) comprising 72 individual islands. Since Venezuela adopts the representative, republican and federal form of democratic government, the government officials are representatives of the people, who are elected through direct vote. The country embraces a system made up of governmental powers (mainly an executive power, a legislative power, and a judicial power), and also has a written constitution. It is one of the four federal republics in Latin America; the individual state governments keep their self-rule, but must respond to a common government (the national government) and comply with the constitution and laws of the republic.
The constitution is the source and origin of all Venezuelan laws and it overrides them all. There have been 29 constitutions since the country became independent in 1830, but it was the 1864 charter that established the federal form of government. Since then, all constitutions have kept this basic scheme of independence granted to the states and federal entities. They have also given full recognition to several basic principles, such as the preeminence of human rights, national sovereignty, division of powers, and the representative system.
The most recent constitution (ratified in a referendum in 1999) introduced important changes. It added two governmental branches (the citizen power and the electoral power). As an instrument that encourages social change, the constitution calls for an active government with a moral obligation to promote not only civil and political rights, but also cultural, economic, and social rights. Paramount among the latter is the right to work and to the right to housing.
The 1999 constitution is divided into nine sequential titles (subdivided into chapters and articles) devoted to the political organization of the country and the formal acknowledgment of liberties and freedoms. The Constitution also has transitory provisions.
Since the national constitution confers upon the states a significant number of governmental powers and administrative functions, each state has a constitution that establishes its own system of administration of justice and municipal autonomy, and the scope and content of its institutional, political, administrative and tax systems. As a result of the federative scheme, each state counts with an independently elected executive power (headed by a Governor) and a legislative assembly, which dictates local legislation. Each state also elects its own authorities and other state officers.
Brief descriptions of the five branches of government follow.
The executive power dominates the other branches of government and is vested in the president, the vice-president, and the council of ministers.
Presidency (Presidencia de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela):
Under the 1999 constitution, the president is elected by a plurality vote, with direct and universal suffrage. The president (both head of government and chief of state) is in charge of the general administration of the country and the protection of the National State interests, and is also the Commander-in-Chief of all the Armed Forces. The president is also empowered to direct foreign relations, to declare a state of emergency, to suspend all constitutional liberties, and to convene extraordinary sessions of the National Assembly. The term of office is six years, and presidents may be re-elected to an unlimited number of consecutive terms. The president appoints the vice president, decides about the size and composition of the council of ministers (or cabinet), and makes appointments to it. Like all elected officials, the incumbent president is subject to impeachment by way of revocatory referendum halfway through their terms.
Ministers are the heads of ministries or departments. Historically, there has been a distinction in Venezuela between statutory ministries (an invariable number of ministries required by law) and ministries of state (ad-hoc, temporary in nature). The Bolivarian Constitution’s silence on this point, however, along with the presidential legislative practice (see infra, B.2, “decretos con fuerza de ley or D.F.L.”) have rendered this distinction moot.
The cabinet is currently regulated by D.F.L. (Decree N° 1.612 of 18 of February 2015), which created 27 ministries that include a mix of statutory ministries such as internal affairs and justice, foreign affairs, defense, finance, education, energy, commerce, labor, environment, infrastructure and transportation, public health, agriculture, etc., along with the onetime so-called ministries of state like the Citizen Power’s Ministry for the Youth and Sports.
The full list of ministries is the following:
· Ministry of the Presidency (“Ministerio del Poder Popular del Despacho de la Presidencia y Seguimiento de la Gestión de Gobierno”)
· Ministry of the Interior, Justice, and Peace (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para Relaciones Interiores, Justicia y Paz”)
· Ministry of Foreign Affairs (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para Relaciones Exteriores”)
· Ministry of Economy and Finance (“Ministerio del Poder Popular de Economía y Finanzas”)
· Ministry of Defense (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Defensa”)
· Ministry of Commerce (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para el Comercio”)
· Ministry of Industry (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para Industrias”)
· Ministry of Tourism (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para el Turismo”)
· Ministry of Agriculture and Land (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Agricultura y Tierras”)
· Ministry of Education (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Educación”)
· Ministry of Health (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Salud”)
· Ministry of Labor (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para el Proceso Social de Trabajo”)
· Ministry of Ecosocialism, Habitat, and Housing (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para Ecosocialismo, Hábitat y Vivienda”)
· Ministry of Petroleum and Mining (“Ministerio del Poder Popular de Petróleo y Minería”)
· Ministry of Planning (“Ministerio del Poder Popular de Planificación”)
· Ministry of Higher Education, Science, and Technology (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para Educación Universitaria, Ciencia y Teconología”)
· Ministry of Communication and Information (“Ministerio del Poder Popular la Comunicación y la Información”)
· Ministry of Communes and Social Movements (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para las Comunas y los Movimientos Sociales”)
· Ministry of Nutrition (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Alimentación”)
· Ministry of Culture (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Cultura”)
· Ministry of Youth and Sports (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Juventud y el Deporte”)
· Ministry of Indian Peoples (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para los Pueblos Indígenas”)
· Ministry of Women and Gender Equality (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Mujer y la Igualdad de Género”)
· Ministry of Penitentiary Service (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para el Servicio Penitenciario”)
· Ministry of Aquatic and Airborne Transportation (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para Transporte Acuático y Aéreo”)
· Ministry of Terrestrial Transportation and Public Works (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para Transporte Terrestre y Obras Públicas”)
· Ministry of Electric Energy (“Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Energía Eléctrica”)
Ministers endorse and authenticate, by virtue of their signatures, certain presidential actions that would not be effective otherwise. As head of a ministry or department and a member of the cabinet, a minister holds a position that is simultaneously administrative and political. As explained above, the historical presidential prerogative to appoint ministers of state (“ministros de estado”), with a mere advisory role, has now become the norm for all cabinet positions. This is so given that the president nowadays dictates, by way of D.F.L., the kind and the number of ministries that will integrate his cabinet at any point in time.
Although its members have their own functions and identity, the executive is seen as a collegiate entity. No institution embodies this idea better than the council of ministers. Its members are the president, the vice-president and the ministers. The most important function of the council of ministers is to set national policy in all areas of governmental activity.
From a legal viewpoint, the most important task of the council of ministers is to issue regulations (“reglamentos”) to specific laws. The approval of these regulations thus requires that the president act jointly with the vice-president and ministers. Individually, the president may issue decrees (“decretos”) and the Ministers may issue resolutions (“resoluciones”) regarding specific topics of their competence. Whether it is a regulation, a decree or a resolution, it must be published (along with the most important documentation from the executive branch) in the official gazette before they become binding.
National Assembly – the new constitution replaced the traditional bicameral Congress (including a Senate) with a 162-member unicameral National Assembly. The new legislative body consists solely of the Chamber of Deputies, which is presided by one its members. Deputies serve five-year terms, and may be re-elected, while the First Amendment to the Bolivian Constitution (2009) removed the maximum number of terms for which deputies can be re-elected. These legislative agents are elected by direct, universal and secret vote through a combination of party list and single member constituencies. Three seats are reserved for the indigenous peoples of Venezuela.
Although the Assembly currently has 162 members, that number may change depending on the population figures. For election purposes, the country is divided into districts and each one elects its members roughly proportional to their population. Each state is considered an electoral district and elects its Deputies by proportional representation.
Besides its legislative tasks, the Assembly has exclusive powers vis-à-vis levying taxes, sending troops, and prosecuting the president, ministers and members of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice. The Assembly also elects the officers comprising the citizen power, which will be discussed below.
Ordinary sessions of the Assembly begin in January and continue until August, to be renewed from September to December. When the Assembly is not in session, its delegated committee acts on matters relating to the executive and in oversight functions.
1.2.1. Legislative Process
The law-making process is comprised of seven steps: initiative, debate, voting, passing, sanction, enactment, and publication. Legislation can be initiated by (1) the national executive power, (2) the legislative power (either a committee of the National Assembly or at least three of its members), (3) the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, in the case of laws relating to judicial procedures and organization of the judiciary, (4) the institutions comprising the citizen power (ombudsman, prosecutor general, and comptroller general), in the case of laws relating to the organization of their offices, (5) the electoral power, in the case of laws relating to electoral matters; and (6) a number at least equivalent to 0.1% of all permanently registered voters signing a public petition. In practice, since the executive is the branch with the most political power, it initiates almost all legislation, especially any significant legislation.
Bills are submitted to the National Assembly’s (permanent or temporary) standing committees for technical, material, and formal rounds of scrutiny. The areas of expertise of these standing committees closely parallel the ones corresponding to the executive departments (internal affairs, foreign affairs, defense, finance, etc.). The number of standing committees is variable and may not exceed 15 at any given time.
Once the Assembly votes and passes the law after at least two debates, the president has ten days to sanction it or promulgate it, propose amendments to it or ask for a reconsideration of any of its provisions. The president may ask the National Assembly to reconsider any statute (or parts of it) he finds objectionable, but a simple majority of the Assembly can override these objections. If it does, the bill becomes law. The only exception occurs when the president’s objection is based upon a charge of unconstitutionality; in that case, upon the president’s request, the Supreme Court has fifteen days to make a ruling. If it does not make a ruling or rejects the president’s charge, the law is enacted.
The publication in the Official Gazette of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, together with the enforcement order (“cúmplase”) issued by the national executive, is the last step in the process. The laws become mandatory as of the date of their publication in the Official Gazette or at a date indicated in the respective text.
A special procedure is required for constitutional amendments and constitutional reform. The Venezuelan constitution is considered a “rigid” one because of the strict conditions imposed to modify it. Constitutional amendments consist of changes to the constitutional text, of a large or small scope, making additions, deletions, or other modifications, without altering its fundamental structure. The constitution may be amended on a proposal from 15% of the citizens registered with the Civil and Electoral Registry, or from 39% of the members of the National Assembly, or from the president, acting jointly with the council of ministers. Approval requires the vote of a majority of the members of the Assembly. The Electoral Council must submit the amendments to a referendum within 30 days of formally receiving the approved proposal.
The purpose of constitutional reform is to effect a partial revision of the constitution and a replacement of one or more of its provisions, without modifying the fundamental principles and structure of the constitutional text.
The initiative for a constitutional reform may proceed from the National Assembly, through a resolution approved by a majority vote of its members; from the president sitting with the council of ministers; or from registered voters through a request of at least 15% of the total number registered with the civil and electoral registry.
The National Assembly must debate on the draft of the constitutional reform three times (including title by title or chapter by chapter, and article by article discussions) and approve it with a two third majority vote in a time period no longer than 2 years. Once approved by the National Assembly, the constitutional reform draft (as a whole or in parts) must be submitted to a referendum within 30 days from the date of its approval and will be adopted if the number of affirmative votes is greater than the number of negative votes.
The hierarchy of Venezuelan norms is fairly typical of civil law jurisdictions. The supreme set of norms is the constitution. Under this scheme, the Assembly passes laws or statutes (“leyes”), placed at different hierarchical levels. Most statutes are ordinary acts or ordinary laws (“leyes ordinarias”). These are common laws, in the essential meaning of the word, originating from the Assembly, in the exercise of its primary legislating function. They deal with all subjects, except those that will be specifically dealt with by other categories of laws. Approval requires the vote of a simple majority, and sanction by the President of the Republic. Of equal hierarchy are the enabling laws (“leyes habilitantes”) from which decrees with the rank and force of law (“decreto con fuerza de ley” or “D.F.L.”) or delegated laws emerge. At a higher level are organic acts or charter or organic laws (“leyes orgánicas”). The last two kinds of laws deserve special attention.
Enabling laws are those enacted by a three fifths vote of the members of the National Assembly to establish the guidelines, purposes, and framework for matters that are being delegated to the President of the Republic, so that delegated Laws or decrees with the rank and force of law (“decretos con fuerza de ley” or D.F.L.) may be issued. The Assembly may thus delegate to the president the power to set norms with the status of law on specific matters. The president has the power to enact these norms by means of delegation of powers from the National Assembly. The president (the delegate) would not normally have competence to sanction that law, but has acquired the power to do so. While these decrees used to deal with economic or fiscal regulation, support and control of enterprises, scarcity of natural resources, and politically related issues, they now virtually extend to every imaginable field of law.
"Organic" laws are: 1) those enacted to organize public powers or developing constitutional rights, 2) those serving as a normative framework for other laws, or 3) those identified as such by the constitution. With the exception of those in the last category, any bill for the enactment or amendment of an organic law must first be accepted by a two thirds vote of the National Assembly, and will be sent, prior to promulgation, to the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice for a ruling on the constitutionality of its organic status.
1.3. Judicial Branch (See Const., Title V, Arts. 253-272)
The Supreme Tribunal of Justice (“Tribunal Supremo de Justicia”) is at the apex of the Venezuelan court system. The National Assembly elects the 32 justices (“magistrados”) for a single 12-year term. Appointments are made following recommendations from the Committee for Judicial Postulations, which consults with organizations dealing with legal issues and the organs of the citizen power.
The Supreme Tribunal is the court of last resort and may meet either in plenary sessions or in groups forming specialized chambers. These chambers or divisions are six: constitutional, political-administrative, electoral, civil appeals, criminal appeals, and social (mainly agrarian and labor) issues appeals.
The Supreme Tribunal is empowered to invalidate any laws, regulations or other acts of the other governmental branches conflicting with the constitution. It also hears accusations against high public officials, cases involving diplomatic agents, and certain civil actions arising between the State and individuals.
The lower court system includes district and municipal courts as well as trial and appeal courts that deal with civil and criminal matters.
The lower court system is somewhat complex. There are courts with special jurisdiction in the following areas: civil, commercial, criminal, labor, tax, customs, administrative, juvenile, military, and agrarian. In these jurisdictions (to varying degrees), courts are placed in hierarchical order and are competent on the basis of the amount involved or the importance of the case. For civil and commercial cases, for example, they are divided as follows: parish courts (“tribunales de parroquia”), district courts (“tribunales de distrito”), courts of first instance (“tribunales de primera instancia”), superior or appeal courts (“tribunales superiores”). As a rule, judicial decisions may be appealed to a higher tribunal, but cases may not be heard in more than two courts.
Recent innovations have been the introduction of a justice of the peace (“justicia de paz”) network and reforms to the criminal procedure scheme. The former seeks to alter the way of bringing about the resolution of conflicts and controversies arising in local communities by means of mediation, if possible, or by determining equity when the parties specifically request it or under certain circumstances established by law. The latter entails the establishment of a new accusatorial system (involving active parties contesting each other) as a substitute for the traditional inquisitorial system (underscoring the role of the judge as the decision-maker throughout the trial). Other new features are tentative steps toward the participation of citizens as lay judges and as jurors.
Other actors in the judicial sector are: the prosecutor general, who provides opinions to the courts on prosecution of criminal cases and brings to the attention of the proper authorities cases of public employee misconduct and violations of the constitutional rights of prisoners or accused persons; the Ministry of Justice and Internal Affairs, which oversees the prison system and manages the Bolivarian Intelligence Service- (“Servicio- Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional” or SEBIN), the national intelligence agency of Venezuela, and the organ devoted to the scientific investigation of crimes (“Cuerpo de Investigaciones Cientificas Penales y Criminalisticas” or CICPC); and the Executive Office of the Magistracy (“Dirección Ejecutiva de la Magistratura” or DEM), which supervises the lower courts as well as the selection and training of judges.
Besides the traditional branches, the 1999 constitution creates two additional branches of the federal government--the citizen and electoral branches. They are embodied in the Republican Moral Council and the National Electoral Council respectively.
The Office of the Prosecutor General, the Office of the General Ombudsman, and the Office of the Comptroller General are the three entities comprising the citizen power. They have a crucial role to play vis-à-vis adherence to the rule of law by governmental officials at all levels and, for that purpose, are charged with preventing, investigating, and punishing administrative irregularities.
Office of the Prosecutor General ("Fiscalía General de la República") – this office in charge of public prosecutions (“ministerio público”) is an autonomous and hierarchical organization. It belongs neither to the executive branch nor to the judicial branch. The 1999 constitution confers upon it an independent role so that it can better perform its functions as guardian of constitutional rights and liberties, democratic principles, public interests, and the rule of law in general. Its head is the prosecutor general of (“Fiscal General”), who is designated by the National Assembly for a seven-year term, and is charged mainly with prosecuting crimes and representing the peoples’ interests in those cases in which no initiative on the part of a party is required to start or continue such prosecution. The prosecutor general also files any appropriate action to hold liable public officials who have incurred civil, labor, military, criminal, administrative or disciplinary liability in the course of their official duties.
General Ombudsman (“Defensoría del Pueblo") – this entity is an independent body created within the sphere of the National Assembly and operates independently, without receiving instructions from any authority. It may take cases against the Government either on its own initiative or at the request of any third party. The services provided to the public are free of charge. The general ombudsman is appointed (and may be removed for cause) by the National Assembly with the vote of two-thirds of its members and the term of office is a single seven-year term. The mission of this officer is the defense and protection of human rights and other liberties and interests protected under the constitution and laws, in the face of deeds, acts or omissions of the administration.
Office of the Comptroller General (“Contraloría General de la República”) – the comptroller general is appointed for a seven-year term by the National Assembly. This officer is in charge of supervising the management and auditing of revenues, expenses, public and national property and transactions of the centralized and decentralized public entities, whatever its forms of organization may be, as well as of other branches of government. Like the other entities of the citizen power, this one enjoys operating, administrative and functional autonomy. It does not co-administer the public sector; it assesses facts, acts, and documents only after the organizations to be audited have finished their accounting exercises. Its main task is the approval or rejection of the revenue and investment accounts of public funds, the opening of investigations into irregularities, and the application of administrative measures and penalties as appropriate. It is upon the comptroller general to call on the prosecutor general to file the legal actions that may apply.
In addition to fulfilling their specific functions, these bodies act collectively as the "Republican Moral Council" to submit reports about their activities to the National Assembly and play an educational role vis-à-vis the defense of civil virtues and democratic principles.
The National Electoral Council (“Consejo Nacional Electoral or CNE”), embodying the electoral power, is responsible for organizing elections at all levels. The National Assembly also elects CNE rectors to 7-year terms. Besides the National Electoral Council as the governing body, the electoral power relies on three subordinate entities: the National Board of Elections, the Civil Status and Voter Registration Commission, and the Commission on Political Participation and Financing.
Venezuela's legal system has a legislative origin, grounded on "written law" (civil law), as opposed to the "common" or "judicial" law, which is the basis for the American, English and Canadian legal systems. As a civil law jurisdiction, it has its roots in Roman law and is heavily influenced by the French (Napoleonic Code) system and the Italian and Spanish legal traditions, which established written codification of its laws. As systematic sets of rules pertaining to specific subject matters, codes thus emerged not long after the country became an independent nation. A Code of Judicial Procedure (both civil and criminal) was the first to appear in 1836. Internal conflicts prevented the enactment of other codes until 1862, when the Commercial Code was promulgated. A Civil Code and a Code of Civil Procedure soon followed it in 1863. The first Code of Criminal Procedure appeared in 1873. As their models changed, all these codes underwent significant reforms during the following decades and throughout the twentieth century and benefited from the developments occurring in Europe and other Latin American countries.
In recent decades, the work of legislative commissions has played a crucial role vis-à-vis code modernization. Important legislation has thus become more responsive to social needs. The changes have been more significant in the areas of criminal law and procedure, as recent code amendments attest.
Nowadays, the major codes comprising the basic legislation of Venezuela are the following:
- Civil Code (1982; a new Civil Code is likely to be enacted in late 2015) – the scope and coverage of the Civil Code are extremely broad. It regulates contracts, torts, property, obligations, capacity of persons, marriage, divorce, paternity, guardianship, secured transactions, and wills and estates.
- Commercial Code (1955) – regulates commercial transactions and entities, negotiable instruments, and bankruptcy.
· Criminal Code or Penal Code (2005 via D.F.L.) – establishes criminal offenses punishable by law.
· Organic Code of Criminal Procedure (2012 via D.F.L.) - defines the procedures to be followed before the criminal courts.
· Code of Civil Procedure (1986; a new Code of Civil Procedure is likely to be enacted in late 2015) – defines the procedures required to litigate before the civil courts.
- Organic Tax Code (2014 via D.F.L.) – establishes the following principles: strict interpretation of tax laws and rules, elimination of the statute of limitations for serious tax offenses, penalties and sanctions for tax evasion crimes, expansion of the concept of imputed income, audit powers of the Tax Administration, rate of default interest, extension of the principle of solidarity to make it possible to reach the assets of Directors or tax advisors in cases they validate tax offenses, administrative procedures.
Of particular importance to business is the Commercial Code. For all matters not resolved by the Commercial Code, the provisions of the Civil Code apply.
As a rule, codes are organized into books, titles, chapters, articles and sections. Titles are subdivided into chapters, which are sequential within their respective title only. Chapters are further subdivided into articles, which are sequential throughout the code. Each article in the code gets a unique number. All one needs to find a particular article is its number, and not the book, title, and chapter numbers.
- UNCTAD provides free electronic access to a comprehensive list of Venezuela’s Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs), other investment agreements (IAAs), and investment related instruments (IRIs).
- Similarly, the Executive Secretariat for Integral Development of the Organization of American States maintains an equally comprehensive compendium of Venezuela’s trade agreements.
Venezuela’s denunciation, in January 2012, of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and National of Other States (the ICSID convention) is noteworthy. The denunciation of the treaty has certainly caused Venezuela to recently make the list of the top five respondent governments with the largest number of pending investment arbitrations.
The quintessential source of Venezuelan legislation (in the broadest sense of the word) is the Official Gazette (“Gaceta Oficial”) published since 1872. Regular issues are released daily (except Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays). Special issues (including long statutes or regulations, codes, supreme tribunal decisions, etc.) are released sporadically. Laws do not have reference numbers.
The best private compilation of laws and decrees is the Ramírez & Garay Legal Gazette (“Gaceta Legal Ramírez y Garay”) published since 1958.
State laws are published in the official gazettes of those entities, and municipal ordinances are published in the respective municipal gazettes.
- Electronic access to the Official Gazette is provided through the Supreme Tribunal website (all issues since January 2000 to date).
- VLex – a fee-based database, contains cases from all courts, codes, doctrina (books and articles, some of them in English)
- Electronic access to the Ramírez & Garay Legal Gazette is available only to subscribers
- National Law Center for Inter-American Free Trade – Fee-based access to the full text in Spanish of recent laws arranged in alphabetical order by subject.
- Free access to the full text in Spanish of selected codes and laws
- Free access to the full text in Spanish of a limited number of codes and laws.
- Free access to the full text in Spanish of a limited number of codes and laws arranged by subject.
- Free access to the full text in Spanish of labor laws and regulations.
- Free access to the full text in Spanish of environmental laws and regulations.
- Free access to the full text in Spanish of election laws and regulations.
Official collections of historical value are the following:
- Laws and Regulatory Decrees of the United States of Venezuela (“Leyes y Decretos Reglamentarios de los Estados Unidos de Venezuela”), which collects all the texts of laws enacted from 1811 to 1944;
- Compilation of Laws and Decrees of Venezuela (“Recopilación de Leyes y Decretos de Venezuela”), published in 1964, which contains all the legislation enacted from 1830 to 1951;
- Legislative Compilation of Venezuela (“Compilación Legislativa de Venezuela”), which contains legislation in force until 1949;
- Public Treaties and International Agreements of Venezuela (“Tratados Públicos y Acuerdos Internacionales de Venezuela”), a set published between 1924 and 1956.
A good number of Venezuelan codes and laws have been translated into English. Most of them are available in print. The following is a partial list.
- National Constitution (1999) (translation available in Constitutions of the Countries of the World).
- Code of Civil Procedure (1987) (translation of articles 608 to 629 available in World Arbitration Reporter)
- Commercial Code (1955) (translation available as a publication of “Traductores Técnicos”)
- Arbitration Law (1998) (translation available in International Handbook on Commercial Arbitration)
- Copyright Law (1993) (translation available in Copyright and Neighboring Rights, Laws, and Treaties).
- Estate and Gift Tax Law (1999) (digest available in Taxation in Latin America).
- Income Tax Law (2001) (translation available in Tax Laws of the World).
- Land Use Law (1983) (translation available in Food and Agricultural Legislation, Vol. 33, No. 2).
- Law on Electronic Signatures and Data Messages (2001) (translation available in Foreign Tax Law Bulletin No. 14).
- Law on Mining (1999) (translation available in Mining Legislation) (South America) 128-SA-22.
- Law on natural gas exploration and exploitation (2000) (translation available in Petroleum legislation (South America) supplements 149 and 160.
- Private International Law (1998) (translation available in Yearbook of Private International Law).
- Trust Law (1956) (translation available in Foreign Tax Law Bulletin No. 9).
A few items are available online:
A few words about the value of jurisprudence in Venezuela are in order. In Venezuela, codification has not allowed case law to reach the same recognition it has within the Common Law system. Contradictions between statutes and judgments may render the latter useless. Legal provisions are considered mandatory, as long as judges do not believe that they violate the constitution. The role of case law is thus minimized by the tradition of codification and regulation and limited to fill in legislative blanks.
Although the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal is considered the supreme interpreter of the national constitution and laws arising thereof, its decisions are not mandatory for similar cases. Even when judging similar cases, lower courts, by virtue of their autonomy, may set aside the Supreme Tribunal doctrine, without infringing the constitution. That dismissal, however, should not be arbitrary or groundless because although judges only decide the specific cases assigned to them, they must provide new arguments to justify their disagreement with the Supreme Tribunal ruling in analogous instances.
Vis-à-vis the reporting system, all Supreme Tribunal decisions are officially published in the Forensic Gazette (“Gaceta Forense”), now in its second series (1953 to date). The first series covered the years 1949 to 1953. Between 1874 and 1949, the Venezuelan highest court opinions were published in the different reports reserved for its opinions. Since the court changed names several times, the publication titles were modified accordingly. Most of the time it was entitled Report of the Federal Court or Report of the Court of Cassation (“Memorias de la Corte Federal y de Casación”). Like the highest court in France (“Cour de Cassation”), the court’s name derived from its power to quash the decisions of all inferior courts.
Some Supreme Court decisions are published in special issues of the Gaceta Oficial. All decisions from 2000 on can also be found online here.
Two private reporters are entitled Jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of Justice (“Jurisprudencia de la Corte Suprema de Justicia”) (Caracas, Samadi, 1994-to date) (also issued in CD-ROM or diskette) and Jurisprudence of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (“Jurisprudencia del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia”) (Caracas, Pierre Tapia, 2000-to date). Both are monthly publications.
There is no regular publication of lower court opinions. Summaries of the most important decisions were collected and published sporadically, between 1950 and 1998, by the Ministry of Justice, under the title Jurisprudence of the Courts of the Republic (“Jurisprudencia de los Tribunales de la Republica”).
Selected decisions of the entire range of Venezuelan courts are included in Ramirez & Garay Venezuelan Jurisprudence (“Jurisprudencia Venezolana Ramirez & Garay”) (1960-to date), a monthly publication and in the Forensic Reporter (“Repertorio Forense”), a comprehensive quarterly (1966-to date).
As stated above, publication in the Official Gazette is a prerequisite to the enforcement of any regulatory instrument in Venezuela. A selection of the most important decrees and regulations is also published in the Ramírez & Garay Legal Gazette (“Ramírez & Garay Gaceta Legal”) (1958-to date).
Of course, the internet is quickly becoming the medium of choice for the dissemination of these materials. Unfortunately, at this point, the presidential website does not include any legislation, executive regulation or presidential decree database.
Since the National Assembly regulates all areas of public administration, ministries and other agencies lack rulemaking power. As stated above, however, Ministries do issue resolutions on the matters of their competence. Each homepage of a Ministry site offers links to bodies of its own structure and to others, which deal with the same subject. A few of these sites offer access to statutes, regulations, and resolutions in their respective specialties. The following is a list of those ministries currently offering access to those items:
- Ministry of Agriculture
- Ministry of Youth and Sports
- Ministry of Electric Energy
- Ministry of Public Health
Free access to the full text of all statutes, regulations, decrees, and resolutions is now available through a comprehensive government website.
Although this brief guide has been devoted mainly to primary sources of legal information, it will conclude with a short list of titles representative of the literature on Venezuelan law in English. It is important to point out that the apparent out-datedness of most of them does not affect the quality of the analysis and value as providers of an overview of the legal system (even today).
- Modern Legal Systems Cyclopedia v.10 South America, Chap. 8. The legal system of the Republic of Venezuela in general -- Sec. 1. Specific performance under Venezuelan law -- Sec. 2. Security interests under the laws of Venezuela: an introductory guide. Buffalo, N.Y.: W.S. Hein, general editor, Kenneth Robert Redden. 1984.
- International Encyclopedia of Comparative Law, v. I, “National Reports, fascicle V/Z Venezuela [published under the auspices of the International Association of Legal Science. Editorial committee: R. David [et al.]. Tubingen, 1975.
- Business Operations in Venezuela, edited by Nicasio del Castillo [et al.] [BNA] Bureau of National Affairs, c2002- Washington, D.C. Tax Management Inc., Tax management portfolios 993-2nd
- Doing business in Venezuela, edited by Araque [et al.], Yonkers, N.Y., Juris Publishing, 2002- (looseleaf).
- A guide to the law and legal literature of Venezuela H.L. Clagett, Washington, Library of Congress, 1947.
- A statement of the laws of Venezuela in matters affecting business. P. Silveira Barrios Washington, O.A.S. 1977.
- Female Citizens, Patriarchs and the Law in Venezuela, 1786-1904. Arlene J. Diaz. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004.
- Latin American Investment Protections: Comparative Perspectives on Laws, Treaties, and Disputes for Investors, States and Counsel, (See, Chap. 18: Venezuela). Jonathan C. Hamilton, Omar E. García-Bolívar, Hernando Otero, eds., Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2012.
Among the articles and notes on Venezuelan law published in American law reviews and journals, the following (listed in reverse chronological order) are worthy of mention:
- #SOSVENEZUELA: Crimes against Humanity in Venezuela, by Susana Mijares Peña, v. 18 Gonzaga Journal of International Law p. 1 (2015).
- Mercosur: Venezuela’s New Vehicle for Resistance to American Political and Economic Hegemony, by Noah Asa Phillips, v. 38 Hastings International and Comparative Law Review p. 169 (Winter 2015).
- Venezuela: The End of Federalism (Chapter 20 in Federalism and Legal Unification, A Comparative Empirical Investigation of Twenty Systems), by Allan Brewer-Carías and Jan Kleinheisterkamp, v. 28 IUS Gentium p.523 (2014).
- Balancing Regulation and Rights in Venezuela’s Media War, by Molly Carney, v. 35 Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Review p.273 (Spring, 2013).
- The Process of “Deconstitutionalization” of the Venezuelan Constitutional State as the Most Important Current Constitutional Issue in Venezuela, by Allan Brewer-Carías, v. 51 Duquesne Law Review p.349 (Spring, 2013).
- When the Victim Becomes the Criminal: The Case of Ivan Simonovis, by Nicole M. Bagdadi, v. 19 ILSA Journal of International and Comparative Law p.555 (Summer, 2013).
- Treaty Shopping and Expansive Jurisdiction: Causes and Effects of Venezuela’s Denunciation of the ICSID Convention, by Kathryn E. Rimpfel, v. 5 Yearbook on Arbitration and Mediation p. 371 (2013).
- Past and Present Legal Guarantees for Protection of Foreign Investments in Venezuela, by Omar E. García-Bolívar, v. 18 Law & Business Review of the Americas p.173 (Spring, 2012).
- Rebalancing Oil Contracts in Venezuela, by Julián Cárdenas García, v. 33 Houston Journal of International Law p.235 (Spring 2011).
- Media Laws in Latin America: A Comparison between Venezuela and Argentina, by Julieta Grinffiel, v. 17 Law & Business Review of the Americas p.557 (Summer, 2011).
- Courts Between Democracy and Hybrid Authoritarianism: Evidence from the Venezuelan Supreme Court, by Raúl A. Sánchez Urribarri, v. 36 Law and Social Inquiry p.854 (Fall, 2011).
- The Uncertain fate of Venezuela’s Black Pearl: The Petrostate and Its Ambiguous Oil and Gas Legislation, by Luis E. Cuervo, v. 32 Houston Journal of International Law p. 637 (2010).
- Political Risk Management in Light of Venezuela’s Partial Nationalisation of the Oilfield Services Sector, by Elisabeth Eljuri and Clovis Treviño, v.3 Journal of Energy & Natural Resources Law p. 375 (2010).
- More than just Words?: The Relations Between Venezuela and Colombia and Unasur Intervention In Light of the Defense Cooperation Agreement Between the United States and Colombia, by Katherine M. Tullos, v. 16 Law and Business Review of the Americas p.559 (2010).
- “Judicial Terrorism? Analysis of the Exxon/Venezuela Litigation and Prejudgment Attachment under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities, by Matthew Nickles, v. 6 South Carolina Journal of International Law & Business p. 335 (2010).
- The Legal Death of the Latin American Democracy: Bolivarian Populism’s Model for Centralizing Power, Eliminating Political Opposition, and Undermining the Rule of Law, by Frank M. Walsh, v. 16 Law & Business Review of the Americas p.241 (Spring, 2010).
- Venezuela Joins Mercosur: The Impact Felt Around the Americas, by Kristin L. Brown, v. 16 Law & Business Review of the Americas p.85 (Winter, 2010).
- Economic Development and Environmental Threats: Tipping the Balance in Venezuela, by Lauren Sanchez-Murphy, v. 7 Loyola University Chicago International Law Review p.73 (2009).
- Developments in the Venezuelan hydrocarbon sector, by L.B. Pascal, v. 15 Law and business review of the Americas 531 (2009).
- The Principle of Separation of Powers and Authoritarian Government in Venezuela, by Allan R. Brewer-Carías, 47 Duquesne Law Review 813 (2009).
- Evaluating Stabilization Clauses in Venezuela’s Strategic Association Agreements for Heavy-Crude Extraction in the Orinoco Belt: The Return of a Forgotten Contractual Risk Reduction Mechanism for the Petroleum Industry, by Thomas J. Pate, v. 40 University of Miami Inter-American Law Review p.347 (2009).
- The Dynamics of Economic Integration In Venezuela and Their Implications for the FTAA Process, by Charles H. Blake, v.15 Law and Business Review of the Americas p.81 (2009).
- Arbitration of Venezuelan Oil Contracts: A Losing Strategy? by Emily A. Witten, v. 4 Texas Journal of Oil, Gas, and Energy Law p.55 (2009).
- 21st-Century Transformation of the Venezuelan Oil Industry, by Elisabeth Eljuri and Victorino J Tejera-Pérez, v.26 Journal of Energy & Natural Resources Law p.475 (2008).
- Hugo Chavez: Venezuela’s New Bandito or Zorro? by Andy Mielnik, v.14 Law and Business Review of the Americas p. 591 (2008).
- Preventing the Inevitable: The Benefits of Contractual Risk Engineering in Light of Venezuela’s Recent Oil Field Nationalization, by Brandon Marsh, v.13 Stanford Journal of Law, Business and Finance p.453. (2008).
- Prior Restraints in Venezuela’s Social Responsibility on Radio and Television Act: Are They Justified? by Angel L. Olivera-Soto, v.40 George Washington International Law Review p.401 (2008).
- “Full Sovereignty Over Oil”: A Discussion over Venezuelan Oil Policy and Possible Consequence of Recent Changes, by B. Seth McNew, v. 14 Law & Business Review of the Americas p.149 (Winter, 2008).
- Judicial Review in Venezuela, by Allan R. Brewer-Carias, v.45 Duquesne Law Review p.439 (2007).
- The Colombia-Venezuela Maritime Boundary Case: Proposal for a Joint Development Zone in the Gulf of Venezuela, by Victoria VanBuren, v. 1 Texas Journal of Oil, Gas, and Energy Law p.68 (2006).
- Judicial Independence Threatened in Venezuela: The Removal of Venezuelan Judges and the Complications of Rule of Law Reform, by Lauren Castaldi, v. 37 Georgetown Journal of International Law p.477 (Spring, 2006).
- Centralized Federalism in Venezuela, by Allan R. Brewer-Carias, v.43 Duquesne Law Review p.629 (2005).
- Why Further Development of ADR in Latin America Makes Sense: The Venezuelan Model, by Jose A. Ramirez-Leon, v, 2005 Journal of Dispute Resolution p.399 (2005).
- Venezuela: How a Hydrocarbons Law Crippled an Oil Giant, by Stacy S. Rentner, v. 27 Hastings International and Comparative Law Review p. 351 (2004).
- La Sentencia de los Militares: A Look at Venezuela’s Supreme Court Ruling that made a "Coup" Legal, by Julio Bardavid, v. 10 Southwestern Journal of Law & Trade in the Americas p 219, (2003 / 2004).
- Venezuela v. Ford Motor Company: The Trend of Dismissing Mass Tort Cases on Grounds of Forum Non-Conveniens, by Douglas A. Praw, v. 8 Southwestern Journal of Law & Trade in the Americas p. 373, (2002).
- The Human Right to Health, National Courts, and Access to HIV/AIDS Treatment: a Case Study from Venezuela, by Mary Ann Torres, v. 3 Chicago Journal of International Law p. 105 (2002).
- The "Enabling Law": The Demise of the Separation of Powers in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, by Mario J. Garcia-Serra, v. 32 University of Miami Inter-American Law Review p. 265 (Spring / Summer, 2001).
- Corporate Caveat Emptor: Minority Shareholder Rights in Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina, by Jose W. Fernandez et al., v. 32 University of Miami Inter-American Law Review p. 157 (Spring / Summer, 2001).
- Heavy-Reliance on Hydro-Electric Power, Lack of Investment of Transmission, Attempts to Encourage Gas-Fired Generation, A New Legal Regime and the Crisis of Supply, Sounds Familiar? The Case of Venezuela, by Uisdean R. Vass and Adriana Lezcano, v. 7 Law & Business Review of the Americas p.625 (Fall 2001)
- The New Venezuelan Legal Regime for Natural Gas: A Hopeful New Beginning?, by Uisdean R. Vass and Adriana Lezcano, v. 36 Texas International Law Journal p.99 (Winter, 2001).
- Topics of Procedure in the Venezuelan 1998 Act on Private International Law, by Gonzalo Parra-Aranguren, v. 60 Louisiana Law Review p.1241 (Summer, 2000).
- Judicial Suspensions and Due Process under Venezuela's New Democratic Model, by Brenda Brown Perez, v. 19 Journal of the National Association of Administrative Law Judges p. 125 (Fall 1999).
- The Personal Property Secured Financing System of Venezuela, by Horacio E. Gutierrez-Machado, v. 30 University of Miami Inter-American Law Review p. 343 (Winter1999).
- Post Privatization in the Americas: Competition Law Policy and the Alternative: The Commercialization of Gasoline and other Hydrocarbon Fuel Derivatives in Venezuela, by Faustino Flamarique, v. 6 Southwestern Journal of Law & Trade in the Americas p. 119 (Spring, 1999).
- Venezuela as an Opportunity for Investment in the Petroleum Industry, by Jay G. Martin, v. 20 Energy Law Journal p.325 (1999).
- Venezuela: The New Peace Courts (Tribunales de Paz), by Jesus Esparzal, v. 33 University of Louisville Journal of Family Law p. 561 (Spring 1995).