UK arms exports to countries of concernAOAV: all our reports

UK arms exports to Venezuela (2012-2022)

Venezuela Country Overview

Venezuela is a country located in the northern region of South America, with a population of 28 million.

In 2012, Hugo Chavez, who had been the President of Venezuela since 1999, won re-election for a fourth term. However, he passed away in 2013 and was succeeded by his Vice President, Nicolas Maduro. Maduro’s presidency was marked by significant challenges, including an economic crisis marked by hyperinflation, shortages of basic goods, and a rapidly declining economy. This crisis was exacerbated by falling oil prices, which is the country’s major source of revenue.

In 2014, protests erupted across Venezuela, with citizens expressing frustration over the economic situation, as well as allegations of government corruption and human rights abuses. The government responded with force, leading to numerous deaths and injuries.

After multiple alleged attempts by Maduro to consolidate his power and marginalize the opposition, opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president in 2018, arguing that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate. He was recognized as the legitimate leader by numerous countries, including the United States and many European nations, but Maduro remained in power with the backing of the military.

The political and economic crisis continued into 2022, with millions of Venezuelans fleeing the country in search of better opportunities and living conditions. Sanctions, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic also exacerbated the situation, with Venezuela’s healthcare system struggling to cope with the outbreak and oil prices falling internationally.

How many licenses for arms sales to Venezuela did the UK government issue between 2012 and 2022?

The British government granted Venezuela 14 limited and 17 unlimited export licenses for arms between 2012 and 2022. Exports ceased after 2016 with the exception of 2 in 2018 and most recently 3 in 2022.

What is the total value of those exports in GBP?  

The majority of the value of arms exports to Venezuela is attributed to sales early in the decade. The decline in export license approvals in 2017 is attributable to the European arms embargo on arms and equipment for internal repression. However, the UK interrupted this embargo by exporting £3.1k worth of Warships in 2018 and lately resumed exports with £160k worth of military goods being exported in 2022.

What are the top 10 types of arms export licenses Britain is selling to Venezuela?

Most of the weaponry granted by the UK to the government of Venezuela was for surveillance and communications purposes presumably used to enhance the regime’s capacity to spy on its citizens.

Top 10 military items exported from the UK to Venezuela between 2012-2022Total number of licenses
general naval vessel components7
equipment for the operation of military aircraft in confined areas5
components for combat aircraft5
components for combat naval vessels4
military aircraft ground equipment4
components for equipment for the operation of military aircraft in confined areas4
military aero-engines3
general military aircraft components3
signalling devices3
components for combat helicopters3
Top 3 military export items from the UK to Venezuela between 2012-2022 by valueValue in GBP
ML1 ‒ Small arms£317k
ML10 ‒ Aircraft, helicopters, drones£250k
ML6 ‒ Armoured vehicles, tanks£161k

Why should British citizens be concerned about arms sales?

1) Venezuela is experiencing one of the greatest humanitarian crises resulting and widespread human rights violations committed by the Venezuelan government.

2) The Venezuelan exodus is motivated by intense internal repression by security forces and armed pro-government groups.

3) Venezuela is a source, transit, and destination country for  illicit arms trafficking

4) According to United Nations figures, “Venezuela has the second highest peacetime murder rate in the world after Honduras.”

5) The majority of murders in Venezuela involve a firearm. Some studies suggest a connection between the high rate of homicide in Venezuela (81 per 100,000 people) and the prevalence of firearms used in homicides, as they are responsible for 89% of homicides in the country.

What has the British government said about these concerns?

The British government has repeatedly expressed their deepest concerns:

The UK government has publicly condemned both former President Chavez and President Maduro’s rule, especially with regard to their violent response to demonstrations and protests. In a February 2019 public statement by then-foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office also intervened in the supreme court appeal to make it clear that the UK government recognized only Guaidó as exercising the powers of Venezuela’s president. In addition, in February 2019 the UK said “The oppression of the illegitimate, kleptocratic Maduro regime must end. Those who continue to violate the human rights of ordinary Venezuelans under an illegitimate regime will be called to account.

Later in the year, it released another statement, saying ‘the UK remains seriously concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in Venezuela. The actions of the Maduro regime have led to social and economic collapse, threatening regional stability and security. It is a man-made humanitarian crisis exacerbated by years of economic mismanagement, hyperinflation, shortages of food and medicine, and serious human rights violations.’

In September 2022, the UK released a statement at the UN Human Rights Council Interactive Dialogue on Venezuela, expressing their grave concern about the threats and crimes against human rights defenders, activists, educators and union leaders and the violence in mining areas in Venezuela.

These only constitute a number of occasions on which the UK has expressed their full awareness of the human rights violations,  and the dire situation in the country.

What evidence is there of human rights abuses that the Venezuelan government has committed since 2012?

The United Nations, international human rights organizations, and Venezuelan civil society have reported on a range of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detention, and restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.

The government of President Nicolas Maduro has been accused of crimes against humanity using force to suppress opposition protests, as well as engaging in arbitrary arrests and torture of opposition figures and activists. There have also been reports of widespread food and medicine shortages, which have had a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations. 63% of children examined in 2018 suffered from malnutrition, and the Global Acute Malnutrition Index, which measures the percentage of children under the age of 5 with acute to severe malnutrition, stood in September at 9.6%. 

The UN OHCHR issued a report in 2018, documenting “human rights violations committed by State authorities since August 2017, including the use of excessive force in non-protest-related security operations, new instances of arbitrary detentions, torture, and ill-treatment, as well as cases of extrajudicial killings and lack of access to justice for victims and their families.” The number of refugees and migrants from Venezuela worldwide has reached 5.9 million.

Extrajudicial executions, short-term forced disappearances, the jailing of opponents, prosecutions of civilians in military courts, torture of detainees, and crackdowns on protesters continued in 2022, according to Human rights watch. Furthermore, the government jailed political opponents and disqualified them from running for office. As of October 25 2022, there were 254 political prisoners and 15,756 people had been arbitrarily arrested since 2014.

The HRW reports continues that ‘between 2016 and 2019, police and other security forces killed more than 19,000 people, alleging “resistance to authority.”’

Due to the severity of the human rights abuses the international community, including the EU and the US imposed sanctions and travel bans in 2017. 

Despite this catalogue of harm, the UK still deems it acceptable to sell weapons and arms to the Government of Venezuela. Human rights abuses continue.

For more from this investigation please go here.