Human Rights Defender in Venezuela: José Luis Urbano

José Luis Urbano is the president of the Foundation for the Defence of the Right to Education (Asociación Pro-Defensa del Derecho a la Educación). The Foundation is a non-governmental organisation working to promote and defend the right to free education for all as it is enshrined in Venezuela’s Constitution.

José Luis Urbano routinely travels to different regions of the country at the invitation of families who want to report irregularities in the school system. For many families, the Foundation is the only channel through which they can make themselves heard.

The Foundation works to ensure that the right to free education is respected in the public sector, so that all children have equal access to education, without discrimination. It publicly exposes irregularities and allegations of corruption in public schools where it appears that the school is illegally demanding payment from families in order to allow children to attend classes, effectively excluding children living in poverty.

The Foundation also campaigns for adequate provision of school facilities, equipment and teaching resources in those areas where the standard of education is thought to be inadequate

José Luis Urbano and other members of the Foundation have repeatedly been targeted because they have publicly condemned corruption and violations of the right to free education in Venezuela.

On 9 February 2007, the Foundation held a press conference to publicize the poor quality of the state education available to poor children in Anzoátegui state. The Foundation said that the education provided was grossly inadequate and that charges were being levied.

José Luis Urbano received an anonymous telephone threat later that day warning him to “stop fishing for information, because something could happen to you”.

The following day, as José Luis Urbano and his wife were driving from their home to the centre of the town of Barcelona in Anzoátegui state, a black car pulled up next to them. Two men got out and one stuck a gun through the window on José Luis Urbano’s side.

The other said, “Shoot him, it’s the guy from Pro-defensa”. José Luis Urbano managed to grab the gun barrel, but the man fired and hit him in the stomach.

The People’s Ombudsman ensured that José Luis Urbano was given police protection while he was in hospital. However, this stopped as soon as he left hospital on 20 February 2007, despite the fact that his wife had made an official complaint about the attack to the police and to the Ombudsman’s Office the day before he was discharged. Nobody has yet been brought to justice for the attempted killing of José Luis Urbano.

On 3 May 2008, during a programme on local radio in Anzoátegui state, José Luis Urbano alleged that a school in the town of Barcelona was illegally demanding payments. Following the radio programme, the director of the school reportedly threatened José Luis Urbano and called for attacks on him.

On 20 May 2008, José Luis Urbano received a telephone death threat. The anonymous caller said: “if you don’t let the [school] directors eat, we are going to make you eat dirt and if you say something about this your family will suffer pain”.

On 22 May, José Luis Urbano was chased by men in a car without number plates; he was riding his motorbike at the time. He feared for his life, but managed to escape.

On 29 September 2008, at around 2pm, at least 30 members of the Immediate Response Police Group of the Anzoátegui state attempted to force their way into the house of José Luis Urbano’s sister, but they failed as the fence was too strong. She refused to let the police in and repeatedly asked them to show her a search warrant.

In response, they shouted at her, “tell your brother that we know he is hiding in there, tell him to come out and tell him that he owes us”. They also warned her not to report the incident to the authorities. Later that day, José Luis Urbano’s sister filed a complaint with the local Prosecutor’s Office.

The incident appears to be linked with a formal complaint that José Luis Urbano made before the state Prosecutor’s Office against a member of the Immediate Response Police Group for acts of harassment against him.

As a result of the persistent threats and the attacks on his life, José Luis Urbano has had to leave his home and to change his addresses repeatedly. He has reported the threats and attacks to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and to other authorities, but to Amnesty International’s knowledge no measures have been taken to investigate these incidents.

No protection measures to ensure the safety of José Luis Urbano, his family and other members of the Foundation have been put in place, despite requests to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, including a request for protection made on 18 June 2008.