A recent report concludes that government security forces in Venezuela were responsible for 37 percent of the homicides in the country’s capital city of Caracas during the past two years.
The high amount of lethal action against civilians could confirm accusations that the government is implementing an “iron fist” (mano dura) policy.
A report titled “Underground” (Bajo Tierra) examined the characteristics of the homicides that occurred in Venezuela’s capital over the course of more than a year. Three non-governmental organizations came together to conduct the study: the Activism and Research for Coexistence Network (Red de Activismo e Investigación por la Convivencia – REACIN), My Friend Caracas (Caracas Mi Convive) and an observatory called the Victim Monitor (Monitor de Víctimas).
The registry estimated that 1,739 homicides occurred in Caracas from January 2017 to November 2018. Of those homicides, 37 percent, or 651 cases, were connected to actions taken by government authorities. Researchers collected the data directly from the city morgues, and then testimonies from the victims’ relatives were compared to those given by witnesses and authorities.
The research showed that 17.5 percent of the events involved “resisting authority” and 17.3 percent involved extrajudicial executions. The killings come amid a crackdown by Venezuelan authorities, which claim the constant operations are to control the country’s crime rate.
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A recent example of alleged excessive force by authorities was the murder of two minors in a raid by the Bolivarian National Police (Policía Nacional Bolivariana – PNB) in El Valle, a southwestern parish within Caracas. Media outlet El Nacional reported that a group of six police officers indiscriminately opened fire against area residents, fatally wounding the two minors. The event shocked the country while also highlighting the lack of control over police officers’ use of lethal force.
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Besides providing further evidence that President Nicolás Maduro’s government is using ‘mano dura’ policies and has been since 2015 with its initiative called “Operation Liberation and Protection of the People” (Operación de Liberación y Protección del Pueblo – OLP), the “Bajo Tierra” report demonstrates that attacks from security forces are registered in zones where the city’s poorest residents live. This means that authorities are using force — including lethal force — against one of Venezuela’s most vulnerable populations.
According to the government’s arguments, the routine operations are meant to fight crime in Caracas and reestablish state presence. But the excessive use of force is leading instead to human rights violations and abuse.
REACIN member Verónica Zubillaga said this is not a new situation and that government institutions have generated “a remarkable trend of systemic incarceration and killing … that extends to the police and greater law enforcement. Plus, lethal force is growing.”
The report also revealed that 88 percent of the 651 homicides related to law enforcement were attributed specifically to the Bolivarian National Police and the judicial police force’s anti-drug unit (Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas – CICPC). In the case of the CICPC, its primary function is investigative, so it should not be responding to incidents likely to lead to lethal confrontations.
The research findings coincide with additional figures showing that cases of resisting authority have increased in 16 of Venezuela’s 24 states. The information, to which InSight Crime had access, came out in a leak of official data from a department at the Interior Ministry called the Venezuelan Observatory for Public Security.
As of November 25, 2018, law enforcement officials reported that deaths had increased in 67 percent of the country’s territory, according to the leaked document. This raises questions about the latest statements Interior Minister Néstor Reverol made, in which he claimed that homicides had fallen, especially in Caracas.
Venezuela is currently one of the most violent countries in the world, with a rate of 89 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017. The extensive use of lethal force by authorities does not simply call into question security forces, but may also confirm the frequent accusations of a possible government policy of extermination.