On April 4th Human Rights Watch and PROVEA released a report on Venezuela’s most recent security initiative, Operation Liberation and Protection of the People (hereafter referred to as OLP). The report is entitled “Power without Limits: Police and Military Raids in Popular and Immigrant Communities in Venezuela.”
Its findings are based on interviews with victims of abuse, their family members, and witnesses. Interviews were conducted by both PROVEA and Human Rights Watch. The full report can be accessed here.
The report documents the deployment of the OLP, which was launched in July 2015 in popular sectors throughout the country. Like the DIBISE and the Secure Homeland Plan before it, the OLP sends military and police officers into poor areas to conduct raids and arrests.
Though the operation is meant to reduce crime and violence, it is precisely these militarized approaches that have been shown to contribute to increasing violence throughout the region. Indeed, PROVEA presents evidence of thousands of instances of abuse, executions, arbitrary detentions, and illegal deportation. These actions delegitimize the state and justify armed responses to crime.
And, while the OLP is supposed to liberate the country from criminal gangs it is likely that these raids have contributed to the articulation and increased organization of gangs in urban areas. According to José Miguel Cruz, an El Salvadorian sociologist, these policies motivate local criminal gangs to reorganize in order to better respond to repressive policing.
Though PROVEA has reported accusations to the Attorney General multiple times, it is unclear if denunciations of officers carrying out OLP raids will be investigated. In the Attorney General’s annual report, she stated that 251 security officers have been charged with human rights abuses this year. However, these were not directly linked to the OLP.
Following are some of the key findings of the report.
During the 135 raids that have been conducted under the OLP, 245 people have died. PROVEA claims that there are at least 20 suspected extrajudicial executions, though the actual numbers are probably much higher, given the discrepancy in the number of civilians and security officers killed.
Public figures have attributed these deaths to armed confrontations between “delinquents” and security officers. Though the government has not released information on the number of security officers killed during OLP raids, PROVEA reports evidence of three officers killed and 14 injured during raids. If most civilians were killed during armed confrontations, the numbers of dead and injured officers should be much higher. (Keymar Avila, criminologist at the Universidad Central, has also pointed out this discrepancy.)
According to witnesses, some were killed when they were already in custody. In at least one case, according to PROVEA, a victim was in bed when he was shot.
Arbitrary Detentions and Evictions
More than 14,000 people were detained arbitrarily between July 2015 and January 2016. Of those detained, only 100 were eventually charged with a crime. Some detainees told PROVEA that security officers had beaten them and stolen goods from their homes, including computers, cell phones, food, and diapers.
In at least one case, a man was detained for 41 days without being able to call his family or a lawyer. Another detainee was held for 28 days. Neither of these men was presented before a judge, even though the law requires that detainees be presented before a judge within 48 hours of their detention.
The Ministry of Justice has reported that 258 people have been evicted from their homes, with only six of these individuals detained.
According to PROVEA, however, thousands of people have been evicted from their homes, many of them in the states of Miranda and Carabobo. Those interviewed said they received no notification before their eviction and were given no opportunity to challenge it. Many could not return to their homes, as they were bulldozed after the eviction. In Miranda, interviewees reported that officials from the Public Ministry were present while their homes were being razed to the ground, and stood aside as “passive observers.”
At least four journalists were physically assaulted by GN officers while covering the evictions and demolitions.
Those living in housing provided by the Great Housing Mission (Gran Misión Viviendo Venezuela) are in particularly precarious positions, as many of them have not received official documents that recognize them as the legitimate beneficiaries of the program. This makes it more likely that they could be evicted without due process.
According to the Ministry of Justice, at least 12,000 mission homes had been inspected, with 1,421 of them “recuperated” by the state.
In Táchira state alone, more than 1,700 Colombian citizens have been deported. Over 22,000 have left Venezuela for fear of abuse or deportation. None of those deported were given an audience with authorities to question their deportation, even though many said they had legal permission to be in the country. Indeed, over 400 Colombians that returned to Colombia had been granted asylum status from Venezuela.
The report ends with a number of general recommendations and specific ones for President Maduro, the Attorney General, the National Assembly, and the international community.