Crime & Justice

Venezuelan elite police unit blamed for numerous extrajudicial executions

By Ron Gonzalez

Caracas, Aug 6 (efe-epa).- Members of an elite National Police unit burst into Luis Alfredo Ariza’s home in the Venezuelan capital in the pre-dawn hours of March 13, 2019, and arrested him for reasons that remain unclear to this day.

Minutes later, those same officers executed him with a shot to the chest on a nearby street.

That is the version of events described to his mother, 40-year-old Miriam Gamarra, by eyewitnesses and Ariza’s widow, who was sleeping by his side when armed agents from the National Police’s Special Action Forces (FAES) arrived.

“I know that nobody here has the right to take anyone’s life, but one of the things I hold onto is that my son was no criminal,” a sobbing Gamarra told Efe.

She vividly remembers that day nearly 17 months ago, recalling that she was on her way to work when a phone call alerted her to the incident.

When Gamarra rushed back to the Macarao parish of southwestern Caracas, she found a black cap and a puddle of blood at the spot where Ariza was killed, as well as a gun that she insists did not belong to him.

She said she will never forget how her son’s blood stained the road.

According to a report released in February by the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (OVV), 2,113 people under the age of 30 died in the leftist-led South American country in 2019 after resisting authority, or nearly six per day.

And in another more recent report, that non-governmental organization said that in 2019 the police killed 802 people for every 1,000 violent deaths attributed to criminal suspects.

That figure is “extremely high,” according to the OVV’s director, Roberto Briceño Leon, who said the number of police-involved homicides in Venezuela as a proportion of the population is among the highest in the world.

“Venezuela’s police forces kill 40 times more than (United States) police do … and seven times more than Brazilian police,” Briceño Leon told Efe.

OVV’s figures also indicate that in clashes pitting law-enforcement officers and civilians the latter are 110 times more likely to die.

The expert said many police-involved killings of civilians occur after a suspect has been arrested following a warrant-less raid of a residence. In those instances, the police will report the incident as an armed clash even though the suspect was unarmed and already in custody.

That was the pattern seen in the case of Ariza, according to his family members.

Jesse Gabriel Perez was killed in a similar incident on July 11, 2018, in a poor area near Santa Lucia, a city in the central Venezuelan state of Miranda.

“The FAES burst in at 5.30 am approximately, hitting, threatening, robbing. They took several people away and later killed my brother. They executed him right here, where we live,” his sister, Ruth Perez, told Efe.

The memory remains a painful one for that 36-year-old housewife, a mother of two young women who grew up witnessing the violence that has ripped apart their family and community.

“The FAES burst in again eight months after (Jesse’s death). They hit my daughters, took off my older daughter’s clothes, killed two more local residents … An agent told me he’d kill me if he felt like it. He took out his service weapon and pointed it at my face,” she recalled.

The case file states that Jesse Gabriel resisted authority, Ruth said, though adding that her brother had never been accused of anything.

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