Allegations of cruel treatment in Venezuela

El Espectador gained access to the court records of five of the fourteen cases of alleged degrading treatment during the current demonstrations in the country.

25 years of El Caracazo are remembered today

By: Leo Felipe Campos, Marcel Ventura in Caracas           

El Espectador, 02-27-2014

Luis Alejandro Márquez, an engineer, liked to play war games. And in a war, as the old phrase, the first victim is always the truth. On the night of February 19th, in La Candelaria parish, in the capital of Venezuela,  Marquez was pursued by the Bolivarian National Guard officials.   He was recording the repression of a small protest when several guards approached him, as can be seen in a home-made video shot from a nearby building. He didn’t make it farther than one block. After the sound of his fearful footsteps a series of detonations can be heard and then he falls. Márquez wasn’t hit by bullets or pellets, but when he fell he hit his head against the ground. Two days later he was diagnosed with brain dead and died last Sunday.

In the midst of the political battle in Venezuela, there’s also a communicational one taking place. As censorship and self-censorship affect the media, social networks have become vitally important to establish facts and determine what may be true and what not. Everyone, Chavistas and opponents, journalists and citizens in general are asking themselves what is the truth?

“It wasn’t any ordinary Venezuelan who died”, said Diosdado Cabello, President of the Venezuelan National Assembly on his TV program referring to Alejandro Márquez, after which he showed images taken from Facebook and of Twitter messages from the personal account of the deceased engineer, whom he accused of being “hitman” and “a mercenary” hired “to kill our comrade Nicolas Maduro.”  Márquez appears in the pictures wearing camouflage gear and holding an assault weapon. In his Twitter messages there was a conversation in which he replied something along the lines of: “If I’m given the chance, I’ll nail his a… and others too”. He was referring to the President of Venezuela. “This man was killed by his own people”, said Cabello, “it was payback for not doing his job.”

The following day, the Venezuelan Airsoft Federation (FVA), with more than 1,400 members, rejected categorically Diosdado’s accusations:  “Despite not being formally registered with the FVA, (Márquez) was a regular hard-working Venezuelan who took part in our sport, which lacks any sort of training or militarist orientation.” Airsoft is a game based on military field strategies that uses special weapons, exact replicas of those used in combat but with 6-8 mm diameter pellets.

“These weapons are toy replicas that run on batteries”, said Márquez’s close friend Yamal Rojas, who also takes part in this discipline. “The pictures shown by Diosdado must be from 2010, but if you look closely, you will see that he uses his fingers sometimes to cover parts of the photos in the video, why? Because the tips of the guns are orange, and that is a way of seeing the difference. Alejandro was not a paramilitary nor someone on the CIA payroll,” said Yamal, before adding what several media outlets have already published: that Márquez was savagely beaten by the National Guard after falling and while he was driven to hospital. “One can still see the haematomas on his head,” he added, during his friend’s burial last Tuesday.

Despite comments made by the President of the National Assembly, seven officers of the Bolivarian National Guard are under investigation for their alleged participation in Alejandro’s death, who leaves a girl orphaned. However, it was not the only unfounded accusation made by Cabello. In that same program he showed a picture of a large number of assault weapons that he claimed belonged to the retired general Ángel Vivas. A few hours later it was confirmed that the picture had been taken from a website belonging to a Wisconsin-based airsoft group in The United States.

The systematic nature of the repression perpetrated by Venezuelan security forces in recent days implies it could be qualified as State-sponsored violence. The Venezuelan NGO Forum Penal Venezolano has accounted for 609 arrests and illegal detentions since the protests began on February 12. Of that figure, 162 have resulted in precautionary injunctions and there are 21 cases of deprivation of liberty. However, it is the 18 corroborated cases of torture and cruel and degrading treatment that have received widespread public attention.

The case of Juan Manuel Carrasco has received international coverage. Carrasco is a young Venezuelan with Spanish nationality who was detained in the state of Carabobo on February 13 with two other friends. He claims to have been raped by an officer with the tip of an assault rifle. The Attorney General of the Republic of Venezuela, Luisa Ortega Díaz, denied the incident last Monday: “It is not true that he was anally raped with a weapon. That person was made the legal medical examination”, and added that Carrasco did not report anything about rape during the hearing: “Neither Carrasco or his lawyers.” According to Ortega Díaz, all of the legal parties involved signed the report.

Carrasco’s lawyer, Luis Armando Betancourt, maintains the Attorney General is lying, because neither he nor his clients agreed with the information included in the records during that long late-night hearing: “There were eleven lawyers present and I can guarantee that three of us and the accused didn’t sign a thing.” We have not had access to the case files. As soon as we have it, believe me you will be the first to know about it, so the truth can come out,” he said to El Espectador.

The Venezuelan Torture Act, passed in July 2013, typifies torture, cruel treatment and degrading treatment. All of these cases imply mistreatment, but in the case of torture it must be linked to a confession by the subject about taking part in a crime. Since the protests began there have been four corroborated cases of torture. These involve the Bolivarian Intelligence Service and four young protesters tortured with electricity so they would confess they were conspiring against the government. One of the accused, who has asked to remain anonymous, said that before each electrical discharge the officers would say: “Here, take a dose of your Leopoldo”, making reference to the opposition leader Leopoldo López.

El Espectador gained access to the court records of five of the 14 cases of cruel and degrading treatment.

“In the patrol vehicle (…) they knocked me around, hit me with helmets, they pushed us to the ground while we were handcuffed, they hit us on the ribs, they put us shirts drenched in gasoline, they said you will be found guilty, they made me kneel, they threatened to kill me, they beat me with a stick, a bat, they stepped on my fingers”. This is the case of Marco Eurelio Coello, detained on February 12 in the center of Caracas amid a battle of stones, tear-gas and bullets. This was the clash where Juancho Montoya was assassinated, the first of fifteen nationwide confirmed casualties up to this day.

As Coello, Ángel de Jesús González was close to the Public Prosecutor’s office building where the opposition’s demonstration ended that day. When violence escalated at the beginning of the afternoon several vehicles belonging to the Venezuelan CICPC police force were damaged. González maintained his innocence as was recorded in his hearing: “I was assaulted by five people, they said I had burned the SUV (…) they hit me in the face.” The same authorities arrested Luis Felipe Boada under the same circumstances: “They poured gasoline on me. I pleaded not to be set alight. One of the policemen said, yes, we are going set you on fire, but I could not see which one poured gasoline on me, and then they left me there drowning.” He was beaten “on the face, ribs, and stomach. One of the officers hit me with something damp, they hit me with a helmet right in the middle of my back.”

Today, February 27, Venezuela remembers its most significant social revolt of the last century, the so called Caracazo. It was a popular insurrection that left more than 300 official deaths due to the brutal repression  by security forces ordered by then president Carlos Andrés Pérez, in 1989. According to unofficial figures of human rights NGOs, such as Cofavic, more than one thousand people were murdered. Many political analysts believe that the beginning of Chavismo can be traced back to those events. Nicolás Maduro declared the date a national holiday in honor of the deceased. On Monday, he asked for a warm hand of applause for the Bolivarian National Guard, for having “played a patient role to achieve peace.”

Opposition leaders reject dialogue

The opposing Mesa de Unidad Democrática  (MUD) declined an invitation made by President Maduro to establish a national dialogue and considered the initiative as “a simulacrum” that could end up being interpreted as “an insult to our compatriots”. Earlier, the main opposition leader, Henrique Capriles announced that he would not heed the government’s call. On the other hand, the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference and the Chamber of Industries, Fedecámaras, normally lambasted by the government, accepted the invitation. Also, United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, called the government and the opposition to take concrete actions to restore tranquility. “We hope to see concrete gestures from all parties to reduce polarization and create the necessary conditions so that a significant dialogue can take place.”

Source: Campos, Leo Felipe and Ventura, Marcel. “Denuncias de tratos crueles en Venezuela”. El Espectador. 02-27-2014. Comunican S.A. Accessed on February 27, 2014. <http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/elmundo/denuncias-de-tratos-crueles-venezuela-articulo-477566&gt;.

Translated by #infoVnzla

@infoVnzl