Unchecked Power Police and Military Raids in Low-Income and Immigrant Communities in Venezuela

Posted on April 6, 2016 • Filed under: Corruption, Crime, Police/Military Activity, Venezuela

HRW.ORG special report on Venezuela

Since July 2015, Venezuelan security forces have conducted more than 135 operations, including sweeps through low-income communities, as part of a program known as the “Operation to Liberate and Protect the People” (Operación de Liberación y Protección del Pueblo, OLP). Participating security forces have included the Bolivarian National Guard, the Bolivarian National Police, the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN), the Scientific, Penal, and Criminal Investigative Police (CICPC), and state police forces.

Government officials have at times described the aim of the OLP raids as combatting criminal gangs that contribute to the extremely high levels of violence in Venezuela. (The country’s official murder rate was 58 per 100,000 people in 2015, one of the highest in the world.) At other times, officials have characterized the OLP in more political terms, as an effort to rid the country of armed groups that the government has alleged have links to Colombian “paramilitaries” and rightwing politicians.

Whatever the ostensible purpose of the OLP raids, there is considerable evidence, detailed here, that the security forces conducting them have committed serious abuses. In interviews with the Venezuelan Human Rights Education-Action Program (PROVEA) and Human Rights Watch, victims, witnesses, and other interlocutors described violations including extrajudicial killings and other violent abuses, arbitrary detentions, forced evictions, the destruction of homes, and the arbitrary deportation of Colombian nationals often accused without evidence of having links to “paramilitaries.”

The scope of violations by security forces during OLP raids remains unclear, in large part because Venezuelan authorities have not adequately investigated the allegations. In addition, some witnesses and victims have been reluctant to talk about government abuses for fear of retaliation. Nonetheless, in research carried out by PROVEA and Human Rights Watch between July 2015 and February 2016, dozens of victims and eyewitnesses gave specific and detailed accounts of human rights abuses by security forces engaged in OLP operations, lending credence to the broader allegations of abuse.

A common denominator shared by these cases, and by government abuses we have documented in other contexts during the past decade in Venezuela, is the extent to which the victims—or their families—have been unable to challenge alleged abuses of state power, feeling they have nowhere to turn for protection of their fundamental rights.

Over the past decade, a concentration of power in the presidency and politicization of the courts have produced a dramatic erosion of human rights protections in Venezuela. As PROVEA and Human Rights Watch have each documented in multiple reports, the Venezuelan government has wielded virtually unchecked power against its critics and opponents—jailing politicians, blacklisting trade unionists, censoring and shutting down media outlets, harassing human rights defenders, and cracking down on peaceful protests. This broad and aggressive exercise of executive power has today left people of all political stripes—not only critics—defenseless in the face of abusive government policies and practices: the neighborhoods targeted by the OLP raids documented in this report include several vulnerable low-income and immigrant communities.

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