In the last four years a new phenomenon has appeared in Venezuela with the appearance of extermination groups composed of “Para police”. Between the year 2000 and 2001 more than 402 people were killed by members of the police according to the People’s Ombudsman. These groups attack poor young men with the apparent goal of achieving “social cleansing”. Most of these men have been in jail and they are blackmailed and then killed when they can’t pay. These cases are so blatant, that the squads have gone as far as publishing the names of the possible victims. Remarkably, in some cities these squads found support on the part of the citizens who believe this is a way of reducing crime and who obviously have no understanding of what democracy and the rule of law are.
Nowhere has this been worse than in Portuguesa state where the brother of on of those killed has been threatened with assassination to the point that the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights had to issue a precautionary measure ordering the government to protect him.
These trials are not easy. Witnesses are in remote areas and the Attorney General and the People’s Ombudsman have not acted in coordinated fashion. There and a half years ago, fourteen cops were detained and charged with being part for the Portuguesa Para police extermination group. Last week they were freed legally, because too long a period had gone without a trial. They will now be tried without being jailed.
There are two main concerns with this case. One, the families of the victims is being threatened if they testify. Two, the Government ahs not provided them with the protection requested by the OAS. Local Human Rights groups led by COFAVIC had requested that the Government protect the family members before releasing them. Even the Attorney General’s office opposes the measure issued by a Caracas judge and will appeal the decision.