Almost a fortnight ago in San Felix (Bolivar State), the National Guard’s National Command Against Kidnapping and Extortion (CONAS) found itself caught in a bizarre standoff with Bolivar State Police officers. Thanks to a video leaked one week after the fact, we get to witness a scene half a step removed from a John Woo movie (minus the doves).
But what’s the real story? Correo del Caroni’s Pableysa Ostos gave Caracas Chronicles the lowdown over the phone. Everything started with a bribe over a motorcycle…
“Some Bolivar State Police officers detained a motorizado at a mobile checkpoint and, after finding out that he didn’t carry the proper documentation, decided to impound the motorcycle. They offered him to release it over 200,000 Bs. He paid 40,000 and set a meeting to pay up the rest (160,000).
However, the biker denounced the police officers to the CONAS, which quickly prepared an operation with the assistance of a Public Ministry Prosecutor and authorized by a local tribunal. The CONAS’ task force (better known by its former acronym, GAES) arrived to the Simon Bolivar Police Coordination Center and arrested three Bolivar State Police officers, charging them with extortion.”
That’s when things started to escalate really fast: “Saying a prisoner breakout was under way, the police officers called for reinforcements”. The video shows how police officers shot the CONAS vehicle, who immediately release their three arrested partners, who then go to take refuge inside the police coordination center. Outmanned and outgunned, the CONAS group decided to back down and withdrew from the location.
The whole incident would have been ignored by public opinion if it wasn’t for the video leaked by one of the arrested police officers. Then the standoff between the Bolivar State police and the CONAS went viral in the Twitter-sphere. The investigation is now taken over by a special prosecutor sent by Caracas along with the Criminal Investigations Police (CICPC).
Six Bolivar State police officers (including the chief of the Police Coordination Center) surrendered voluntarily after a court ordered their arrests. There’s also a political fallout of the case: Bolivar State Governor Francisco Rangel Gomez already ordered in his weekly radio show a “thorough investigation, whoever may fall, to keep the integrity of the security forces”. In one word: PIVOT!
But what’s the overall reaction of ordinary Guayaneses? Fellow CC contributor in the region Victoria Moreno shared her first-hand impressions with me:
…it’s the typical “solo en Venezuela” situation you know? The common “and those are the guys who are supposed to protect us’ comment in a cola. Nobody is surprised that the police officers were involved in extortion, what’s surprising is that the GNB did something about it. Actually, some believe it was more like a ‘turf war’ between rival gangs than the GNB doing its job.
Those Bolivar state cops are getting quite a reputation. Earlier this year, CONAS arrested six Caroni (Puerto Ordaz) Municipal Police officers for extortioning the relatives of three people detained during a prior raid.
According to Ostos, a shocking 36 members of law enforcement forces in Bolivar State have been arrested this year so far for their involvement in criminal activities. Last year, the total number was of 56. Ostos adds that locals have very little confidence in the security forces due to situations like these.
Add that to an overall insecurity epidemic that has put Guayana on the map: A Mexican NGO called Ciudad Guayana as the 11th most violent city in the world last year. The same list put eight Venezuelan cities in the top 50, including Caracas right at the top. (My hometown, Barquisimeto was ranked 20th.)