Walking at night around the heart of Chacao, in Caracas, was a common thing for its neighbors. Now, those streets are stage for violence and misery, reflecting an institutional crisis tragic in its narrative.
Chronicle of a Takeover
Since 2002, Chacao was symbol of the opposition to the late Hugo Chávez. Altamira, the municipality’s core, birthed rallies and what would be a fleeting coup d’État, becoming ever since the setting of battles between dissidents and security forces loyal to the government.
“This is an insurgent municipality, and nobody prevents roadblocks or marches. In Libertador, there’s never been freedom to take the streets in protest” said Isabel Rodríguez, resident of Chacao for 40 years.
Halfway through 2016, Gustavo González López, minister for the Interior, Justice and Peace, reported that 14 Polichacao officers were involved as direct perpetrators in the murder of journalist Ricardo Durán, back in January. With this alleged evidence, the government closed its pincers around the Mayor’s Office and, on May 29th 2016, ordered the “Intervention of the Autonomous Institute of the Municipal Police of Chacao, due to the massive and ongoing involvement of its officers in human rights violations, in compliance with article 75 of the Framework Law for the Police Service and the National Bolivarian Police.”
How do the neighbors feel about this? According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, Venezuelans truly fear becoming victims of crime, mainly in the vulnerable and middle-class sectors, who move across the streets on foot.
Intervention of the Autonomous Institute of the Municipal Police of Chacao, due to the massive and ongoing involvement of its officers in human rights violations.
“We thought the takeover would improve the situation” said Justa Ramírez, a businesswoman from central Chacao. “It’s true that those cops were involved, but everything now is the same or worse. There are less squad cars, less cops in the street and robberies have increased.”
Johana Robles, chacaoense, agrees:
“People here live in fear and it didn’t improve with the intervention. There are two things: the country’s decaying situation and the police’s incapacity. Sometimes you trust the malandro more than the cop.”
“You wonder how to denounce. The Chacao police used to be exceptional, but they’re under inspection in a difficult political moment. The call us ‘the district of rioters.’”
Between August and September, according to the Monitor of Victims created by media outlets Efecto Cocuyo, Runrunes, Crónica Uno, El Pitazo and El Universal, there’s been five homicides in this borough of 71,511 people. Although the number is low compared to the 137 deaths in the Petare parish for the same period, it’s quite unusual for the community.
Intervention & Politics
According to Luis Izquiel, criminal lawyer, criminologist and head of the technical committee of Interior Policy of the National Assembly, no intervention has ever improved these bodies.
“There are no positive experiences. Besides, this action violates the principle of decentralization and the people’s will, since electing a Mayor and a Governor is a sovereign exercise. If the government decides the police will no longer be managed by the Mayor, it’s violating voters’ will. There’s always a story behind these procedures; they say it’s to purge the police body, but in many cases it’s the beginning of a witch hunt against dissidents to the force in power.”
The current National Assembly (AN) actually reformed the police tenets and one of the modifications looked precisely to prevent an intervention from the central government. “They’ve been done for political reasons, and this has affected three opposition governors to my knowledge.”
If the government decides the police will no longer be managed by the Mayor, it’s violating voters’ will.
The proposal is still in the AN’s files, and takeovers keep being extended. Last time was this September, with an extension for 90 more days, to investigate whether the police operates correctly.
Diego Scharifker, lawyer and Chacao councilman, demanded that Polichacao’s autonomy be restored, since he “the takeover has political motivations.”
“They incriminated officers in the deaths of a journalist and a soldier, but José Vicente Rangel’s nephew was kidnapped that same weekend. Two Scientific Police officers were involved in this incident; if a rotten apple hurts the entire body, why hasn’t CICPC been intervened?”
Fortunately, he said, the man now in charge of the police respects the law.
Miguel Mora, María Pérez Mendoza, Edgar José González, Reggie Jackson Andrade, César Eduardo Mijares, Alfredo Chirinos Salamanca, Venus Soleil Medina, Eduardo José Salazar, Ever Darwin Meneses, Ángel Alfonso Sánchez, Jhonny Roberto Velásquez, Darwin Estiben Herde and Jorge Luis Delgado have been detained in the National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) headquarters since June 20th, 2016.
It all began with the murder of journalist Ricardo Durán, whose true culprits are still unknown. Sources linked to the officers say that SEBIN staged the incident and incriminated them, to justify Polichacao’s takeover.
In August 8th, 2016, the Seventh Court of Control of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas… granted a substitutive measure of imprisonment for the 14 Polichacao officers…
Within the first 45 days of their arrest, the officers were reportedly tortured, their eyes covered with newspaper and tape, they were beaten with baseball bats, electrocuted, choked with plastic bags, and one of the agents was hung and exhibited.
In August 8th, 2016, the Seventh Court of Control of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas, under judge Luisa Andreína Romero Campos, granted a substitutive measure of imprisonment for the 14 Polichacao officers, under release warrant 1110-2016, file N° 7C-1513-16.
However, this has been ignored, even though many of the detainees and their families launched a hunger strike, sewing their lips shut.
Paying the Price
Aura Urqueola, head of the Association of Small and Medium-size Retailers, remarked that the streets are quieter now that the protests subsided. “But I don’t know how the takeover is working out, because in central Chacao, at least from my kiosk, I see a robbery a day, with four or five daily along the Francisco de Miranda avenue. We’re under siege. A curfew starts at 5:00 p.m.”
At the time of this writing, we couldn’t get comments from either Gustavo Duque, Chacao’s Mayor in charge, or Gustavo Olave, head of Polichacao.