Seeking Justice, Venezuelans Take Matters into Their Own Hands

Extrajudicial executions have become dangerously more frequent all over the country. Citizens and security officials disregard the law and human rights.

Photo: AFP-JIJI retrieved

“I always dreamed of being a policeman, but my mom didn’t let me,” said a man who was around 65 years old, while the present laughed at the longing in his voice. The stage for this conversation was one of those buses incorporated to Maracaibo’s public transport fleet.

“If she’d let me, today I’d be the proud captain of some police body,” he added.

We laughed until he told us about the methods he’d use against criminals: “And of course, if I ever catch a gangster, I would have him killed, because they all have to die.”

We forced a smile and I thought to myself: Thank God your mom knew what she was dealing with!

“If I ever catch a gangster, I would have him killed, because they all have to die.”

But it’s shocking how common these comments actually are. The lady next door, the college janitor, your favorite uncle, the gym trainer or the literature teacher, everyone thinks extrajudicial executions are a real solution against crime, one of the main reasons behind the Venezuelan diaspora.

A human rights activist tells me that this happens because the death penalty is overrated in the country and in many regions in Latin America: “[Extrajudicial executions] are justified by rapings or the murder of children, when in reality these cases are uncommon and isolated.”

Just look at 2016, with lynchings disseminated through grotesque images on social media, hundreds of people in different places of our geography ganging up on alleged criminals. It happened for weeks.

Nevertheless, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, an average of 17 people are murdered daily by State forces in 2018 in alleged anti-crime operations, which makes Venezuela the toughest place in the continent regarding police violence.

The figures, which aren’t new (they rose by one person compared to 2017) have done nothing to improve safety, and also cause the “criminalization of poverty,” according to Roberto Briceño, head of the organization, who says that most of the people murdered by OLPs or the FAES live in low-income areas.

But what can we expect of citizens whose political leaders employ a violent language, authorizing extrajudicial executions even for political reasons, giving a chance to their most radical followers to talk on television?

“[Extrajudicial executions] are justified by rapings or the murder of children, when in reality these cases are uncommon and isolated.”

In December, 2015, during a mandatory broadcast after a landslide defeat in parliamentary elections, Nicolás Maduro let a former bolivarian circles coordinator say that chavistas who gave in should get “a bullet in the head” and, although Maduro looked surprised by the statement and took it as a joke, he said: “Remember that you’re on live TV.”

Among the gems from public authorities, we have comments made by former ambassador Roy Chaderton in favor of the death penalty against the “corrupt”, and Minister Iris Varela mocking Óscar Pérez, saying that the Instagram videos during the massacre at El Junquito were “a crybaby’s show.

There’s no doubt, however, that the most shocking action about this last case was done by Maduro himself when, days before the incident, he claimed that he’d given the order to “shoot the terrorists” and, after the controversial police operation, he proudly said “I gave an order and it was carried out.”

Maybe the issue at heart is Venezuela’s lack of appreciation for human rights, so people take a despicable violation of fundamental rights as ordinary. Two months ago, a 27-year-old man named Luis Losada was murdered in front of his daughter at a Maracaibo slum for allegedly stealing a TV set. His mom declared days later that Luis was no thief, but since the cops believed he was, they had a right to arrest him not shoot him.

Actually, they shouldn’t have touched him without a warrant. But how do you explain that when horror is an everyday thing?