Photo: Teletica retrieved.
Eyes wide open inside a bag. Hands tied. A burning pain in the chest. Around, the voices of executioners, the mockery, the screams… Plastic in the mouth, dry tongue. Heart pounding like crazy. The lights glimpsed through the plastic start to revolve: the noises seem to recede. A buzzing in the ears. And suddenly, nothing.
This dark fantasy, with who knows how many variations, fills the minds of Venezuelans after an opposition councilman, who wasn’t precisely famous for defiantly facing the regime, fell from the tenth floor of the Plaza Venezuela headquarters of the Bolivarian Service of National Intelligence (SEBIN), Nicolás Maduro’s fearsome repressive force.
Fernando Albán, a councilman elected for Libertador Municipality in Caracas and member of Primero Justicia (PJ), was detained on October 5, in Maiquetía airport, as he returned from New York, where he’d travelled to go to the United Nations as part of the team headed by his friend Julio Borges, head of PJ and former National Assembly Speaker. Once in the terminal, Albán was arrested by SEBIN officers and taken to an undisclosed location, but it was immediately assumed that he’d been thrown in a cell crowded by opposition leaders and where it’s said people are tortured all day long.
We only need to go back to the protests of 2014 and 2017, when repressive forces and paramilitary groups murdered and severely injured hundreds of citizens who protested in the streets.
These fears were fanned by the fact that the regime broke the law when Albán wasn’t presented before court within 48 hours of his arrest. That’s why PJ’s statement spoke of “enforced disappearance” and raised the alarms for ”the country and the international community about the possible cruel and inhuman treatments, as well as the psychological pressure Fernando Albán might have been subjected to, in an attempt to forge fake evidence against our organization.”
By October 8, still under SEBIN custody, in other words, the State, Fernando Albán was dead.
In the first hours after the fact, government spokesmen incurred in contradictions that didn’t precisely contribute to easing up tensions, much less dissipating the certainty that immediately took over across the country and abroad: Albán had been murdered and then thrown off a building to cloud the evidence of the ill treatment that his party had mentioned.
Is this chavismo’s first murder? No. Not at all. There’s a tall pile of files documenting all sorts of killings that can be traced back to Hugo Chávez, Nicolás Maduro and many of the most prominent figures of the revolution. We only need to go back to the protests of 2014 and 2017, when repressive forces and paramilitary groups murdered and severely injured hundreds of citizens who protested in the streets. Not to mention the thousands who have died of malnutrition, lack of medical care or crime, figures that reveal a true humanitarian crisis.
Óscar Pérez and his team, for example, were massacred as the whole country watched in horror. But Albán, whose greatest threat was being a constitutionally elected councilman and a member of an opposition party (although he was arrested due to his alleged and frankly unlikely involvement in the frustrated “assassination attempt” against Maduro) is a different case entirely.
Several former political prisoners who were held in SEBIN facilities have said that none of this is possible, because detainees are watched by two officers who never leave them alone even to go to the bathroom.
Albán was kidnapped and his captors, to say the least, allowed him to break their security, run toward a “panoramic window” that was open in the tenth floor and jump to the void… So many inconsistencies in just a couple of lines. Several former political prisoners who were held in SEBIN facilities have said that none of this is possible, because detainees are watched by two officers who never leave them alone even to go to the bathroom. But also, journalists with a solid reputation, with sources within the regime’s and SEBIN’s own ranks, have revealed leaks according to which Albán was tortured to death with the ordeal of asphyxia.
In any case, the hours following the councilman’s violent death, Maduro gave two speeches where he didn’t even mention this incident which, according to observers from all over the world, has to be investigated. His silence wasn’t interpreted as an attempt to reduce the incident’s importance, but as a way to make some time while he decided what to do: whether to persist with the suicide narrative, offered in a rush by two of his spokesmen, or set distance from the crime and take the culprits to court.
The press conference offered by ANC-imposed Prosecutor General Tarek William Saab on Wednesday 10, shows that they decided to stick to the suicide tale… or perhaps it was imposed on Maduro, who will no longer be able to wriggle free from a crime condemned by the entire world.
“I know,” journalist Ewald Scharfenberg wrote on Twitter, “that some will say that the government’s been killing people for a long time. But Albán’s case represents an escalation: it’s the expression of the definitive autonomization of the clans intertwined between security bodies and organized crime.”
Scharfenberg refers to the theory according to which the different factions that cohabitate within chavismo have distributed among themselves the institutions that can provide profit or control. The clan SEBIN “belongs” to, exercising that autonomy, might have imposed Albán’s murder on Maduro in order to harm him even more. “The twilight of authoritarian regimes tends to be like that,” Scharfenberg added, “they split into personalistic gangs that seek to preserve their plots of power and their profits at all costs, through treason or horror.”
Fernando Albán is already in his tomb, but his soul will only rest in peace when the details of his death are brought to light and thus, complete his life’s purpose.Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.