Photo: Háblame24, retrieved.
Their parents don’t talk to the press. Witnesses remain silent. The teenagers, for their part, arrive in courts in Aragua and Portuguesa with shaved heads and wearing prison garb. Judges mostly don’t give them full freedom: they free them on bail and require them to make court appearances every 8, 15 or 30 days.
Most kids are indicted with resisting authority, obstructing a public road, terrorism and criminal association; they had been arbitrarily arrested during the protests of January 23rd, or in the days that followed. Most say they weren’t even protesting.
A week ago, judges in Amazonas, Zulia and Yaracuy accused children of being “terrorists.” By the time they were sentenced, they hadn’t had a proper meal in days; they hadn’t seen their parents or lawyers, or received medical attention. It’s evident that they’ve been beaten and mistreated by the authorities; media outlets want pictures of the bruises, but victims remain hermetic. Their parents hug them and leave in silence, that painful symptom of fear.
“Our Constitution and the LOPNA (Law for the Protection of Children and Teenagers) guarantee children participation in peaceful demonstrations and protests,” says lawyer Carlos Trapani, general coordinator of CECODAP, an NGO defending children’s rights. “As the crisis intensifies, children naturally seek to voice what they feel, and they shouldn’t be arbitrarily detained by security bodies as aggressive as the FAES.”
They were all arbitrarily arrested during the protests of January 23rd, or during the following days. Most say they weren’t even protesting.
“There’s a pattern in these detentions, where they’re violatently isolated from their families. The law establishes that arresting minors is the exception, not the rule.”
So far, 51 minors have been released out of the 70 that were detained on January 23rd. Last week, the children released were those affected by ailments like diabetes, intellectual disabilities, autism or epilepsy.
The case of Jickson Rodríguez (14) was very prominent in the media. Journalist Jhoalys Siverio, in Bolívar, says: “The boy was detained on January 23rd in Villa Bahía, a sector in Puerto Ordaz. They were pot-banging. The mom says he was taken at 8:40 p.m.; the National Guard descended on the place and everyone fled. They took the boy and other six people and accused them of looting a fair in Core 8, a sector that’s quite far from where the arrest took place.”
According to the child, the guards hit his feet and hands when he asked to see his parents or go to the bathroom. He begged them not to hit him in the head, since he’s epileptic. They presented him in court on Sunday, January 27th, and his mom could finally give him his medication. Then, he was taken to the hospital amidst convulsions, to be finally released on January, 30th.
— Jade Delgado Huggins (@jadesdelgado) January 30, 2019
Under anonymity, the parents say that the common factor is that the police is taking kids in low-income areas, far from where the protests are taking place, accusing them of lootings or riots. There’s never enough evidence and the versions of the detained and the witnesses frequently differ. Some relatives confess they’ve received stark threats from the police: “if you talk to the press, the kids stay in prison.”
“My son was playing in the neighborhood’s soccer field when a truck arrived to take them all, aiming at them with rifles,” said the father of one of the kids detained in Aragua, over a phone call where he made me promise I wouldn’t reveal his name. “There was no protest, only pot-banging.”
“If we protest, they’ll come to take what’s most sacred to us: our children,” tells me one of the victim’s aunt in Portuguesa, also anonymous. “They’ve already proven that they have the power to take everything from us, that they can break down doors and take the kids if they’re ordered to do so. It’s a way to appease the protest, it’s no coincidence that they’re taking our children now. It’s an order.”
These minors weren’t born when Hugo Chávez took power two decades ago, and some of them don’t even remember the former president’s death. They just know this system, this way of life that denies them education, food, health and that now threatens to jail them for treason, when they’re simply going out to play with friends.