Photo: Infobae retrieved

Amnesty International’s new report on the human rights abuses in Venezuela indicates that 1,023 protests demanding Maduro’s resignation occurred only between January 21st and 25th, following Juan Guaidó’s swearing in as Caretaker President. In those five days, 47 people were killed, most of them in formerly chavista-friendly, low-income neighborhoods, all from gunshot wounds. One National Guard officer was also killed. January 23rd became the day with the highest number of recorded detentions in the last 20 years, with 770 out of the 980 total reported.

The report was researched from January 31st to February 17th, by an Amnesty International team that visited Lara, Yaracuy, Vargas and Caracas. They interviewed 70 people and analyzed 72 audiovisual samples, focusing on 15 well-documented crimes, eight of which were fatal. They tried to interview several Venezuelan government officers as well, including Maduro. Unsurprisingly, none of them responded to their requests.

1,023 protests demanding Maduro’s resignation occurred only between January 21st and 25th, following Juan Guaidó’s swearing in as Caretaker President.

After a quick account of the abuses committed in the 2014 and 2017 protests, the report highlights events that happened immediately after Guaidó started calling for massive demonstrations. According to the authors, those five days marked the beginning of an escalation that led to extremely serious human rights violations.

The most dramatic cases are murders of targeted protesters in deprived areas of the country. Reports studied say that at least 11 people were executed between January 21st and 25th. The team registered six of them, all with gunshots in the upper thorax and presented as criminals who died in clashes with the police, contrary to the claims of witnesses.

In Carora, Lara, two young men were executed on January 23rd,after being linked to a viral audio announcing protests in the city.

“Luis Enrique Ramos Suárez was 29 years old when he was extrajudicially executed by members of the FAES on 24 January 2019 in the city of Carora. He was critical of the government and, together with several members of his family, he participated in the march that took place in Carora on 23 January. His nickname, ‘Cabeza de Piña’, appeared in the audio that had gone viral that day as one of the leaders of the alleged seizure of power. On 24 January at around 15:00, more than 20 heavily armed members of the FAES, most of them hooded, carried out an illegal raid on the home Luis Enrique Ramos Suárez. The 10 members of the family who were in the house, six of whom were children, were held there. In addition, FAES officials warned neighbours to hide and at least one nearby house was raided by the FAES who forced those inside to lie on the ground for hours so that there would be no eyewitnesses.”

Ramos was shot dead minutes later.

According to witnesses interviewed, FAES then fired inside his house to simulate a confrontation. An independent forensic expert consulted by the authors of the report examined pictures of the corpse and concluded he showed signs of torture. The official account states he died while shooting at the police from a nearby house.

“If we were in a free country, Luis Enrique would not have been killed… His only crime was to be part of the opposition,” one of his relatives says.

Eduardo Luis Ramos, a friend of Luis Enrique Ramos also implicated in the audio, was killed in Carora, too. He was apprehended after visiting the Centro de Diagnóstico Integral where Ramos Suárez’s corpse had been taken by FAES earlier. He was executed in a nearby alley.

According to witnesses interviewed, FAES then fired inside his house to simulate a confrontation.

In similar circumstances, Cristian Ramos, Anderson Torres and José Alfredo Torres, were executed in El Tocuyo, Lara, after one of them took part in a demonstration near the house of the chavista mayor. A representative of the mayor’s office offered to pay the funeral and presented their relatives with bags of food.

“According to witness statements, the officials gagged him because he was screaming and asking them not to kill him because he wanted to live to see his new baby. They beat him for more than 30 minutes. Jhonny was then shot; first in the leg and then in the chest,” says the report.In La Vega, a deprived area of Caracas, Jhonny Buitriago was executed after a video of him running while wearing a Venezuelan flag as cape, shouting anti-government slogans, went viral.

There’s also accounts of the deaths of Alixon Pisani and Nick Samuel Oropeza, both killed by GNB and police officers in demonstrations. According to Amnesty International, there’s evidence that officers used lethal force even though protesters didn’t pose a threat to them. Another protester whose identity was kept secret was also shot in the leg, but survived. Beyond those killed, Amnesty International says that almost a thousand protesters, including 137 children, were detained between January 21st and 25th, and were accused of being terrorists and coup plotters. They identified serious flaws in due process in 90% of the cases reviewed.

According to their statements, they were subjected to forced labor, their heads were shaved when they arrived, they had to wear uniforms and they were forced to submit to military training and to chant slogans such as ‘We are Chávez’s children’ and ‘Chávez lives’,” say the authors.

Amnesty International concludes that the systematic abuses committed by security forces in January 2019 were notorious and public, and therefore known by the authorities and government officers. These crimes, particularly extrajudicial killings, represent an escalation to a repression policy in place since at least 2014. According to their analysis, civilians were systematically and willingly targeted by state forces, which fits the Rome Statute of the International Crime Court’s definition for crimes against humanity.

Amnesty International concludes that the systematic abuses committed by security forces in January 2019 were notorious and public, and therefore known by the authorities and government officers.

Furthermore, given the widespread impunity in the Venezuelan justice system, the authors recommend the Prosecutor of the International Crime Court to include these facts in the preliminary examination of the Venezuelan situation, started by the court in 2018. They also recommend the United Nations’ Human Rights Council to create an international inquiry commission to independently investigate the crimes, and to invoke universal jurisdiction so those involved can eventually be prosecuted no matter the country they try to hide in.

The report may not have immediate consequences, but it’s definitely one of the strongest evidences of the crimes committed by Nicolás Maduro’s regime in Venezuela, and will hopefully prove to be very valuable in the future.

It’s available in Amnesty International’s official website in Spanish and English.

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