Photo: Correspondencia de prensa retrieved

People know the FAES is bad news. Human rights organizations are aware of it, and UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet mentioned it in her report: the regime’s battering ram against protests is also a synonym of terror for the country’s poorest areas.

But nobody knows who the officers of the Special Actions Force are, as they haunt Venezuelan streets. This body, comprised of officers from the National Police, the National Guard and members of paramilitary groups (colectivos), wears masks and black uniforms and they ride on plateless vehicles.

The regime’s battering ram against protests is also a synonym of terror for the country’s poorest areas.

According to human rights NGO Provea, Lara has the highest number of murders committed by the FAES in the first half of 2019: 120 people. The human rights community says that the FAES is to blame for six out of every ten murders in Lara. 73 of those 120 victims were between 18 and 30 years old.

One of the most shocking cases in this central-western state was the murder of three young men on January 25th, 2019, brothers José Alfredo and Anderson Torres Cortez, and their cousin Cristian Ramos, gunned down in their homes for protesting near the house of the Barquisimeto mayor. Deputy Guillermo Palacios told regional outlets that FAES agents dragged the teenagers’ parents from their homes, so that they wouldn’t see how their sons were beaten senseless and shot. The FAES said it was a gunfight, the classic excuse of Venezuelan security bodies to downplay extrajudicial executions even before these 20 years of chavismo.

FAES squads first harass neighbors and victims so that they won’t leave their homes. “They break into houses, separate families, take the sisters and mothers and fabricate a crime scene shooting at the walls to stage a gunfight,” says Venezuelan Observatory of Violence coordinator Carlos Meléndez. “In many cases, they torture and then kill the victims with a couple of bullets in the torax.”

An inhabitant of La Caldera, in Barquisimeto, who asked to remain anonymous, witnessed how FAES agents stormed one of the homes in his block on Sunday, February 17th. “Children were playing in the street when suddenly a black truck arrived with hooded officers in black. They broke into a man’s house through the ceiling (Leonardo Lozada, 30). He’d been under house arrest. They even kicked in the evangelical pastor’s door looking for Leo.”

When they found him, they forced his family into the neighbor’s house. “The officers stayed with Leo and spent two hours going in and out. More officers arrived and blocked the street.” When the voices started to rise and the neighbors took a peek out their windows, the officers fired into the air and a chilling silence shrouded the area. “A siren rang, a black FAES vehicle arrived and parked outside the house, and five offers pulled the man’s body in a sheet. They threw him into the truck and left.” Other officers remained in the house until 7:00 p.m., and when they left, the house was spotless, “not a trace of blood in it,” said the neighbor. “I still shiver when I talk about this.” Since then, the FAES still lurks around the area and neighbors run for cover when they see them coming.

The crackdown on all opposition

According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict, which documents and tracks the protests that constantly break out in Venezuela, Lara is the fifth state with the most anti-regime demonstrations in the country, after Miranda, the Capital District, Tachira and Trujillo.

The FAES has deployed permanent checkpoints in areas of Barquisimeto that have seen the most protests, as a way of dissuading them through terror, intelligence-gathering and extortion.

The FAES has deployed permanent checkpoints in areas of Barquisimeto that have seen the most protests, as a way of dissuading them through terror, intelligence-gathering and extortion.

The Antonio José de Sucre neighborhood is an emblematic case; they’ve suffered numerous illegal raids and constant harassment for two years, according to Provea. The neighbors are too afraid to talk, but human rights activists organized a protest in July to demand the decommission of FAES, as requested by Michelle Bachelet in her report. Bachelet also demanded the implementation of an impartial and independent mechanism to investigate extrajudicial executions carried out during security operations. Recently, Nicolás Maduro shouted “long live the FAES!” in a mandatory broadcast.

Provea has denounced the FAES’ actions before the Prosecutor’s Office but there’s been no response. Retired admiral and Lara governor Carmen Meléndez also cheers for the security group; she’s publicly ordered and backed some of their assaults on dissidents.

Lara has collected stories of extermination groups created by police bodies through various regional governments since the 90s. The FAES was directly bred by the infamous Operations for People’s Liberation (OLPs), a series of raids on low-income areas against criminal gangs, with hundreds of casualties in poor communities.

It was the OLPs that established the pattern of neighbor harassment, extrajudicial execution and social subjugation that’s a regular FAES practice nowadays. The FAES, along with the National Guard and colectivos, is also at the forefront of the Maduro regime’s cruelest repressive streak.

In the words of Erika Guevara Rosas, Amnesty International’s director for the Americas, “the social control strategy that Maduro’s authorities are trying to impose through fear and punishment against those who demand change, is repulsive. His government is getting more vicious with the poorest citizens they claim to protect but actually murder, arrest and threaten.”

The history of undeclared death penalty that weighs over Lara, and the fact that the opposition has gotten much more organized in the region after more than 10 years of Henri Falcón’s administration, may help explain why the dictatorship needs to crack down on a state that has become too rebellious. There’s a direct relationship between local political power and the repression of protests; a FAES agent injured a journalist with pellets shot at close range, and even Kleyder Ferrero, responsible for regional security, rides along with the squad, wearing the same uniform, the same hood, and being just as hostile against whoever dares to challenge the regime.

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