Photo: Tal Cual, retrieved.

The lack of transparency of FAES (the Special Actions Force of the Bolivarian National Police) has been criticized since the body was created in 2017; there are few studies about the profile of its officers and no public information or accountability for their actions. The only known fact is how it operates, a pattern that appears consistently in hundreds of victim testimonies, highlighting a violent MO: intimidation, break-ins, bribery, extortion, kidnapping, and summary executions. Anyone who’s ever had an experience with FAES describes it as an extermination group

“The FAES doesn’t respond to the law, but to a logic of war or worse, extermination, because wars usually happen between two sides with relatively equivalent firepower; this is completely asymmetric,” says Keymer Ávila, a lawyer specialized in criminology and criminal legal sociology. “When we study the deaths caused by state security forces in these operations, the death rate between policemen and civilians is 1:122, that’s 122 dead civilians for every police officer killed.”

Recently, an investigation published by Angus Berwick and Sarah Kinosian, for Reuters, uncovered how the special police force terrorizing poor neighborhoods across Venezuela includes officers with criminal histories in its ranks. According to the exclusive, bosses are more concerned with projecting force and fear than with rectitude. 

The only known fact is how it operates, a pattern that appears consistently in hundreds of victim testimonies, highlighting a violent MO.

It’s incredible that it must be said, but it’s illegal for ex-cons (lest current criminals) to belong to the National Police; a 2009 law bars Venezuelans with criminal convictions from working as police officers. According to FAES guidelines, officers should have no criminal record and be of “good moral character”.

Per hundreds of sealed documents submitted to Reuters by prosecutors in the case of Fernando Lira’s and Eligio Duarte’s murder, at least two officers accused of involvement in their extrajuditial execution served prison terms before they joined FAES. The documentswhich include autopsies, ballistic reports, officers’ testimonies, and personnel filesalso show that at least three other members of the same FAES precinct who aren’t prosecuted over the same deadly operation have criminal records of their own.

Nicolás Maduro launched the FAES in July of 2017 with the purpose of fighting crime and violence, and local police administrators were tasked with the recruitment of officers for the new force. Priorities included loyalty to the PSUV and the disposition to use aggressive tactics in crime-ridden neighborhoods, nationwide.

Bosses are more concerned with projecting force and fear than with rectitude.

According to the piece by Berwick and Kinosian, in Miranda State, police ranks thinned so quickly that the institution began lowering standards for recruits. Migration may be a decisive factor, as it includes many soldiers, police officers and other public security workers with wages equal to just a few dollars a month in Venezuela’s hyperinflationary economy. There are few incentives to attract qualified candidates to replace them. 

But Ávila also talks of the accelerated and excessive growth of police institutions. To reach their current figures of minimum recruitment, selection standards are not met, and the institution lacks the capacity to carry out efficient supervision and control over thousands of armed officers who become active after insufficient training. 

It’s almost impossible to determine how many ex-convicts are working within FAES ranks nationwide. Personnel records aren’t disclosed by the government. Even the size of FAES itself, estimated by fellow police agents in about 1,500 officers, is held close by the regime.

The irregularities of FAES officers go beyond their interaction with civilians, also affecting other security forces.

“They hire people who aren’t afraid to commit crimes, to enter a home without a warrant and kill,” said Nora Echavez, a former chief prosecutor in Miranda, the state where Lira & Duarte’s  court case will be heard. “A criminal does these things easily because they’ve already done them before.”  

The irregularities of FAES officers go beyond their interaction with civilians, also affecting other security forces. Last Wednesday, February 19th, a confrontation between FAES and CICPC detectives in Caracas stopped traffic in the Prados del Este highway, with guns pointing at each other from both sides. There’s been a lot of bad blood between both groups since 2018, when the CICPC started investigating FAES officers accused of executing victims, further aggravated by the Junquito Massacre that same year, where Oscar Pérez, CICPC officer, was executed in a massive FAES operation. 

The presence of convicts within the ranks of FAES sheds new light on a security force widely considered by Venezuelans to be a mechanism of social control for Maduro, which has also been used to quash protests in the past. FAES has become as feared as the criminals it was meant to target, especially in poor districts where hardship fans political instability.

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