Photo: Sofía Jaimes Barreto

A Snapshot of Hell

This week, the video of an execution, followed by an audio clip of an officer explaining how to cover up the evidence, went viral on social media. The reaction shows how immoral our security forces are... and our public opinion, too

“We lived happily during the war
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we
protested
but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough.”
Ilya Kaminsky

We see a corridor about ten meters away. A body hangs, his open arms held up by policemen on each side. It’s a dirty corridor and precarious surroundings. The dangling body is struggling to stay up. We see it from the backside. A few meters further away, what seems to be a uniformed policeman watches. He’s facing the camera but doesn’t seem to know he’s being recorded. Another couple of uniformed policemen are on the sides of the corridor, they come in and out of the picture, doing something to the body. The hand that holds the camera is shaking. After a few seconds of suspense, a shot rings out and the body collapses upon itself.

An execution has been committed in front of the camera. The images are sickening. It’s a cold-blooded, premeditated murder of a young, apparently poor, completely defenseless man who was held while being shot by uniformed police.

A murder that resembles thousands of murders committed by security forces in Venezuela. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Outcomes report, for example, uses different sources that include the Ministry of Interior and the former Attorney General, to conclude that security forces have executed thousands of civilians per year, (5,995 in 2016, 4,998 in 2017 and 5,287 in 2018) according to data given by the government. The report doesn’t go any further into how many of these murders were classified as stand-offs with the police and “resisting authority,” but witnesses describe many episodes, similar to the one in the video, where young men were dragged out of their homes and shot point-blank in front of family and neighbors. The report describes page after page of terrifying acts of blatant cold-blooded executions of youngsters allegedly accused of criminal acts, with no trial, judge, or proof. 

It’s hard to read through the pages of the report, as it is to look at the video. But the descent into hell goes one step further if you read many of the comments common citizens share on Twitter threads regarding the extrajudicial executions. “I don’t think that the murdered kids were ‘innocent’. My respect to the police officers.” “In my opinion, he’s one ‘malandro’ less in society and, forgive me but, you can’t ask for human rights for them” and “if he was a rat then congratulations to those noble policemen,” and so on. 

Reports of the event claimed that the murdered citizen, named Dimilson Guzmán, was arrested by a commission of the National Police during an operation in Valles del Tuy, where the largest increase of homicides has occurred in recent years. He allegedly was a member of a local gang. Initial official reports presented the event, as is common practice, as a confrontation.

A few hours later, to make matters worse, a former prosecutor posted on his Twitter account an audiotape of a police officer commenting on the video. In it, the alleged officer describes with a calm voice the mistakes made by the police, not in regard to their violence, but on their clumsy handling of the procedure regarding the cover-up of the evidence of the execution, suggesting the systematic training of security officers for murdering those detained. 

Prosecutor General Tarek William Saab, promptly reported the arrest of the police officers involved in the murders. We’d applaud such a swift procedure, had many other similar events not been investigated. In numerous texts, we’ve denounced how a third of the homicides that occur in Venezuela are caused by the intervention of state security forces. Monitor de Víctimas, which is compiling the details of homicides, reports that murders committed by security forces are in fact the main cause of murder in Caracas now. Our country has one of the highest numbers of murders committed by public force, even compared to other countries like Brazil where the population is seven times as big. 

It’s hard not to think that this execution led to an investigation only because visual evidence was leaked on social media. The number of police murders is appalling, as is the lack of institutional response to them.

Finally, the silence surrounding such evidence is complicit. Perhaps, if we contrast the lack of outrage for the scene to the uproar caused by recent murders by police officers in the U.S., we can begin to grasp the dimension of violence that has crept into our culture, desensitizing us to the suffering of others. Not only are our institutions profoundly perverted; our loss of peaceful coexistence has turned horror into something natural, something we explain away with three lines on social media, with bland, self-righteous, fair world hypotheses. Blind to the fact that the windmills of authoritarianism and security force abuses are propelled by indifference and support for these routinary acts of horror.

The shaky video is a snapshot of the depths of our hell. It isn’t a pleasant sight, but it’s a plea, fellow Venezuelans and citizens of the world, for your outrage, your horror, your reaction.