February 3, 2019 / 11:09 AM / in 3 months

Factbox - Venezuelan special police unit blamed for abuses, killings

CARACAS (Reuters) - Violence perpetrated by Venezuela’s state security forces has been contributing more and more to the country’s homicide rate, one of the highest in the world.

From 2010 to 2017, the proportion of homicides committed by the police and military jumped from 4 percent to 27 percent, according to Keymer Avila, a criminology professor at the Central University of Venezuela. He estimated it rose further last year.

The government of President Nicolas Maduro has sent troops into poor neighbourhoods before, saying so-called People’s Liberation Operations in 2015 were aimed at clearing out criminals. Human rights groups and residents said the operations led to a rise in extrajudicial killings.

Rights groups say the National Police’s Special Action Force (FAES) has been of particular concern since Maduro created the unit in 2017.

Numbering some 1,300 officers armed with Chinese and Russian weaponry, the force has killed more than 100 people in low-income neighbourhoods over the last six months without any subsequent investigations, local rights group Provea said in a Jan. 26 report.

As Maduro fights to hold onto power in the face of tightening U.S. sanctions and Western powers’ support for opposition leader Juan Guaido, the FAES has proclaimed its loyalty to his government.

“These are extremely difficult moments, moments when we have to show which of us are loyal, and which of us are disloyal,” the FAES’s commander, Rafael Bastardo, said in a speech posted on the unit’s Instagram account.

Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, Tarek Saab, vowed on Friday that the government would investigate any officials who carry out extrajudicial executions and arbitrary detentions. He said authorities had arrested several police officers in the states of Bolivar and Yaracuy for killing protesters.

No FAES officers had been arrested, he said.

Additional reporting by Shaylim Valderrama; Editing by Daniel Flynn, Andrea Ricci and Daniel Wallis

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