Santa Elena de Uairen, October 8th, 2014. (venezuelanalysis.com)- In the early hours of Tuesday morning, an eight hour standoff took place in a Caracas building between the special investigative police body (CICPC) and a pro-government armed collective known as The Revolution’s Shield, of which five members were fatally shot.
According to CICPC spokesperson Douglas Rico, the first incident took place at 6:30 AM when officers arrived at the high-rise Manfredi building, which houses 242 families, purportedly in search of two suspects in a murder case.
Rico alleged that the investigators were shot at by residents. In the violence that ensued, he said, two “presumably guilty” civilians were shot dead.
At that time, pro-government activist and former policeman Jose Odreman was filmed denouncing the CICPC’s actions within the building, saying they were acting as “hit men.”
In the video, Odreman can be seen pointing to the floor saying, “What kind of criminal investigative body does this? They cleaned up the scene of the crime. Not even a shell. This was an execution, my friends. This was a paid assassination.”
Odreman, who was active in the Juan Montoya and 5 de Marzo revolutionary movements, said that whatever happened to him would be the fault of justice minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres.
“I lay full responsibility on you of what might happen to me. Enough comrades have been sacrificed,” Odreman said to the camera, addressing Rodriguez.
The CICPC has released numerous statements saying the events have no relation to the assassination of Robert Serra and partner Maria Herrera last week.
However, when asked if he sees a connection, Odreman responded cryptically, “Math doesn’t fail.”
According to Rico, at 11 AM policemen tried to reenter the premises with reinforcements, upon which three security officials were taken hostage by collective members. Another firefight ensued, resulting in three more deaths, including the death of Odreman himself.
Though the exact circumstance of the activist’s death are unknown, photos circulating on social media show Odreman held captive by police officers, then a video shows him lying in a pool of blood, possibly dead.
The public defense ministry sent three district attorneys to investigate the incidents that led to a total of five civilian deaths and four wounded.
According to Rico, “They [the victims] weren’t collectives, they were organized groups that rob, kidnap, and commit homicide in the metropolitan area of Caracas.”
The term “collective” in Venezuela refers to the organized groups within urban areas that are said to protect the revolution, its peoples, and its ideals. Some of these groups have been around for decades and were linked to urban guerrillas in the 1980’s.
While many of today’s collectives simply coordinate neighborhood activity and development, and others work more specifically to combat domestic abuse and sexism, there were those that confronted the hardline anti-government protestors that wracked the nation earlier this year, and private media attributed the ensuing violence to their interference.
Though culture minister Reinaldo Iturriza once said “the collectives are synonymous with organization, not violence,” the majority of government has been somewhat reluctant to show support for those collectives that explicitly defend their right to bear arms.
George Ciccariello-Maher, author of the book We Created Chávez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution, told venezuelanalysis.com that while there are certain collectives that have engaged in illicit enterprises, “there's also a pattern of CICPC beginning to criminalize armed groups.” As he wrote in his June 2014 article Collective Panic in Venezuela, “To demonize them [collectives] is to demonize the organized capacity of Venezuela’s poorest.”
"While the opposition likes to present any armed group as a criminal gang and an affront to democracy," Ciccariello-Maher said, "It's worth remembering that during many decades in Venezuela, it was the so-called "democrats" who were the most corrupt and armed revolutionary groups who were fighting for true democracy. Even today, Venezuela's collectives are among the most democratic sectors in the country. While any group can become corrupted, and those operating under the banner of revolutionary collectives are no exception, we should be clear that the same goes for security forces like the CICPC responsible for the raid."
Meanwhile the Fabricio Ojeda collective released a statement today condemning the CICPC’s actions, saying “we should not forget when the old DISIP (now defunct special police force) raided the [barrio] 23 de Enero searching for [activist] Juancho… we cannot forget…”
President Nicolas Maduro has ordered an “exhaustive” investigation into yesterday’s events, and the public defense ministry intends to conduct individual autopsies in addition to gathering any possible evidence from the scene of the standoff.
Last month Maduro announced an expansion of the disarmament program, as an effort to reduce Venezuela’s high crime rate. The leader reportedly invested $47 million in 66 new disarmament centers, and approved $39 million for a plan to deploy soldiers to patrol the most dangerous neighborhoods.
According to minister Rodriguez Torres, the rate of homicides has decreased this year by 18 percent, when compared to 2013 data. He also noted that 76 percent of total homicides were caused by confrontations between criminal groups or criminal groups with the police forces.