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Zulia Regional Police Accused of Kidnappings and Collaboration with Paramilitaries

Caracas, August 6, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)— The Mayor of Maracaibo, GianCarlo DiMartino, in an open letter published the Venezuelan daily Últimas Noticias and addressed to Minister of Justice and Interior Relations, Pedro Carreño, and to president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Cilia Flores, called for a national government takeover of the Regional Police Force of Zulia state. DiMartino’s call comes in the context of a surge of kidnappings, murder and extortion in the frontier state, which borders Colombia.

Of the 176 kidnappings in Venezuela this year, 29 have occurred in the state of Zulia. On July 27, the Maracaibo newspaper Panorama reported five kidnappings in Zulia for failure to pay the vacuna, or “vaccine” protection money to the paramilitaries that operate in the region.

DiMartino described as "cynical" a public campaign by Zulia state governor and former presidential candidate Manuel Rosales to offer millions of bolivars in exchange for information about kidnappers.

“This public strategy is a carbon copy applied in the neighboring country [of Colombia], following the directives of foreign imperialists of offering recompense for the capture of guerrillas and narco-traffickers” DiMartino argued, “This is an irresponsible action that has no other effect than to stimulate the network of organized crime. The informants are often people who are in connivance with the crime and this puts the life of the person kidnapped in danger.”

Minister Carreño also criticized Rosales's campaign, saying it would create, “a new field of operations for the kidnapping industry.”

Rosales responded by taking out a full page advertisement in Últimas Noticias, arguing that the national government has used a similar method of offering a reward in exchange for information on the whereabouts of a number of opposition generals who openly called for Chavez' overthrow in a months long occupation of Plaza Altamira.

Accusing Rosales of having connections with far right Colombian paramilitary groups that operate on the frontier zone between Venezuela and Colombia, DiMartino also stated, “The governor of Zulia, from the beginning of his mandate, established links, through his security advisor Henry Lopez Sisco, today a fugitive from Venezuelan justice, with terrorist groups constituted by supposedly demobilized Colombian paramilitaries.”

Lopez Sisco, security advisor to Rosales since 2000 was charged on June 13 last year, with, among other things, participating in the Cantaura massacre in 1982, in which 23 people were killed, ordering the Yumare massacre of a left wing student group in 1986, and the El Amparo massacre of 1988, in which 14 fishermen were murdered.”

Lopez Sisco has since gone into hiding and was reported to be in Costa Rica applying for political asylum in September last year.

During his presidential campaign last year, Rosales—the founder of the party Un Nuevo Tiempo (A New Era), to which Lopez Sisco also belongs and who is widely associated with the El Amparo massacre when he was charged and acquitted over it in 1999—claimed that he new nothing of Lopez Sisco's past and simply took him on as security advisor on the advice of his predecessor.

However, in June former Vice-President José Vicente Rangel alleged, “There is a close relationship between Manuel Rosales and the Self-Defense Units of Columbia [the right-wing paramilitary group of Colombia]” and warned earlier this June of Colombian paramilitaries operating in Venezuelan territory, particularly in the state of Zulia.

DiMartino also said intelligence information from June indicates that “there are 9,078 new paramilitaries operating in Colombia, of which 2,585 are located in strategic corridors of the frontier with Venezuela.”

“The armed wing of governor Rosales is the regional police, with 10,000 active [members] it is obvious that a group of these have a connection with the network of paramilitaries that are integrated into a network of crime, contraband, extortion and narco-trafficking.”

Deputy Freddy Lopez, a member of the National Assembly’s commission for the Interior Policies, said that the problems would not be resolved “until we deal with the internal problems of the police.”

“The people investigating the kidnappings are often the kidnappers themselves,” he said, adding, “So much evidence exists against the Regional Police [of Zulia], yet the authorities do nothing.”

The allegations of the complicity of the police in kidnappings, murder, and extortion “could be applied to any town or region of the country,” he said. “The kidnappers don't distinguish; they kidnap women, children, and the infirm,” he continued.

“In the name of the people of Zulia, we ask for the intervention of the National Government and the National Assembly in the Regional Police of Zulia and a rigorous investigation of the nexus between the regional government and the paramilitary structure that operates on the frontier with Colombia,” concluded Mayor DiMartino.

Minister Carreño has not responded specifically to DiMartino's call, but said that the new Law for the National Police would be approved shortly. Currently Venezuela has numerous state and municipal police forces. A new unified national police force would be “functioning 100%” within two years, the minister assured.

Published on Aug 4th 2007 at 11.39am