Venezuelan Activists Demand Justice in Arbitrary Arrest, Targeted Killing Cases

Activists from Caracas’ popular La Vega neighborhood are campaigning for a “revolution” within the judicial system to advance human rights.

Caracas, April 27, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan activists rallied to demand freedom for five youths reportedly detained unjustly during anti-gang operations last year.

The protest took place on Tuesday in front of Caracas’ Justice Palace organized by the Committee for the Peoples’ Rights which brings together relatives, neighbors and community activists in the defense of police abuse victims in the popular neighborhood La Vega, where the five arrested young men lived.

Alongside a number of allied popular organizations, the human rights collective demanded immediate responses from judicial authorities and pointed out several irregularities that have impeded the detainees’ right to defense and due process.

“Ten months have passed since the unjust arrest of Osmar José Benitez, Darwin Rivas Polanco, Kevin Reinosa Parra, Félix Maíz and Hécgerson Chaparro Castillo,” reads a communique presented in the rally. “We [still] don’t know what is the evidence held against them, authorities refuse to meet with us and inform us about the process. They [the five detained] are being pressured to admit crimes they did not commit.”

The Committee explained that Benitez and Reinosa are still waiting for a trial date to be set. The other three were sentenced to six years in prison for illegal arms possession allegedly without evidence while the defense appeal process has been met with obstacles. The communique accused security forces of “simulating crimes” by planting evidence and claimed prosecutors have admitted to being pressured to secure convictions.

The activists added that police officers have admitted they were forced to meet “arrest quotas” during last year’s anti-gang operations, “which led to the detention of innocent people.”

“We demand our five boys to face their trial in freedom in strict observance of their rights to due process and defense which are guaranteed in the Bolivarian Constitution,” emphasized the communique.

The Committee for the Peoples’ Rights likewise brought attention to the “terrible conditions of confinement” the five young men face in the police detention centers of Boleíta, San Agustín and La Yaguara, leading to severe health issues.

Tuesday’s rally concluded with the activists’ urgent demand that the Venezuelan government change the “inhuman conditions” in the country’s prisons, revolutionize the judicial system to advance human rights and “stop the criminalization of poverty in popular neighborhoods.”

In July 2021, Venezuelan state security forces retook control of the hillside Cota 905 barrio and surrounding areas, including the working-class La Vega neighborhood in western Caracas, with a large-scale operation against criminal groups. While local communities have expressed support in the fight against crime, they reject the police’s use of excessive force and the detention of people with no connection to gangs.

The La Vega Committee for the Peoples’ Rights has documented 19 arbitrary arrests and four extrajudicial executions as well as illegal searches, robbery, and property damages.

Yukpa people demand justice

Indigenous Yukpa people also held a rally on Tuesday to demand an end to impunity in cases of targeted killings and ongoing criminal persecution amidst land struggles in the Sierra de Perijá region, Zulia state (western Venezuela).

Relatives of murdered Yukpa leader Sabino Romero Izarra alongside social activists staged a protest in Parque Carabobo, in front of the attorney general’s office in Caracas, to request the reopening of the case after years of stalling.

“We want the intellectual authors of Sabino’s murder to be prosecuted as well,” said social activist Tibisay Mendoza. She explained that while the material authors of the crime (hired assassins) were sentenced to prison, the powerful cattle ranchers behind the crime remain free.

Sabino Romero was an indigenous leader who fought for the Yukpa people’s rights to access their ancestral lands, some of which were returned to them by the Hugo Chávez government in 2008. Since then, large-scale cattle ranchers and mining companies have carried out violent attacks against Yukpa communities in order to take back the land.

On March 3, 2013, Romero was killed by gunfire and his partner Lucía Martínez Romero was seriously injured following the Yukpa’s victory in reclaiming their territories. The indigenous chief’s father and fellow activist had been killed in 2008.

“We are fighting now in the Sierra de Perijá region for our territory, our culture, our worldview and our indigenous rights,” said Samuel Romero, Sabino’s son. He pointed the finger at powerful cattle ranchers “who accuse us of being animal thieves and murderers, when in fact, they kill us indigenous people.”

The demonstrators also demanded an investigation into the murder of indigenous activist Alexander Fernández, who was tortured and assassinated on June 23, 2012. His mother Carmen Fernández explained at the rally that four of her children have been killed in recent years, with all the cases going unpunished.

Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.