Caracas, July 15, 2015 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Hundreds were arrested across Venezuela in a mass anti-crime operation undertaken by state security forces to liberate territories occupied by paramilitary gangs in the capital district and bordering states of Miranda and Aragua on Monday.
In what has been denominated "Operation Liberation and Protection of the People" (OLP), thousands of police and national guard personnel participated in four simultaneous raids in the early hours of the morning aimed at confronting heavily armed paramilitary groups believed to have originated from Colombia.
In the Caracas neighborhood of San Miguel de la Cota, security forces detained 134 suspected criminals, of whom 32 are allegedly foreigners with links to Colombian paramilitaries.
Meanwhile, in Miranda state, 111 individuals were arrested in two separate raids in which authorities also confiscated illicit vehicles, firearms, as well as several kilos of drugs. A similar operation in Aragua state saw the reported dismantling of another gang with the detention of several suspected criminals.
Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro praised the operation as a critical blow against "Colombian paramilitarism" which he accused of seeking to infiltrate the country.
"With these four operations as a start, [...] we have in our hands the elements to demonstrate that Colombian paramilitarism, Colombian drug trafficking, and all of this conspiracy has come to take power [...] and install here a model that has done great harm to Colombia."
"I am firmly dedicated to dismantling [this model]," he continued, adding that OLP will reportedly continue over the coming days and be extended to other parts of Venezuela.
The operation met with strong backing by a large segment of poor and working class Venezuelans whose communities have borne the brunt of insecurity, in spite of international media reports that consistently profile the middle and upper class.
"For those of us in the community, we hope that each one of these actions continues in order to break up all of the gangs that are harming the people, the economy, as well as the security of the youth," says Jaime Palacios, a student at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela and resident of Petare, the deadliest barrio in Caracas.
Javier Gomez, 31, a resident of the barrio of Las Torres in the western Catia region of Caracas, also voiced support for the operation, adding that the government should step up efforts against corruption, hoarding, and contraband that often involve the country's middle and upper classes.
"We applaud these measures, but we also consider the question of crime to be a broad one. The business-person who hoards food items, who sets up front companies [to receive government dollars] is also a criminal."
"Crime must be attacked in all of its aspects," he told Venezuelanalysis.
Despite widespread popular support, the action faced criticism by the opposition human rights NGO PROVEA, who blasted state security forces for what it characterized as "excessive use of force".
Palacios dismissed PROVEA's allegations, arguing the organization's narrative doesn't square with the reality of close cooperation between communities and security forces that makes operations like Monday's feasible.
"As the community organizes itself and coordinates with police officials, it will advance significantly. At least in Cota, it was the very communal councils who denounced before authorities the presence of criminal gangs their neighborhood," Palacios stated.
In 2006, the Bolivarian government began a process of police reform that has seen the replacement of corrupt local police units with a national "preventive" police force supervised by "citizen police control committee" and trained at the human rights-centered National Experimental Security University.