Caracas, May 11th 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced a new phase in the government’s controversial “Liberate the People” security operation this Tuesday, pledging to rid the country of gang-related violent crime.
In comments made on his television program, “In Contact with Maduro,” the head of state publicly laid down an ultimatum to the country’s gang members, giving them 72 hours to “hand themselves in peacefully” to authorities and begin a process of “pacification”.
Earlier on Tuesday thousands of special armed forces units were deployed across Caracas, and specifically to five new “permanent” base checkpoints in the city.
Alongside Venezuela’s specialist investigative police force, the CICPC, the units will be tasked with weeding out those deemed responsible for organised violent crime. One hundred and thirty six checkpoints in total have been set up in the capital city.
“This is aimed at disarticulating all the groups that are out there kidnapping, carrying out paid killings, persecuting the people and submitting them to a state of siege. It’s over. It must stop,” said the president.
Venezuela’s government announced the creation of the OLP in 2015 in a bid to get a hold on rising levels of violent crime, linked to the proliferation of gangs and paramilitary organisations which now control some areas of the country.
But the heavy handed tactics used by police in the raids have drawn criticism from international human rights organisations, as well as from Venezuelan intellectuals. They say that the operation is militarising the country’s shantytowns as well as criminalising the poor.
Venezuelan press reports that over 1130 people were arrested during OLP raids in mostly working class areas on Tuesday. Nine people are also confirmed to have been killed.
The majority of the arrests were carried out because the subjects were undocumented, while others were wanted for drug-related offences and homicide, stated Gustavo Gónzalez López, minister for domestic relations, justice and peace.
Explaining his decision to intensify the controversial operation on Tuesday, Maduro said local communities had complained that authorities had withdrawn from areas too quickly following a raid, leaving the gangs to “once again take over”.
He has promised more constant support and oversight for communities in the new phase of the operation
“This will be done with respect for our people,” he said.
Stolen vehicles and heavy weaponry, including grenades, were also recovered by the armed forces during Tuesday’s initial operation.