Venezuelan Officials Call for Calm, Propose New Anti-Crime Measures

The murders of three teenage brothers and the ensuing protests have led Venezuelan government officials to announce new measures to fight crime and to condemn both the murders and the media and opposition response.

Caracas, Venezuela, April 7, 2006—The murders of three teenage brothers and the ensuing protests have led Venezuelan government officials to announce new measures to fight crime and to condemn the murders, as well as the media and opposition response.

“We need to take a hard line in the fight against crime and violence,” said Nicolas Maduro head deputy in Venezuela’s National Assembly, noting Venezuela’s successes in improving education, health and food access.

The bodies of the three boys, Bryan Faddoul (17), Kevin Faddoul (13), and Jason Faddoul (12) and Miguel Rivas, their driver, were found shot dead Tuesday night. Miguel Rivas left behind a wife and two sons, ages 5 and 5 months.

The discovery of the bodies came over a month after the group had been kidnapped driving to school at what had appeared to be a police checkpoint. Their kidnappers had demanded a multi-million dollar ransom for their return, which their parents, wealthy by Venezuelan standards, had been unable to pay.

According to government officials, police are suspects in the case. “I’m not discounting the possibility that [the perpetrators] are police…In any case, I hope that the authorities move forward quickly with the leads that they have,” said Caracas Mayor Juan Barreto.

Government officials reacted with sadness to the news of the murders and promised to search for the killers. “We offer our condolences to the families and friends of the Faddoul brothers and to Miguel Rivas, who were victims of a cowardly act that has deeply saddened the Venezuelan people,” the Ministry of Communication said in a press release.

“We openly accept our responsibility [to catch the perpetrators] and even now we are looking for and catching those who committed this horrendous crime. These beings, if they can be called beings, who did these deeds, need to end up behind bars. It’s the only thing we can offer the parents [of the victims] and we will fight until we are successful,” said the Minister of Justice and the Interior, Jesse Chacón.

As a response to the incident, Barreto announced the addition of members of the military to the police force. The new Chief of Police is Jesús Figueroa Rodríguez, who is a Brigadier General in the National Guard. They’re also adding 11 military officers, 11 reservists and 5 people designated by the Ministry of Defense and the Presidents office to oversight positions.

Chácon also announced the creation of a National Institute of Police Reform. “It will be an inter-institucional, consultative, transparent, participative, plural and technical body that will need to develop within 120 days ways to do detailed evaluations [and] diagnostics of all of the police bodies in the country,” he said.

Despite their visible corruption, cleaning up the police force has been an issue seemingly on the backburner of the Chávez administration. The poorly paid Metropolitan Police are well-known for detaining people to solicit bribes. Extrajudicial killings throughout Venezuela are also common. Street crime is also a serious problem, with the 2005 murder rate being 6 times that of the US. Among the moves the government has made to address this is, according to Barreto, the removal of one third of the Metropolitan Police force for various crimes. The mayor also recently suggested that old police weapons be given to people in barrios who would organize to protect their neighborhoods.  The Attorney General said he would challenge such a policy.   

As protests take over some Caracas streets, government officials have also called on journalists and the opposition not to politicize the situation. “I ask [journalists] to respect the memory of these Venezuelans and that, in homage to them, we [journalists] truly report following the standards of the Code of Ethics,” said Lara. The press was instrumental in supporting the brief 2002 coup.

The warning to reporters comes a day after Jorge Aguirre, a photographer for the Venezuelan daily’s El Mundo and Ultimas Noticias, was murdered covering the protests. Julio Caneló, his driver said that an apparent police officer was involved. “He told me: Police! Pull over to the right! So I continued on my way and he followed us. At the turnoff of the highway, I didn’t see him any more, so I thought that he had gone, but when I stopped so that Aguirre could take the picture, the guy started to fire,” he said.

Lara specifically criticized opposition political party Primero Justicia, some of whose leaders, he said, have taking advantage of the deaths for political gain, a charge Primero Justicia denies.

He also asked for people to remain calm. “In this moment of mourning and anger, in the name of everyone, we call for peace,” he said in a release.