Caracas, Venezuela, April 11, 2006—In the wake of the high-profile murders of the Faddoul brothers, the government has announced the capture of suspects and reforms to the Caracas city police force.
After two more arrests yesterday afternoon and three today, fifteen have been arrested accused of carrying out the kidnapping and murder of the victims. Many of those arrested are in their teens or early twenties, the youngest a 16 year old boy. The head of Venezuela’s forensic police (CICPC), Marcos Chávez, told the Venezuelan government’s television station, VTV, that 90% of the perpetrators had been found, but they are continuing the investigation to catch anyone else who might have participated.
Director Chávez said they have yet to capture any masterminds of the crime, or the people, dressed as police, who initially kidnapped the group. They are in the late stages of identifying the latter, and expect arrests shortly, he said. Isaías Rodríguez, the Attorney General of Venezuela, also said they were looking into who had been extorting the father of the boys before the kidnappings.
The two arrested yesterday, are expected to be brought before a court today. This is a notably swift first court appearance for the notoriously slow Venezuelan judicial system.
According to the lawyer of one of those arrested, “Mopia [the neighborhood where some of the accused come from] is one of the most humble neighborhoods in the country, and its residents are humble people, and now many of them are being accused of a crime that needed planning, logistics, transportation, money, and time.”
The bodies of the three teenaged Faddoul brothers and their driver Miguel Rivas were found shot dead a week ago. The discovery of the bodies came over a month after the group had been kidnapped when Rivas stopped as he drove the boys to school at what had appeared to be a checkpoint manned by uniformed officers. None of those arrested are police.
The kidnappers had demanded a multi-million dollar ransom for their return, which their parents, wealthy by Venezuelan standards, had been unable to pay.
The deaths sparked two days of protests, concentrated at universities and in wealthy neighborhoods, against Venezuela’s rampant crime problems and police corruption. While many of the protesters, especially the secondary through college students, described the actions as apolitical and anti-violence, some of the protesters were openly anti-government. In a group of a few hundred protesters that had blocked off a major intersection in the upper middle class neighborhood of Altamira with the help of the local police, several complained that under this administration opposition did not have the right to protest, citing the presence of a couple dozen National Guard troops a half mile away.
The Chacao police force, which is in charge of the municipality where the protests took place, is generally acknowledged to be better paid and significantly less corrupt than the much feared Metropolitan Police, who are well known for soliciting bribes.
Government officials had called for calm and for the situation not to be politicized, but President Hugo Chávez on his weekly program Aló Presidente blamed the deaths on capitalism. He also said that the deaths “made me want to go into the streets as well, but not to manipulate anybody, to really cry as I have cried in silence or over the phone with speaking with the Faddoul boys’ mother.”
In an apparent move to clean up the police force in the wake of the protests, yesterday the Mayor of Greater Caracas, Juan Barreto, announced the creation of an interdisciplinary commission to restructure the Metropolitan Police. The commission will review disciplinary proceedings, track the work of the officers, and examine the weapons and all of the elements that make up the police body, reports VTV.
“[The idea is to] create an interdisciplinary commission, a team which will head the review of all police policies and can identify problems that we need to fix and how all the procedures and all the corrections that we have brought to the Metropolitan Police can become what the community is hoping for,” said Barreto, emphasizing that the commission would not come from within the ranks of the police, but from other public branches.
Barreto had previously named a new chief of police.
This is not the first time the executive has attempted to gain control of the Caracas police force. In late 2002, the national government briefly took over in the police force, replacing the leadership against the protests of then-mayor Alfredo Peña. The move was criticized for being political, and was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court.