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Nine Police Found Guilty of April 2002 Venezuelan Coup Deaths

Mérida, April 6th 2009 ( – The lawyer for the victims of the coup in Venezuela on April 11th 2002, Antonio Molina, confirmed on Friday that three police captains had been sentenced to 30 years jail and that six other police also received sentences for homicide and assault to different degrees.

On April 11th 2002, 100,000 to 200,000 opposition supporters were marching to the PDVSA headquarters in defense of the recently dismissed management board, when they changed their course towards the Presidential Palace, Miraflores and the nearby Llaguno Bridge, where a pro-Chavez demonstration was taking place.

As the marches converged, snipers shot and killed 19 people, many with shots to the head, and wounded many others in both marches.

Later that day, the opposition blamed the government of President Hugo Chávez for the killings and used this as a pretext to stage a military coup and kidnap Chávez. They claimed that Chavez had resigned, and declared business man Pedro Carmona president. The coup was overturned peacefully two days later.

The convicted police captains worked for the Caracas Metropolitan Police (PM) and their names are Ivan Simonovis, Henry Vivas and Lazaro Forero. Three police officers, Luis Molina, Erasmo Bolívar and Julio Rodríguez also received thirty year sentences. Another, Arube Pérez, a first corporal, received a 17 year 10 month sentence, while another police officer, Marco Hurtado, received 16 years, all of them for homicide and assault during the coup.

Two police on trial were allowed to return home. Rafael López was found innocent. Ramón Humberto was found guilty of cover up and given three years, but had already been in jail for 5 years, and was therefore released.

Molina said he hoped the ruling would set a precedent and allow others to also be tried, such as the mayor of Caracas at the time, Alfredo Peña, who was responsible for the Metropolitan Police and who Molina believes was the connection between the coup participants and the police. Peña left the country after his term as mayor finished.

Molina said the sentence was important because “it makes it clear that yes, there was a coup d’etat,” which some opposition supporters have denied.

Molina explained that the sentence was harsh because the crimes consisted of “grave violations of human rights” and were part of a coup against the government.

“The PM that day was the armed wing of the opposition and the motivation which accompanied the criminal action of these police was political, to remove the president,” Molina said.

“The sentences don’t fill us with happiness, we feel a heavy weight because some citizens who the Venezuelan state had entrusted with arms…abandoned their constitutional responsibility… and participated in a comprehensive plan which lead to the breakdown of the constitution’s ideas,” he said.

Yesenia Fuentes, a member of the Victims of the Coup Association said of the sentencing outcome, “I feel that justice has been served, the maximum penalty, once again justice had power in this country.” She said she hoped the cases against Peña and all other police officials who violated human rights during the coup would be reopened.

Referring to two people who died on April 11th, she said, “the mother of Rudy Urbano and the relatives of Erasmo Sánchez feel at peace now, the peace that they have been looking for during the last seven years.”

But she said that the trial only covered 3 of the deaths, and that 16 other cases are still “waiting for justice.”

Jose Tamayo, lawyer for the defense, made declarations to the press against the judge Marjorie Calderón and said the sentence was “legally abhorrent and morally reprehensible.”

Of the judge, he said, “She did something truly monstrous and it will be remembered in the judicial history of Venezuela as the most unjust process that has been carried out in Venezuela and as the most disgraceful ruling that could have been given by a Venezuelan judge.”

He called the trial outcome a “trophy to the president” because of the proximity of the sentencing to the anniversary of the coup and its defeat, and said he would be appealing the verdict.

However, Aramita Padrino, another lawyer for the victims of April 11th, said that throughout the whole trial the prosecution has had to struggle against a “parallel media tribunal” set up by the private media. She claimed the private media had distorted the events of April 11th and had also criminalized and slandered the victims.

The court process began on March 20 2006, and saw both the public prosecution and private plaintiffs accusing the 11 police. There were 265 expert testimonies, 5,700 photos, 20 videos and 198 witnesses. The defense, however, claims there wasn’t enough evidence to make a conviction.



Published on Apr 6th 2009 at 10.12pm