Merida, October 1st 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) - Marking the most recent advances in its investigation of the 1989
"Caracazo" massacre, in which state security forces killed hundreds of
civilians who were protesting neo-liberal policies, the Venezuelan
Attorney General's Office exhumed the remains of 125 victims of the
massacre and filed a request to Interpol for the arrest of Carlos
Andres Perez, the Venezuelan president who ordered the repression.
"The case was in the freezer," Attorney General Luisa Ortega said about the Caracazo investigation, which the Perez government paralyzed in 1991. "The Attorney General's Office has the obligation to finish all its investigations. We have to bring justice in all cases, none can remain unsolved," she said.
The 125 bodies that were exhumed last week were found in a mass grave in a section of a cemetery in Caracas. Speaking on the state television station VTV on Tuesday night, Ortega said the next step in the investigation is to establish the identity of the victims through DNA, dental, and other forensic exams, and transfer possession of their remains to their relatives.
While official records place the total death toll of the Caracazo massacre at 276, independent investigations by human rights groups reported that the total number of people killed and disappeared exceeded one thousand.
So far, the Attorney General's Office has formally charged three people for their role in the massacre, including President Perez and retired military officers. Charges are set to be filed in the coming days against Perez's defense minister and the director of the Caracas police at the time of the events, which took place between February and March of 1989.
The International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol, has not responded yet to the request for Perez's arrest. Perez is presumed to be living in either the United States or the Dominican Republic. Ortega emphasized that his arrest would be key for the investigation, but that it depends on the "political will" of Interpol and the government of the country where he is found.
For many Venezuelans, the Caracazo massacre is emblematic of the representative capitalist democracy that governed Venezuela during the last four decades of the Twentieth Century, a period known as the "Fourth Republic." The alignment of those two-party dominated governments with the free trade liberalization espoused by Washington, and the bloody repression against those who dissented, gave impetus to the movement that elected Hugo Chavez to the presidency in 1998 and subsequently approved a new national constitution which places more emphasis on human rights and participatory democracy.
"For me, all the cases are emblematic and important...but the case of the Caracazo had a greater impact on the public because of the number of deaths, the manner, the grave violation of human rights that were produced during those days," Ortega said on Tuesday.
The Attorney General's Office estimates that 756 people were murdered or disappeared by state security forces during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. A special commission from the Venezuelan National Assembly, as well as experts from the national investigative police, CICPC, are contributing to the investigations of these crimes.
The Attorney General's Office is also making headway on its investigation of the murder of nine political activists in Yumare, Yaracuy state, by agents of the now dissolved intelligence agency DISIP in May 1986. The office opened its investigation of the unresolved crime in 2006, after three lawyers representing victims' family members filed a private lawsuit against 27 DISIP officers.
Since then, investigators have brought charges against nearly thirty DISIP officers, issued ten arrest warrants and filed an extradition request for Henry López Sisco, who was the head of the DISIP at the time and is presumed to be residing in Costa Rica. The extradition request has not been approved yet by the Venezuelan Supreme Court.
In May 2008, the bodies of the victims of the Yumare massacre were exhumed and placed in possession of the relatives. At that time, Ortega said, "The Attorney General's office has taken on the task of giving an answer not only to this case but to the rest of the cases we have in order to make our pledge, ‘no more impunity,' a reality."
The Attorney General's Office has made less progress in its investigation of the massacre of 23 political activists from the armed political organization "Americo Silva Front" by state security forces in October 1982 in Cantaura, Anzoategui state, but Ortega said charges are set to be filed against several suspects in the case this month.
Human Rights Perspective
According to the Caracas-based human rights group Red de Apoyo por la Justicia y la Paz (Support Network for Peace and Justice), the government's investigation of the massacres committed by state security forces during the Fourth Republic is an unprecedented but still nascent step forward in the struggle to end impunity for these crimes.
"It is fundamental that the investigations of these human rights violations have moved forward, but they have not advanced fast enough, and they are only in their beginning stages," Alfredo Ruiz from the Red de Apoyo told Venezuelanalysis.com.
Ruiz urged "greater efficiency" in the investigations. He emphasized the importance of prosecuting the high level officials who ordered the repression, not just those who carried it out. Thus, the collaboration of the governments of Costa Rica, the United States, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Peru, and other countries where these officials currently live is a crucial element in the investigations, he said.