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News: Law and Justice

Venezuela Carries out 15 Exhumations to Identify Victims of Cantaura Massacre

Mérida, October 4th 2011 ( – The Public Prosecutor’s Office has exhumed fifteen bodies as part of its investigation to uncover those responsible for the Cantaura massacre, Attorney General Luisa Ortega announced early this morning. Today marks the 29th anniversary of the massacre.

On 4 October 1982, Venezuelan military bombed and attacked a guerrilla camp near the city of Cantaura in Anzoategui state. There were around 41 guerrillas, belonging to the Bandera Roja-Americo Silva Guerrilla Front, and 23 were killed. They were men and women between 16 and 30 years old.

Ortega, speaking on state television station VTV said the families had had “difficulties” finding the bodies because of the “situation that was being lived at the time, the violation of human rights during the time in history [of the Luis Herrera government]” and said the exhumed bodies would be formally handed over to the families.

“After what happened the families were scared to ask for the bodies because those who dared to do so were detained, persecuted, and many had to go into hiding,” said Ortega.

She said the attacked group were “unarmed, and the execution of these young people was carried out by more than 400 members of the National Guard and the [Venezuelan Intelligence Agency DISIP], who used very sophisticated weapons that were inappropriate for stopping some kind of action”.

Herrera, of the Copei party, and other international organisations “were never interested in investigating what happened,” said Ortega.

According to the state news agency AVN, the Herrera government classified the massacre as an “armed battle”, but AVN reports that the exhumations show the opposite, “the majority of victims were executed, their bodies show signs of torture and shots to the head".

In 2009 the Public Prosecutor’s Office reopened the Cantaura case for the first time. Members of the Foundation Cantaura Vive said that since one of the people responsible for the Yumare Massacre, in which nine social leaders were killed in 1986, was condemned in May this year, they hoped that soon the “material and intellectual authors of the Cantaura Massacre will be identified” as well.

Various events around the country are currently being held to remember the event, including a tribute in Caracas chaired by the president of the National Assembly, Fernando Soto Rojas, and in Cumaná, Sucre state. There will be a forum in Cantaura this Saturday, and Antonio Arias, of the Association Cantaura Vive said three of the exhumed bodies would be buried this Thursday in Sucre state.

The State Institute of Women in Anzoategui (IEMA) recognised the “heroic” women guerrillas who were attacked and who “struggled against social inequality that oppressed the most vulnerable people in the country, travelling in mountainous areas and using the Cantaura countryside as a refuge".

Francelys Barreto, sister of one of the women killed, Beatriz Jimenez, said the events paying homage to the victims of Cantaura are important because “they show that we have to make the historical event our own. They should serve as an example so that today’s youth know what happened in Venezuela".

Published on Oct 5th 2011 at 8.52am