Venezuelan Police Officers Accuse Police Chiefs of Ordering them to Shoot at Demonstrators during Coup

Four police officers of the Caracas Metropolitan police, which used to be controlled by the city's oppositional mayor, testified that two police chiefs ordered them to shoot at the pro-Chavez demonstration during the April 2002 coup.

Caracas, December 13, 2004—Caracas metropolitan police officers say they were ordered to fire at Chavista demonstrators on the day of the coup against President Chavez, on April 11, 2002 at Puente Llaguno. The four officers who testified before the Fourth Court of Aragua coincided in their accusations against the ex-directors of the metropolitan police, Henry Vivas and Lázaro Forero.

The Fourth Court of Aragua is currently investigating the actions of Henry Vivas, the former Caracas Metropolitan Police Commander, and Lázaro Forero, the former Chief of Security for Caracas’ oppositional former Metropolitan Mayor, Alfredo Peña, as well as other police officers during the march that preceded the temporary overthrow of President Hugo Chávez.

The shots that the police fired at pro-Chavez demonstrators that day caused some of these to fire back. Venezuela’s private mass media captured the Chavista gunfire and falsely claimed that these were firing at unarmed opposition demonstrators, not at the metropolitan police, who had started shooting at them first, according to many eyewitnesses. These images of Chavistas shooting were a crucial element in the April 2002 coup attempt, as these were used to justify the coup on the grounds that Chavez had issued an order for his supporters to fire at opposition demonstrators.

A series of radio conversations between police officials presumed to be recorded on April 11, 2002 were turned in to Metropolitan Police Inspector Leonardo Navas from an unidentified source last year.  The tapes implicate the commanders of the Metropolitan Police as having given orders to fire on the pro-Chavez demonstrators, which resulted in the deaths of about seven civilians.

In his testimony before the Judge, a metropolitan police officer recounted the events of April 11, 2002, “I heard over the radio when the Superintendent Forero gave the order to fire on the Chavistas.”  “I do not know why Superintendents Vivas, Iván Simonovis and Forero did not give the order to break up the march,” testified another of the police officers in front of the judge. 

“If superintendent Forero issued the order to drive back the demonstrators in support of the government, why did he not also order us to the same with the opposition?” asked another police officer.  All four officers expressed regret for not having stopped the march.

Another of the police officers remembers that the Operations Chief, Emigdio Delgado, ordered the withdrawal of the Metropolitan Police from the center of Caracas due to the magnitude of the events and in order to make room for the National Guard. 

“We never tried to deter the march.  It never should have been permitted,” said one of the police officers.  Later on he added, “The command to try to achieve public order through chemical tactics or negotiation was never given.”  His testimony was in direct contradiction to the declarations by Vivas and Forero made last Saturday.     

In a statement issued by Navas on November 26, 2004, he said that these tapes prove that, “The actions by Police Inspectors Forero, Vivas, and Delgado, far from restoring public order, they were subverting it instead.”

Vivas and Forero were charged for their alleged participation in the coup d’état by former State Prosecutor Danilo Anderson on November 3, 2004.  Anderson was assassinated in a terrorist act slightly over two weeks later. 

In the interim, Vivas and Forero sought political asylum in the Embassy of El Salvador in Caracas.  After deliberations, the Salvadoran government denied the request.  “El Salvador should not interfere in the internal affairs of Venezuela,” said Salvadoran Congressman Miguel Bennett in a statement issued last month.