HomeNewsAnalysisVenezuela's Security Forces: Protectors or Perpetrators?

Venezuela's Security Forces: Protectors or Perpetrators?


A new report by Human Rights Watch that documents numerous alleged extrajudicial killings by members of the Venezuela police and military raises questions about whether the country's security institutions are having a positive or negative net impact on its troubled security situation. 

The report (pdf) titled "Unchecked Power: Police and Military Raids in Low-Income and Immigrant Communities in Venezuela," examines abusive actions taken by security forces since the inception of Operation to Liberate and Protect the People (Operación de Liberación y Protección del Pueblo - OLP), a government anti-crime initiative launched in July 2015. 

Some 245 people were killed during OLP raids occurring in the second half of 2015, the report says, with dozens more killed thus far in 2016. Authorities say many of the deaths occurred during violent confrontations between security forces and armed criminals, an assertion that Human Rights Watch questions.

"The sheer number of people killed by security forces during these operations raises concerns about whether and to what extent the use of lethal force by security forces has been justified," the report states.

Human Rights Watch and the Venezuelan Human Rights Education-Action Program (PROVEA) documented 20 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings committed by security forces during OLP raids last year. The non-governmental organizations collected testimonies from eye witnesses in 11 of the cases, while its account of the other nine were based on media reports.

Olga Meza told Human Rights Watch that five armed men wearing the badge of Venezuela's CICPC investigative police forcibly entered her home one night last August. She said a police officer pulled her husband out of bed and beat him, while another agent entered a bedroom and shot her 16-year-old son to death. Meza said that when the officers realized they had mistaken her son for their suspect, they fired shots into the air and then hollered that there had been a shootout.

According to Human Rights Watch, authorities later registered the incident as a confrontation, rather than an extrajudicial killing. After Meza filed an official complaint, security agents began harassing her and even following her when she went to visit her son's grave. As of last month, Meza said she was not aware of any major advancements in the investigation of her son's death. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Venezuela is in the midst of a severe security crisis. Frequently, the security forces aggravate the situation rather than alleviating it. While the Human Rights Watch report focuses on alleged abuses carried out during OLP raids, the extent of human rights violations goes far beyond the scope of this one security operation. According to a recent investigation by Venezuelan news outlet Efecto Cocuyo, more than 200 people were killed by police just in the first month of 2016.

Venezuelan police are frequently on the receiving end of violence as well. A total of 112 officers were killed in the capital city of Caracas during the first nine months of 2015, and some municipalities have seen agents leave the force en masse due to personal security concerns.

SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profiles

But unlawful acts of violence perpetrated by police officers cannot be solely attributed to, and should not be rationalized by, rising violence against the police. Academic studies have shown that approximately 70 percent of agents who are killed meet their deaths while off duty, which calls into question a direct or causal link between violence directed at police and abuses committed by them. Indeed, Human Rights Watch's review of official documents and media reports turned up only three instances in which security personnel were killed during OLP raids.

It is more likely that the main cause of extrajudicial killings by Venezuelan security forces is the one alluded to in the report's title: "Unchecked Power." Police and military agents often face no repercussions for excessive use of force, meaning there is little incentive for them to practice restraint when conducting raids.

Rocío San Miguel, director of the organization Citizen Control for National Security, Defense, and the Armed Forces, has argued that extrajudicial killings disguised by authorities as "confrontations" have become so institutionalized that this practice amounts to "the realest and clearest way that the death penalty exists in Venezuela."

A similar dynamic is seen in Brazil, where police are notorious for being among the most violent in Latin America. According to one citizen security body in Brazil, police officers killed an average of 2,239 civilians per year between 2009 and 2013. But these acts of violence are frequently classified as "resistance killings," thereby absolving the police officers of culpability.

There are many factors involved in elevating the number of of killings committed by security forces in Venezuela and around the region, from militarized anti-crime strategies, to hyper violent criminal groups, to resentment over inadequate justice systems. As long as impunity for extrajudicial killings remains the norm, these numbers are not likely to go down. 

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.


Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content

COCAINE / 9 FEB 2021

In July 2020, British drug trafficker Robert Dawes was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in one…


The owner of an armored transport company has been charged for his part in a transnational dirty gold network that…


The “Cartel of the Suns” (Cartel de los Soles) is the term used to describe the shadowy groups inside Venezuela’s…

About InSight Crime


Extensive Coverage of our Chronicles of a Cartel Bodyguard

23 SEP 2022

Our recent investigation, A Cartel Bodyguard in Mexico’s 'Hot Land', has received extensive media coverage.


InSight Crime, American University Host Illegal Fishing Panel

19 SEP 2022

InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University discussed the findings of a joint investigation on IUU fishing at a September 9 conference.


Impact on the Media Landscape

9 SEP 2022

InSight Crime’s first investigation on the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact on the Dominican media landscape, with major news outlets republishing and reprinting our findings, including in …


InSight Crime Sharpens Its Skills

2 SEP 2022

Last week, the InSight Crime team gathered for our annual retreat in Colombia, where we discussed our vision and strategy for the next 12 months.  During the week, we also learned how to…


Colombia’s Fragile Path to Peace Begins to Take Shape

26 AUG 2022

InSight Crime is charting the progress of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda as he looks to revolutionize Colombia’s security policy, opening dialogue with guerrillas, reforming the military and police, and…