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Death Toll Rises As Venezuela Security Operation Rages On

SECURITY POLICY / 15 APR 2016 BY VENEZUELA INVESTIGATIVE UNIT EN

Hundreds of security forces have been deployed in Venezuela as part of an ongoing security offensive against organized criminal gangs, but the operation's rising death toll is causing concerns about the human cost of the country's increasingly militarized security posture. 

Venezuelan officials say they have dismantled three criminal networks after deploying more than 400 police and military personnel in four municipalities of Miranda State earlier this week. Among them was the gang suspected of murdering retired Bolivarian National Guard General Jorge Enrique González Arreaza and his wife, who were found dead in early April, reported El Nacional.

The operation left 13 people dead, saw 4 suspects detained on drug trafficking charges, and led to the recovery of 12 firearms and 221 packages of marijuana. More than 200 homes were raided as part of the mission. 

An additional 800 personnel were deployed in another 8 municipalities on April 14 with a similar mandate to dismantle criminal bands responsible for carrying out kidnappings, extortions, and murders.

Both shows of force are being billed by authorities as part of the ongoing security offensive dubbed "Operation Liberation and Protection of the People" (Operación de Liberación y Protección del Pueblo -- OLP), launched in July 2015 to tackle what the government sees as the growing threat of "criminal gangs and paramilitary practices infiltrating the country."

More than 130 OLP operations were carried out in 2015, leaving 245 people dead.

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OLP has been controversial from its inception. The government has claimed it is the "perfect instrument for peace" and points to the dismantling of gangs such as those operating in Miranda as evidence of its effectiveness. However, human rights organizations have criticized the initiative for its militarized posture and what they say is an open-ended and overly-broad mandate. In April 2016, international advocacy group Human Rights Watch issued a report linking OLP to alleged extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detentions, and forced evictions. 

Venezuela is currently facing serious threats from criminal entities that are becoming increasingly organized and violence and insecurity have been spreading throughout the country. However, ten months into the era of OLP, it remains an open question as to whether the social and human costs of the militarized anti-crime strategy are outweighed by any significant security gains. 

Venezuela is not alone in pursuing a heavy handed domestic security policy. The increased militarization of anti-crime strategies is a trend seen across Latin America, despite concern for the human rights implications of such strategies. 

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