A new investigation provides damning evidence of abuses and criminality associated with a controversial security initiative in Venezuela, adding to mounting concerns about the government's support for the program.
On October 3, Venezuelan digital media platform RunRun.es and their partner CONNECTAS published an extensive multi-part investigation about the security and human rights impacts of the initiative known as "Operation Liberation and Protection of the People" (Operación de Liberación y Protección del Pueblo - OLP).
Since its start in 2015, the joint police-military operation has been repeatedly tied to massacres, extrajudicial killings, collusion with organized crime groups and human rights abuses including torture and illegal detainment.
The new investigation provides further evidence of these accusations in the form of testimony from victims and security officials involved in the OLP, interviews with experts, analysis of official documents and data, as well as field visits to the five Venezuelan states with the highest number of recorded OLP victims.
The testimony from victims -- including a father whose son was extrajudicially killed, a woman whose husband was disappeared and residents of a neighborhood where a colectivo was installed following an OLP operation -- gives a more human face to the problems with the OLP, and provides detailed accounts of the actions of those involved in carrying out the controversial operations. Some of the testimony was paired with illustrations to create the video below:
(Video courtesy of RunRun.es and CONNECTAS)
According to the new report, the OLP has led to at least 560 deaths -- a higher estimate than the 505 recorded by the Attorney General's Office -- and countless human rights violations between July 2015 and June 2017.
In addition to wreaking havoc on marginalized communities, the report found that the OLP operations have done little to curb violence or crime. Homicides, extortion and kidnapping rates have actually increased, in large part because the OLP helped transfer territorial control to pro-government armed groups known as "colectivos," the report says.
The investigation states that many of the OLP operations were not focused on reducing crime, but rather on protecting the interests of the military and high-level government officials, handing criminal control to friendly colectivos and even pursuing personal vendettas.
Security forces involved in these operations have been observed wearing skeleton masks like the one pictured above, meant to hide their identities and add a further element of intimidation to their presence.
According to official documents acquired by RunRun.es and CONNECTAS, the administration of President Nicolás Maduro announced in January 2017 that the OLP would be relaunched as the OLHP, with the added "H" signifying a "new superior vision" when it comes to human rights.
However, interviews with victims and residents of the poverty-stricken communities where operations have been carried out revealed that the fear instilled by the soldiers and police of the OLP -- many of whose crimes remain in impunity -- continues to haunt their neighborhoods.
InSight Crime Analysis
The powerful testimonies and data collected by the investigation represents perhaps the the most comprehensive trove of evidence of the many problems long associated with the OLP. But it remains unlikely that the Maduro administration will make headway on tackling these issues anytime soon.
Since the launch of the OLP, InSight Crime has reported on the involvement of security officers in death squad-style activities, extrajudicial killings and larger-scale massacres as part of the operations, as well as how their actions have empowered the often criminalized colectivos.
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Nonetheless, these issues probably won't be resolved in the near future. The Maduro administration has shown little interest in acknowledging or addressing the problems with the OLP, and has instead focused on consolidating a group of loyalists around him, many of whom have been accused of having ties to criminal activities.