Shocking revelations by a Venezuelan government official about torture carried out by government institutions has allegedly revealed the existence of "torture houses," operated by Venezuelan state agents inside buildings seized from drug traffickers.
A Venezuelan officer who defected from the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (Dirección General de Contrainteligencia Militar - DGCIM) spoke to the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington DC on March 20. He presented a series of videos and other evidence seeming to show Venezuelan soldiers and civilians who stood up to the government being tortured.
"I had not imagined seeing so many inhuman atrocities as the ones that prisoners undergo when they are tortured ... they treat them like animals. Medical treatment is not provided, they are not allowed to go outside. They are oppressed, physically and psychologically, all the time," said Ronald Dugarte, an air force lieutenant who defected after recording these videos on his cell phone.
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The videos show several senior officers handcuffed and mistreated for allegedly conspiring against the government. In his complaint, Dugarte also assured that Cuban agents were participating in the training of Venezuelan intelligence officials and monitoring all military units in the country.
The lawyer and human rights defender Tamara Sujú, who accompanied Dugarte, read off a list of alleged torturers, including some members of "colectivos" who dress as DGCIM agents and denounced these clandestine torture centers, locating one of them inside the San Bernardino neighborhood of Caracas.
According to Sujú, Interior Minister Néstor Reverol, in his former capacity as head of the National Anti-Drug Office, had given over properties seized from drug lords to the security forces to be used to torture opponents.
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Allegations about torture and human rights abuses carried out by the regime of Nicolás Maduro have been constant since 2014, but have ramped up in the last two years, even being confirmed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in a new report.
However, the existence of clandestine torture centers, used to arbitrarily detain opponents apparently under the advice of Cuban intelligence agents and colectivos, is a new revelation.
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At least four clandestine torture houses have been reported in different areas of the capital Caracas, "where detainees are taken immediately after being captured and before being transferred to police stations or appearing in court," a source from the Interior Ministry told InSight Crime.
In addition to these properties mentioned by Dugarte, InSight Crime has learned of two more, located southeast of Caracas in the municipalities of Baruta and El Hatillo.
And there are doubts as to whether these properties were truly former drug dens. Venezuela has not prosecuted drug gangs for several years now and it seems the assets seized in fact belong to ex-government officials or opposition supporters, such as businessman Diego Salazar. The same Interior Ministry source informed InSight Crime that "the vehicles and properties of these people are delivered, without any legal procedure, to the military and officials, or assigned to government agencies."