Aside from bribery, fear and terror are the means by which the Chavista regime keeps itself in power. As the regime weakens and has fewer resources at its command it is becoming more reliant on terror as a means of enforcing obedience. Terror methods include imprisoning or killing dissenters and their families. Of course, the regime doesn’t need to kill all of its opponents, only enough of them to frighten others into acquiescence.
Targeted violence is used against individuals and indiscriminate violence against protestors. Earlier this year, during peaceful civilian protests to support the entry of international humanitarian aid, 107 people were arbitrarily arrested, (a significant number of which were subsequently reported as “disappeared”), 7 people were killed, 58 were wounded by gunfire and a large number injured by other means, including rubber pellets, tear gas canisters, marbles & knives.
Extrajudicial killings are deployed to an increasing extent. The National Police’s Special Actions Force (FAES) is mainly responsible for these. Such killings often target poor areas that oppose the regime. Amnesty International has documented six extrajudicial executions of young men linked to the protests in February this year. The FAES often turn up to the apartment of their intended victims and then shoot them in the head.
On January 24th in Carora, (Lara state) two young men were executed after being linked to a viral audio announcing protests in the city. At around 3pm more than 20 heavily armed, hooded members of the FAES burst into the home of Luis Enrique Ramos Suárez, dragged him out in front of 10 family members, and shot him dead. His friend Eduardo Luis Ramos, also implicated in the audio, was killed when he tried to go and see where the FAES has taken his friend’s body. He was executed in a nearby alley.
Terror is often directed at opposition politicians. Councillor Fernando Alban was arrested on returning from New York before being taken to State Police Headquarters where he died, supposedly after jumping out of a 10th floor window. This is unlikely to say the least, as Alban was a devout Catholic in a secure building.
Opponents of the regime are often imprisoned. As of June 13, the respected human rights organisation Foro Penal counted 773 political prisoners, as well as another 8,613 subject to unfair criminal procedures. Opposition political leaders are usually jailed on trumped-up charges. At 2am on March 21 this year, Venezuelan secret police broke into the house of Roberto Marrero, Juan Guaido’s Chief of Staff, claimed that they found two rifles and a grenade, and arrested him for making “treasonous” social media posts calling for the delivery of international humanitarian aid. National Assembly deputies are meant to have parliamentary immunity against such charges, but this has not prevent the regime from arresting many more, including National Assembly Vice-President Edgar Zambrano, who was charged with treason on May 8th .
Some opposition figures, such as National Assembly Deputy Gilber Caro and Ferrominera union leader Rubén González, have been put before military tribunals, which according to Amnesty International, “undermines the rule of law in the country, violating the Venezuelan Constitution and international laws.”
Major Luz Mariela Santafé Acevedo, the military judge allocated to rule on the case of Gilber Caro, denounced the “planting of false evidence” and defected to Colombia because she “no longer wanted to continue making decisions against due process, effective judicial protection, the right to defence and, above all, the violation of human rights.”
Those arrested are often held in clandestine detention centres, some run by pro-regime militias. On April 5, human rights NGO PROVEA announced the discovery of several such centres, including three allegedly run by colectivos, police, state security forces, and intelligence agencies, where the regime extra-legally detains and abuse Venezuelan citizens. Torture, often directed by Cuban agents, is frequently deployed on prisoners, particularly on those with military backgrounds.
In September 2018 Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Paraguay and Canada formally asked the International Criminal Court to investigate the regime for crimes against humanity. The request is backed up by a 500 page submission from the Organisation of American States (OAS) which, along with instances of torture, rape, imprisonment, and other forms of persecution, cites at least 6,385 murders and extrajudicial killings.
Vicious brutality is a hallmark of the Chavista regime. Without the use of terror, it would have collapsed long ago. We must hope that those responsible will be held to account and Venezuelans will soon be liberated from the Chavistas’ reign of terror.
More information on the Venezuela Campaign can be found on their website.