Interview | Keymer Ávila: “The State has been extremely effective in using force to retain power”

Feb 23, 2023 | 0 Comentarios

The criminologist Keymer Ávila emphasizes that inaction in the face of human rights violations by security organizations can be considered a government policy that involves tolerance and institutional protection.

28 de abril de 2019

Sofía Nederr

The performance of the State security agencies during the government of Nicolás Maduro cannot be seen in isolation and, in many cases, represents a deja vu of the last 50 years. However, this does not excuse the current administration from excesses and violations of the right to life. This is emphasized by the lawyer Keymer Ávila, specialist in Criminology and Criminal Legal Sociology and professor at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV).

The expert highlights, in an interview with TalCual that, for two decades, “the current rulers have promised a rupture, a change and an improvement in the quality of life. They said they were against the repression of the so-called fourth republic . However, this offer did not prevent the State from becoming a repressive and police entity.

This situation is described in the book “Use of the Public Force and the Right to Life in Venezuela”, which condenses an extensive investigation carried out by the criminologist in conjunction with the Venezuelan Program for Education-Action in Human Rights (Provea).

What are the most outstanding features when comparing the use of force by security organizations, several decades ago, with what is happening today?

To say that something is broken or spoiled, one assumes that it worked before. When we reviewed the pioneering works from the early 1990s, the focus of the investigation was the weakness and precariousness of institutional controls, as well as compliance with the law by the State itself. There is a kind of tolerance with the actions of the State security forces. This institutional weakness, paradoxically, fuels an excessive and arbitrary use; to the extent that the State is institutionally precarious, the excesses are greater. So, since the 1970s, there has been a significant number of deaths at the hands of State security forces and, even, between the 1970s and the 1990s there was legislation that somehow generated impunity for this type of case.

This does not mean in any way to lessen the responsibilities of the current authorities, nor to justify anything that is happening. You can’t believe that the current authorities made things up because we used to live in Disneyland. What is expected is that institutional violence is less or at least remains controlled. But when we do the contrast, the increase is barbaric.

What does that mean in concrete terms?

The comparison of these years is done by rate of 100 thousand inhabitants. As of 2013 there is an increase in deaths at the hands of the public force. In the year 1976, for example, there were at least 60 cases due to the intervention of the public force. In these cases there may be multiple victims. The number of deaths at the hands of the State security forces, in 2017, was 4,998. This was the information provided by the Minister of the Interior and means that, at the end of 2017, this figure represented at least 26% of the total homicides in the country. The increase is very large. In 2010, the percentage of deaths at the hands of State security forces did not reach 5% and in 2017 it reached 26%. In 3 out of every 10 homicides there is an intervention by the State itself.

Cases cannot be compared with the number of people, but the figure can help visualize the magnitudes because the average number of people per case does not exceed 2 people. There are more victims and, consequently, this goes hand in hand with greater institutional tolerance and institutional protection. The State has two duties: it has the duty to protect people, to protect rights. It is a positive duty to obtain human rights. And, at the same time, it has a negative duty not to violate rights. If one observes that in the country not only homicides are increasing but also deaths due to State security and they occupy a higher percentage, that is a negative indicator.

– Do the cases of violation of the right to life call into question the legitimacy of the State?

There is an increase in institutional violence when we see cases of the use of arbitrary force. When the State enters a crisis, when there is a crisis of governability, economic, political, institutional; When oil prices drop, in our case as a rentier country, when the money to continue distributing runs out, social policy is reduced, the social State is reduced to implant the police and repressive State. At the end of the 1980s, there were serious economic problems, shortages, state security, corruption, and they did not believe in political parties or institutions, and there were popular protests. Sometimes we believe that we are inventing warm water or that this has never happened, this does not mean that it is the same. We have decades of this institutional deterioration, then the effects of institutional violence are much more widespread. They are similar contexts but the absence of institutional controls has lasted for decades, so institutional violence is much greater and is now emerging more.

Does the repression of security organizations occur with the consent of the State?

– Inaction in the face of human rights violations by security agencies can be considered a State policy and makes it responsible. When we look at the figures and nothing happens, then we can see that there is at least a policy of tolerance. But then when we see, in official speeches, how the Operations for the Liberation of the People (OLP) and the Special Action Forces (FAES) were produced and there is no type of condemnation of these events, and on the contrary these actions are legitimized , it is seen that there is an acquiescence of the State, because it also seems that it is part of its political capital.

The State is no longer sustained by electoral means, by popular consultation, by votes. But also there is no social State or a State that satisfies the needs of the population. There is no public transport, nor public health. It seems that the only public that is left is the security force. It seems that the State does not act for public interest but for group interests. The only function it is fulfilling is the use of force. The state has been extremely effective in terms of using force to retain power. But this has nothing to do with a modern State and rights. The question is how long this can be sustainable.

Which are the public forces that most apply lethal force in Venezuela?

– Traditionally, the State security force that is credited with the largest number of victims is the Scientific, Criminal and Forensic Investigation Corps (Cicpc). Since the 70s, the Cicpc has always been in the first places, we are talking about approximately 40%. This is very serious because it is the police that must investigate the cases. The analyzes that are made on common homicides is that impunity in terms of detainees linked in some way to these cases is higher than 90%, imagine the impunity when the actors are the State security forces themselves. Historically, until 2008, the Metropolitan Police was the state police that had the most deaths, this place has been occupying it in a very dizzying way, given that it is recent,

This is closely linked to the role of FAES. In third place, there would be the National Armed Forces, in most cases the National Guard (GN), but there are also cases of the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (Dgcim). The state police kill, because they are also the most numerous, the municipal ones too. This cannot be identified with a single security force.

 -When does the lethal use of force against citizens increase?

– There is a significant number of cases that are carried out in joint actions, where various State security forces act. It is not the only one, but it is one of the factors used to guarantee impunity because the results are very difficult to adjudicate, not only institutionally but also individually. When the GN is in this joint performance, the percentage of acting bodies doubles. This military component can have 14% of the cases acting alone, but when they have other bodies that 14 can become 28%. In addition, the GN participates in almost all joint actions.

What are the most used patterns in the context of the police state you describe?

– Usually the operations are carried out in the morning, at dawn, a number of officials between 15 and 20, generally act jointly, according to the accounts of the witnesses: there are simulations of confrontations and then they appear before public opinion these deceased as criminals to justify that they are dead as if the death penalty existed in the country, but if it did exist, it is a jurisdictional decision. In this investigation we do not focus on the justification or not of these deaths, we do not talk about extrajudicial executions because to do so there must be evidence that this action was not in accordance with the law and that there was no confrontation.

Is there a profile of the victims?

– The objective of these operations are the young people who live in their neighborhood, we identify 70% of the victims with their first name, last name or nickname. The cases that reach the press are no more than 30% of what happens. 98% are men, an average age of 26 years, they moved on foot, the average number of victims per case is 1 to 2 people and they are young, dark-haired, in the most impoverished neighborhoods. Since these sectors do not have any type of social claim, the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are not going to come out to give these boys a face, name and surname, the media are not going to unite to campaign for them; on the contrary, they end up legitimizing the actions. Violence is selective and much more deadly with the poor and this serves as a breeding ground for what happened, in January 2019, when the boys from the west who came out to protest were attacked. In 2017 there was violence against middle-class youth who came out to demonstrate but not to the extent that has occurred in the neighborhoods.

In a State that protects citizens, it is hoped that there will be fewer and fewer violent deaths, that the State kill fewer people. We see that the figures for confrontations are exceptional and that the days when the greatest number of civilians die are not the same as when the police die. So they are not during operations. All of these are a clear excessive use of lethal force, a further violation of human rights and the right to life.

-This selective violence occurs while security plans have failed

-Insecurity is an excuse to spread institutional violence, to inoculate fear and terror. Rights are sacrificed in the name of insecurity, and in practice the insecurity of all is increased. After the OLP, homicides, robberies, and kidnappings skyrocketed. In the neighborhoods where it was applied, armed confrontations with criminal groups continued, but the crimes committed by the officials themselves increased. If we have thousands of armed men without any type of control, without any type of accountability, without any type of containment, they have letters of marque. That, far from providing us with security, undermines everyone’s security. If you can kill but without any kind of consequence.

– Is that letter of marque the same one that the groups use?

-The issue of collectives is difficult to address in the context of an investigation. But I have observed that, first of all, collective is a mixed bag concept. The collective can be anything, the collective category does not tell us anything, there can be cultural, artistic, sports and other collectives. When you observe that many of those who are there are public officials and there are many who are officials of the State security forces acting as civilians, in some way the direct responsibility of the State is being made invisible, they act under the protection and tolerance .

None of this can happen without the consent of the State, because the one who arms the security forces of the State is the State, the one who does not act after the excesses is the State. There are two ways to be responsible, by action or by omission. By action, arms them when you give them orders, even if it cannot be verified that there are specific instructions, inaction in the face of human rights violations by security organizations can be considered as a State policy and makes them responsible.

Publicado originalmente en: Provea

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