What happened to police reform in Venezuela? (II)

Mar 29, 2023 | 0 Comentarios

May 28, 2019

Keymer Ávila | @Keymer_Avila

Do the police fulfill their duties in accordance with the law?

The Friedrich Ebert Foundation recently published our analysis of the police reform process entitled “ What happened to police reform in Venezuela? Basic questions and answers about the process in its pubertal stage ”. Already  in a first installment  we anticipate some of the questions that we were asked about our general evaluation of the process and its main results. On this occasion we will focus on answering the question:  Do the police fulfill their duties in accordance with the law? What functions does it not fulfill?

The regulatory block establishes that  the police service is of a civilian nature  and predominantly preventive. Its purpose is to comply with the guarantee of ensuring the rights of citizens, that is to say: 1) protect human rights and   public liberties ; 2) Control and prevent the commission of crimes. They are also given many functions, but all derive from these two purposes.

Below are some elements that could serve as indicators to assess whether the Venezuelan police comply with the purposes and functions established by law:

1. The militarization of the police service

The  militarization  of the police and citizen security is a tradition in the country, at least since 1937, the year in which the National Guard exercises de facto national police work. If we look at the last two decades, the fact stands out that of the last 15 interior ministers, 12 (80%) have been military; however, that cannot be the only or main indicator. The logic of militarization is not only reduced to the exercise of the military in certain areas, by militarization one must also understand the culture, practices and war logic internalized and carried out by public officials in general, and, in the case at hand , especially by the state security forces.

This is expressed, for example, in  militarized police operations  and spasmodic interventions such as  Caracas Segura  (2008), the  Bicentennial Security Device  (DIBISE) (2010), the  Madrugonazo al hampa  (2011),  Patria Segura  (2013) or the  Operations of Liberation of the People  (OLP)  (2015) that are the antithesis of the police model proposed by CONAREPOL and embodied in the regulatory block that governs this matter. This results in high costs in human lives. All of the above clearly violates the civilian nature of the police in Venezuela.

2. Homicides and criminal violence

During the last years Venezuela has maintained the second position among the highest homicide rates in the world . Homicides are the indicator par excellence of criminal violence and citizen security in a country. During 2016, following the sustained trend of an accelerated increase in homicidal violence, Venezuela reached  the highest rate, reaching 70 homicides per hundred thousand inhabitants . According to official information, the figures for 2017 decreased by approximately 8 points; however,  this short-term decrease does not affect the general trend towards an increase in these cases .

Source:  Avila (2019)

3. Deaths at the hands of state security forces

The analysis of homicides in Venezuela cannot ignore the cases in which the perpetrators are the State’s own security forces . According to official sources based on criminal records, as well as unofficial ones, the general trend in recent years is of a clear and accelerated increase in this type of death. Not only in number of cases, but in the percentage that these deaths occupy within the total number of homicides in the country, which for the year 2017 reached 26  %  of them.

Which, from any perspective, is a negative indicator of general violence in the country, especially institutional violence and the capacity of security forces to contain criminal violence within the legal limits that the States of modern law. Contributing, consequently, to the  perpetuation of a cycle of structural violence in which institutional violence and criminal violence feed each other , to the detriment of people’s rights, with the most humble being victimized.

According to PROVEA, more than 86% of the cases of deaths at the hands of the security forces are executions. This is somewhat consistent with the findings of our research on police victims of homicide: a)  more than 70% were not in the exercise of their duties ; b) only  7% of the cases involved a confrontation . That is to say, that the cases of confrontations are exceptional and most of them are extrajudicial executions. This is a negative indicator of the preventive nature of the police and their role as agencies that violate fundamental rights.

Therefore the answer to the question is negative.

The police in Venezuela do not fulfill their main legal purpose, which is to protect the rights of citizens. Criminal violence, deaths at the hands of security forces, and consequently distrust of the police and the institutions of the justice system have increased. In this sense, the reform process with respect to its manifest functions has not been either effective (because it does not comply with its commitments) or efficient (due to the high costs in human lives with socially harmful results).

Publicado originalmente en Provea.

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