June 23, 2020
Keymer Ávila | @Keymer_Avila
Why is the Venezuelan police so lethal and does it organisation play a role in creating a lethal police force?
In mid-February I spoke with Ayelén Oliva for Nueva Sociedad’s podcast “Qué pasa” about how state violence is organized. The full transcript of the program, which we shared with sociologist Anais López and economist Manuel Sutherland, is available in French on the Contretemps website, but not in Spanish. The questions Ayelén poses are frequently asked by other actors and institutions, which is why we have decided to present four reports, one for each question asked in this podcast. We begin today with the first question: How is state violence organized in Venezuela?
The violence, or to be more precise, the state security forces, are, formally, organised in the following way:
1) We have the preventive or uniformed civilian police, organized at three political territorial levels (municipalities, states, national territory):
a) In Venezuela, there are more than 123 municipal police forces. Venezuela has 335 municipalities but not all of them have municipal police forces, in which case their work is carried out by regional or national bodies. In the disputed 2017 elections, the government took control of 305 mayors’ offices, which means that it dominates almost all, if not all, of the municipal police forces
b) There are 23 state police forces, which the government also has under its control, since those same elections. It has 20 pro-government state governorships; the three opposition states have had their police forces intercepted by the national government
c) And finally, there is the Bolivarian National Police, created in 2009, as a branch attached to the Special Action Force (FAES).
In 2017, there were more than 175,000 officers in these bodies, which means that police numbers (NEEDS the hyperlink – the rate of police training) are much higher than the international standards. The average is about 350 police officers per 100,000 inhabitants, and in Venezuela we are 207 times higher than that level. In a period of 11 years, the number of police officers has grown by 53%; these are clear indicators of the progress towards a Police State. In Venezuela.
2) Then we have other specialized national bodies:
a) Investigative Police: Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigation Corps (CICPC)
b) Political police: The Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN)
3) Finally, we have the Bolivarian National Armed Forces, traditionally and constitutionally made up of four components:
a) The Army
b) The Navy
c) The Air Force
d) The National Guard – the military force has been carrying out de facto national police duties in the country since 1937.
e) There are the Militias, which are the subject of a whole debate since the enactment of the new law on the Bolivarian Armed Force in January 2020, which sees them as a “special” component. This is a reform of the law carried out by the assembly which has been in effect since 2017 and the need for which has been disputed by various groups.
Despite its short history, during 2016 and 2017 the Venezuelan National Police Force was the second most lethal institution in the country
The FARB also includes the General Directorate of Military Counter-Intelligence (DGCIM), a body that has been reported for violations of the human rights of its detainees.
What are the FAES? Why were the special forces created? How do they operate in the poorest neighbourhoods?
The Special Action Forces is the tactical group of the Bolivarian National Police. What is a tactical group?
The “tactical groups” or “special operations” are made up of troops – in principle – previously selected for, and trained in, assault and combat tactics, equipped with special weapons and equipment of a military nature. They intervene only in extreme and high-risk situations, such as kidnappings, hostage-taking, armed confrontations, dangerous arrests, etc. A common characteristic of when they intervene would be when the preventive and investigative police are overwhelmed with weapons, both in quality and quantity, or crimes occur in places that are difficult for them to access.
These groups have the highest possible level of intensity in terms of lethal force, handle weapons of war as well having as the training, required in extreme and extremely complex situations. The problem comes when this level of intensity is transferred from these extreme situations to everyday practises of security forces, without subsequent accountability or justification of this type of intervention.
The FAES was established on July 14, 2017 by the President of the Republic himself, with a speech and a clearly warlike political intention. We must not lose sight of the fact that 2017 was the year of the massive protests in Venezuela. This is the context that serves as a backdrop for the creation of this tactical group.
These forces usually operate during the night or early morning hours, the logic being a military takeover of neighbourhoods as if they were enemy territory; the FAES acts as an army of occupation and generally “hunts” their targets. Their way of operating is fundamentally military, they do not follow a logic of citizen security in which a criminal must be stopped or arrested within the framework of legality. In their case do not view people as people but as enemies.
In an investigation that we are currently carrying out, where we are updating some data, we can see that, despite its short history, during 2016 and 2017 the Venezuelan National Police Force was the second most lethal institution in the country. However, between one year and another we observed an increase in deaths as a result of its intervention.
How can we explain this increase? Through the creation of the FAES division in the middle of that year. We must never lose sight of the fact that when we talk about the FAES we are also talking about the police force.
In 2018 the national police force became the police force responsible for most deaths, which had previously been held by the CICPC. There has been a significant increase in the number of deaths by institutions of the police, between 2016 and 2018, rising from 19% of the total number of cases to 45%. 83% of deaths caused by police force are due to the actions of this branch of the police. We are talking about at least 1,300 deaths during the last three years. These are the cases registered by the media, which represent only 25% of the officially recognized cases. This means that if we take the official figure for 2018 of 5,287 deaths at the hands of the police, easily, the number of deaths generated by this branch during that year alone could have reached about 1,700.
In Venezuela, 33% of the murders that have occurred in the country are the result of the intervention of State security forces. Every day, 14 poor young people die at the hands of the police.