The bodies of Ericka Ares Luik and her partner Kumar Prasad Bhat were found buried under tons of construction debris with bags on their heads this week. Luik, friends say, was hoping to flee Venezuela, home to the most violent city in the world, for Estonia.
Luik, a journalist, and Bhat, a merchant, were found last week after their families declared them missing on Sunday, June 19. Their bodies were said to have been found “in an advanced state of decomposition” at a construction site near their backyard. Authorities have opened an investigation but have little in the way of clues.
Some reports note that the couple was looking to sell their car and so had been meeting with strangers to negotiate a purchase. A report at the site Al Día con la Noticia suggests that family members have told authorities that the pair had recently reported their vehicle stolen, though that report does not appear in the newspaper cited most heavily regarding the crime, Caracas’s El Nacional.
El Nacional does cite a “friend of the family” as stating that Ares Luik appeared to have grown increasingly impatient with the state of affairs in Venezuela. “She wanted to flee the insecurity in Venezuela,” he noted, suggesting she had been looking into moving to Estonia.
Ares Luik does not appear to be active politically online in a way that would have made her a target, though she was an avid commenter on media outlets and appears to have been an animal rights supporter.
Kumar Prasad Bhat was the son of Pallathadka Keshava Bhat, an Indian herbal doctor who famously treated many Venezuelan politicians. He is said to have once consulted Hugo Chávez himself, warning him he was at high risk for cancer. It is unclear whether the younger Bhat kept ties to the socialist Venezuelan government.
Luik’s death is the latest in a string of violent incidents involving journalists in Venezuela. While all Venezuelans are at the mercy of one of the most violent societies in the world — Caracas was once again named the world’s deadliest city in January — journalists have been increasingly at risk. Those covering major moments in Venezuelan politics find themselves threatened by pro-socialist colectivo gangs with increasing regularity. Earlier this month, for example, colectivo gangs beat and robbed journalists in Caracas who covered a spontaneous protest against the government following a market’s announcement that they had no more food to sell.
Cameras caught colectivos beating journalists and photographers in front of the National Assembly in January, who had come to cover the inauguration of the new legislature, the first opposition legislature to take over in 17 years. No one has been arrested for either incident.
Hugo Chávez famously cracked down on opposition journalists as he expanded his own presence on television with his show Aló Presidente. After being fined exorbitantly for broadcasting anti-socialist voices, the government finally took control of the last major television outlet to oppose Chávez, Globovisión, in 2013. In 2014, one journalist detailed his decision to flee the country: “As newspapers were being whittled down and journalists feared speaking against the regime, it became virtually impossible to do the work my wife and I were trained to do.”