Venezuelan government statistics revealed this month show that 4,156 Venezuelans were killed in incidents labeled “resistance against authorities” between January and September 2016. Venezuela’s police have been accused of torture and beatings of dissidents, as well as raids of political opponents’ offices and keeping dissidents as prisoners of conscience.
The non-profit investigative outlet InSightCrime published the statistics, which it describes as “classified data from the Interior Ministry (Ministerio de Relaciones Interiores – MRI).” The outlet notes that the numbers average out to “one person every one and a half hours” killed in “resistance against authority” incidents.
Of those killed in such incidents, an estimated 500 were killed during what is known as “Operation Liberation and Protection of the People,” or OLP. The OLP is a socialist “anti-crime” initiative targeting alleged organized crime syndicates and armed criminal threats. InSightCrime highlights one particular OLP gone wrong that took headlines by storm in 2016: the abduction of 20 young suspects in October. Eight of those arrested survived; the other twelve were found in mass graves near their homes in Miranda state.
Miami’s El Nuevo Herald reported at the time that witnesses said the police identified the operation as an OLP, “on orders from the President,” and threatened to kill them all. “Many of the operations under the OLP have ended up becoming extermination operations, where groups composed of dozens of soldiers and police go out to capture bandits later presented to the public as ‘defeated delinquents’ in confrontations with police,” the Herald noted.
Venezuelan newspapers report the news as such. El Universal, for example, published the news of another OLP incident in October as follows: “Minister of the Interior, Justice, and Peace Néstor Reverol revealed that an OLP this Tuesday left 19 delinquents defeated in five states throughout the country.”
Spain’s El País estimated that police had used the OLP title to detain 15,000 Venezuelans arbitrarily; “disappearances” have become increasingly common in the poorer neighborhoods of Barlovento, Miranda.
Independent of the OLPs, however, Venezuela’s socialist government has been using state force against dissidents for years. Multiple dissident leaders, including Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski and former Assemblywoman María Corina Machado have faced police attack with tear gas during peaceful protests (Machado was sprayed with tear gas trying to enter her legislative office, the government’s way of expelling her from her post). Both armed police and roving Chavista gangs known as colectivos attacked a massive anti-socialist protest in Caracas in September, again employing tear gas.
Far from the capital, in western Táchira state, police killed 14-year-old Kluiverth Roa in 2015 for being in the vicinity of a protest against President Nicolás Maduro on his walk home from school. Roa was reportedly shot when he shouted, “stop the repression” at a police officer. Between 2013, when Maduro took power, and 2014, police killings of underaged Venezuelans increased 55.5 percent.