Six protesters have died, President Maduro's government is accused of using torture on protesters to obtain false confessions of “terrorism,” and evidence of police abuse is circulating on social media. Despite the clampdown, the protests in Venezuela haven't stopped since the end of March.
“The money is never enough, there are no medicines, and the streets are full of criminals, and you won't let me protests on top of it all?,” one protester, who was tortured by the police, said in a testimony that is detailed below.
Eleven countries in the region condemned the death of six protesters and issued a public statement urging the Venezuelan government to stop the violence and ensure the security of the protesters who plan to hit the streets again on April 19.
The government-run media continues to call protesters “terrorists” and President Maduro is encouraged his supporters to “take action” on the streets too. Maduro has warned that the protests on April 19 will be confronted by the Venezuelan National Militia, officially known as the Nacional Bolivarian Militia.
Protests in Venezuela started after the separation of power controversy on March 30, when the Supreme Court of Justice effectively nullified the National Assembly, assuming its role and permitting President Nicolas Maduro to take over some functions of the legislature. The decision was short-lived — the court reversed course days later, but protests have continued due to the deep economic, social and political crisis that has shaken the country the last few years.
Protesters are closely following the case of testimony made by the Sánchez brothers, militants of the opposition party Primero Justicia, who admitted, allegedly under torture, that they were responsible of violence during the protests and “terrorist acts” encouraged by the opposition political parties.
From a public post on Facebook, journalist and Global Voices collaborator Luis Carlos Díaz explains the case of the Sánchez brothers (The full text has been translated here by the blog Caracas Chronicles):
[…] el Vicepresidente pidió para ellos y para otras decenas de detenidos “la pena máxima”. Al unísono, el coro de voces oficiales los acusó de “terroristas”. En sus medios de comunicación, pagados con nuestro dinero, llevan días hablando de ‘terrorismo’ para referirse a la gente que protesta. […] Así, dos estudiantes van a una de las peores cárceles del mundo, violando decenas de leyes y dejando una estela de abusos a su paso. Pero sobre todo, lo que me ha costado muchos párrafos explicarte, el militante de base del chavismo lo celebra así: “encerramos a dos terroristas y faltan muchos más”. Para hacerlo están dispuestos a apoyar la tortura, las desapariciones, las detenciones arbitrarias y los juicios amañados. Les da igual. Después de apoyar una dictadura para mantener el poder, ¿qué puede ser peor?
The Vice President asked the “maximum penalty” for them and for others that had been arrested. In unison, the choir of pro-government voices accused them of being terrorists. In their media, payed with our money, they've been referring to protesters as “terrorists” […] This is how two students are being sent to one of the worst prisons in the world, leaving behind them a trail of abuse, and broken laws. What I've been trying to explain in many paragraphs, the chavismo-base militant celebrates it this way: “we've jailed two terrorists, and we'll jail more”. To do it, they're willing to support torture, forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and show trials. It doesn't matter to them. After supporting a dictatorship to keep themselves in power, what can be worse?
Documenting government abuse on social media
Torture allegations and police brutality are being documented on social and independent media.
Through the online media portal ProDavinci, journalist Valentina Oropeza collected testimonies around one case of police brutality against a young man that was ambushed by police and brutally beaten. He was finally taken to the hospital, where doctors spread the word on social media to contact his parents. The doctors and nurses refused to let their patient go with the guards, and this, it seems, made all the difference:
En el piso empezaron a darme coñazo pero salvaje. Lo que hice fue taparme la cabeza. Me dieron por la espalda, las costillas, los brazos, las piernas. Me dieron con el rolo ese por todos lados. Hasta con la peinilla y con el casco también me dieron por la cara. Me daban puñetazos, patadas y me golpearon con la culata del lanzabombas, me halaron el pelo durísimo, y uno de ellos intentó meterme el dedo por el trasero. Eran como veinte guardias y también había dos PNB (Policía Nacional Bolivariana). A mis [amigos] no los vi más.
They started to beat me savagely on the floor. What I did was covering my head. They hit my back, ribs, arms, legs. They hit me everywhere with that baton of theirs. They even hit me in the face with a helmet and their police machete. They gave me blows, kicks and hit me with the butt of their (tear)bomb-launcher. They pulled my hair really hard, and one of them tried to stick his finger in my butt. They were about 20 guards, and there were 2 PNB (Bolivarian National Police). I couldn't see any of my friends anymore.
And he continues:
Lo más [duro] no fueron los [golpes] sino el psicoterror. Mientras me pegaban me decían: ‘te vamos a matar, mamagüevo’, ‘te vamos a violar’, ‘vamos a acabar con tu familia, maldito’, ‘¿quién te manda a meterte en esto?’. Eso mismo pensé yo: ¿quién me manda a meterme en eso? Pero es que la vaina está muy jodida. El dinero no alcanza, no hay medicinas y la calle está llena de malandros. ¿Y encima no me vas a dejar protestar?
Mi mamá luego me contó que la doctora que me atendió se le plantó al guardia y le dijo que no me podían sacar porque yo era un paciente. Me dijo que las enfermeras, otros médicos, todo el mundo se metió para que no nos sacaran del hospital. Si no, quién sabe qué hubiese pasado . Después los guardias regresaron e hicieron que mi papá firmara un papel que decía que yo estaba bien y que la guardia no me había hecho nada. No tenemos copia de ese papel, no sabemos qué pueden hacer […] Dicen que nos querían imputar por terrorismo, que a todos los chamos que agarren en las marchas los van a condenar por terrorismo. Dicen que hay gente a la que le ponen régimen de presentación y a otra que le dan diez años de cárcel.
The hardest part wasn't the blows, but the psychological terror. While they we beating me they'd say: “we're going to kill you motherfucker”, “we'll rape you”, “we'll kill your family, you bastard”, “who told you to get yourself in this?”. And that was exactly what I thought: who told me to get in this? Things are so difficult. The money is never enough, there are no medicines, and the streets are full of criminals, and you won't let me protests on top of it all?
My mom told me afterwards that the doctor who was treating me was the one who confronted the guard and told him that they couldn't take me because I was a patient. She told me that the nurses, other doctors, everyone got in the way to keep me in. Who knows what would have happened otherwise. After that, the guards came back and made my dad sign a paper saying that I was alright and that they didn't do anything. We don't have a copy of that paper, we don't know what they can do […] Apparently, they wanted to charge us with terrorism. They say there's people that get released on parole and other that get 10 years in prison.
More complaints have been made through Instagram and Twitter, like the one made by Hugo Santaromita, who shared the testimony of a doctor and images of a private hospital in Caracas after police groups allegedly threw a tear gas bomb inside:
— Hugo Santaromita (@HugoSantaromita) April 11, 2017
Ayer 13-04-2017 a eso de las 7pm iba a entrenar mi Tío en el Trigal Norte (VALENCIA) de 59 años llego el SEBIN y fue secuestrado sin mediar palabras, se lo llevaron a un sitio oculto en Naguagua donde fue amordazado, torturado, golpeado y hasta rapado, bajo amenazas de muerte, por vincularlo presuntamente a la “resistencia” con el fin de interrogarlo para conseguir información acerca de los cabecillas de las protestas contra el gobierno de Nicolás Maduro. Ahogándolo con cojines y almohadas, le raparon la cabeza, la barba, las cejas y lo amenazaron de muerte, lo interrogaron y lo soltaron por su condición, lo iban a matar sin darse cuenta. Cabe destacar que mi tío sufre de un déficit pulmonar producto de un robo. Lo que hacen esos cobardes es sembrarle miedo a la gente para que no salga. Necesitamos salir de este Gobierno opresor y dictator. Fuerza a mis amigos y familiares que están en Venezuela. Pronto se hará justicia! Fuerza, fuerza. ALERTA VALENCIA
Yesterday, April 13 around 7pm my uncle, 59 years old, went to train in the Trigal Norte neighbourhood in Valencia and was kidnapped by the SEBIN (the Bolivarian Intelligence Service) without saying a word. They took him to a hidden place in Naguanagua (anther neighbourhood in the city) where he was gagged, tortured, beaten and had his hair shaven while receiving death threats for being allegedly linked to the “resistance”. They wanted to interrogate him to find information about the leaders of the protests against Nicolás Maduro's government. They suffocated him with a pillow. They cut his hair, eyebrows and beard and threatened to kill him. After the interrogations, they released him for his [bad] condition. They almost killed him unawarely. I should say that my uncle suffers from a lung insufficiency after [he was attacked] during a robbery. What these cowards do is to make people afraid so they don't go out. We'll soon have justice. Keep strong. Be vigilant, Valencia!
Also read our Special Coverage: What Is Happening in Venezuela?