CARACAS (Reuters) – After Venezuelan police officers in black military uniforms and masks stopped 27-year-old Yohendry Fernandez at gunpoint in Caracas slum of Jose Felix Ribas, they asked him if he had a criminal record. He answered yes.
A man goes through graffiti of South American revolutionary hero Simon Bolivar, Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez and Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in the Jose Felix Ribas neighborhood in Caracas, Venezuela, on January 30, 2019. REUTERS / Carlos Barria
The officers then He dragged him into an alley and shot him twice in the chest, where he was killed according to his family and a witness.
It was the afternoon of January 24, a day after tens of thousands of slum dwellers left their homes on the hillside to take part in mass protests against President Nicolas Maduro whom they hold responsible for an economic crisis that left them without water, Electricity and energy was missing. Medicines and food.
Several dozen National Police Special Force (FAES) officers drove into armored vehicles and motorcycles in the slums.
As they roared through the dusty streets, some opened the fire as the residents fled before them and "They are here," according to testimonies. Police snipers climbed onto tin roofs and locals hid under the beds as the shots fell, the witnesses said.
By dawn, the FAES unit had killed up to ten people, leaving with their bodies and about a dozen arrested detainees, according to four local community leaders.
The Ministry of Information of Venezuela, which handles all media inquiries, also on behalf of the National Police, did not respond to requests for comment on the operation. Diosdado Cabello, deputy head of the socialist party, accused the opposition of falsifying the number of people killed in police raids.
The FAES said reports of abuse were "false news" spread by right-wing opponents. "Our fight is against all criminals who devastate our communities. If you fear the FAES, you're a criminal, "the unit said on Instagram on Thursday.
Residents said the FAES officers returned to Jose Felix Ribas for the next three afternoons and spread in a poor community that was a bastion of support for Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez. Five years of economic recession have made many Maduro's most passionate opponents.
The raids that have been the deadliest in Caracas last month show how the government used the FAES to attack critics since opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president and gained the support of Western powers, the claim that Maduro is illegal.
Reuters spoke with a dozen witnesses, local politicians and lawyers, as well as experts studying FAES to give a first insight into the operation. Reuters also assembled footage from the raid, which was posted on social media, which was confirmed by witnesses.
For a map where police have shot Fernandez, click: tmsnrt.rs/2HInzML
FEAR THE FAES
The coverage reveals a pattern of street justice used by FAES in 2017 as an elite force Terrorism and organized crime and an atmosphere of impunity. (For a fact box on the FAES, click 🙂 🙂
The Venezuelan Violence Observatory, a local crime-monitoring group, has reported 43 deaths to security forces during protests and raids since January 22, reporting that reports are being processed.
Keymer Avila, a professor of criminology at the Central University of Venezuela, said he has not yet proven all the deaths in Jose Felix Ribas, but from his understanding of the events, he appeared to be reasonable.
Right-wing groups accuse the government of plundering Venezuelan homes with help from whistle-blowers following their return from protests. The authorities have arrested more than 900 demonstrators since 21 January.
Jose Pinto, head of the revolutionary Tupamaro movement, a militant group supporting Maduro, told Reuters that he and other so-called "Colectivos" would expand their informant networks.
They had alerted policemen to "suspicious activity" before the January 23 protests, Pino said, sending them pictures and addresses of alleged "right-wing conspirators" leading to raids.
On January 22, an unmarked pickup truck stocked with speakers drove on January 22nd by Jose Felix Ribas, a district in Caracas & # 39; extended Petare shantytown, and sent a message: "If you protest tomorrow, there will be consequences. "
Most said they had received little attention. However, six locals said the consequences became clear on January 24, when FAES officials pulled a 23-year-old mother, the cousin of a purported gang leader, out of her home and shot her. A church was sprayed with bullets. A man was executed after being handcuffed in a vehicle.
Local politicians said the authorities had justified the raid as an operation against a criminal group. The government has not put forward any evidence against those killed.
Paula Navas, a local political organizer, said the authorities tried to silence their community.
"You have traumatized children. What was the goal of it? "Navas asked.
Yohendry Fernandez had repaired motorcycles in a parking lot on the main street of the slum, about 200 meters from the house of his family.
Motorcycles were his obsession, relatives said, and videos on his Facebook page show him driving through the avenues of Caracas and performing wheelies. He sometimes repaired motorcycles for the local police, they said. At 3:00 pm, just as Fernandez was about to go home, FAES officers arrived and broke up in groups that reached the top of the barrio. A group set up a blockade on a square where the street split. On the other side was Fernandez's house, where his wife and two children were waiting.
"DO NOT HEAR IT"
After family members told his mother Isabel Pino that he had been arrested on the square, she ran to the scene and asked an officer, "Please do not hurt him, he is something special.
The officer ordered her to go back inside, 49-year-old Pino told Reuters. Then, she said, she heard two shots.
The next time Pino saw her son, when she saw his body in the hospital, there was a gunshot wound in his heart and another in his sternum. She said that she did not receive any official explanation for his death and that all his personal belongings were taken away.
The family buried Fernandez in a cemetery outside the city last week, the only place they could afford. She says she tells his four-year-old son Andres that his father is sleeping.
Fernandez's wife Wendys, along with Navas and Aviud Morales, a local teacher, confirmed the details of his death.
When FAES officials returned to Jose Felix Ribas in the days following the raid, they questioned the family about alleged criminal ties that Pino denied. A night stop was imposed throughout the sector.
"Just hearing the name, FAES, makes me scared. I have just been told they are back and I can feel the pain in my stomach, "Pino said in a trembling voice.
Editing by Daniel Flynn and Daniel Wallis