Venezuela’s illegal detentions are on the rise, according to a rights group

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Venezuela's illegal detentions are on the rise, according to a rights group

When his sister, Sugled Gasparini, said goodbye, she did not know that this was the beginning of a nightmare that was yet to come to an end.

Instead of returning home to El Hatilo, a leafy neighborhood southeast of the capital Caracas, Jairo, a mechanic in the city, was detained, according to his sister from the Venezuelan Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM in Spanish acronym), one of the most feared forces in the apparatus. for the security of President Nicolas Maduro.

The government, through Attorney General Tarek William Saab, dismissed the report, telling CNN that the organization had no jurisdiction to assess the situation in Venezuela.

Although the DGCIM is intended to operate only in the armed forces as a police force, it is known to have detained civilians, a sign of increased violent repression by the Maduro government. It is not clear to what extent the Agency is aware of their activities or attacks.

But Susgled didn’t know that: for the first 10 days after Jairo’s arrest, all she knew was that her brother was missing.

In an interview with CNN, Sugleg spoke about the suffering of not knowing what happened. She and her mother sought out Jairo in hospitals and mortals and even among the large Venezuelan diaspora abroad. Sugled sent a photo of his brother via WhatsApp migrant chats all the way to Ecuador, but heard nothing.

Three days after his disappearance, Jaro’s girlfriend officially reported the missing person to the Venezuelan police, but it took him five days to respond. They said her boyfriend may have been detained. Jairo’s friend declined to speak to CNN for fear of security surveillance in Venezuela.

It was not until March 28 that Sugleg heard Jairo’s voice again – in a phone call from Boleyta, the notorious detention center for the State Security Service in Caracas. He told his sister he was fine and had had several brief phone conversations since then, she told CNN.

“It was exactly 10 days,” she said. “Ten days without knowing about him. Ten days looking for him in hospitals, in a morgue, 10 days when a mother was eager to see her son. That’s not fair.”

Forced Disappearances

The history of Sugled is far from unique in Venezuela. According to the RFK report, “enforced disappearances” have become a model for Maduro.

The International Criminal Court describes forced disappearance such as the arrest, detention or abduction of persons “by or with the permission, support or consent of a State or political organization, followed by a refusal to recognize that deprivation of liberty or to provide information on the fate or whereabouts of such persons”.

There were 524 such disappearances in 2019, up from 200 the previous year, according to Foro Penal, a Venezuelan human rights NGO that collected the data used in the RFK report. And in 2020, there were 235, the RFK report said, and “14 of these people remain missing as of May 31, 2020, the date this report was finalized.”

The rationale behind the disappearances is different: According to the report, Maduro’s security forces use them to silence prominent political opponents, set an example for the general population, instill fear in political opponents or extract valuable information.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro arrives at his annual address to the nation at the National Constituent Assembly on January 14.

Angelita Byens, one of the authors of the RFK report, cites a specific case as typical: Ariana Granadillo disappeared twice in 2018 because she and her lawyer thought she lived in the house of a distant relative, a National Guard colonel who let go. and took up arms against Maduro.

In an interview with CNN, Granadillo said she had never been involved in political activities before her arrest. She said one of her captives, also from DGCIM, told her he had been detained as a way to reach his relative Osvaldo Garcia Palomo, who lived in Canada in 2018 but returned to Venezuela in 2019. and was subsequently detained by the military,

Attorney General Saab rejected RFK’s findings in contact with CNN last week. “I hope they also have a report ready that proves that the US police are the most criminal on the planet,” Saab said of the unrest in the United States, sparked by outrage over the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

John Jairo’s detention looks similar, as his sister claims he was detained because he talked to a man wanted by the government.

But the real reason remains unknown. DGCIM did not issue an order justifying Jairo’s arrest and his lawyers were unable to speak to him.

Under the guise of Covid-19

The practice of enforced disappearances in Venezuela is not new. The RFK report documents cases from the last two years. In July 2019, Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, published investigation of extrajudicial killings in the hands of Maduro’s security forces, who are calling for one of those forces to be dismantled. Maduro wrote a letter to Bashelet to reject the contents of this report.
Venezuela's Maduro tightens power grip aided by coronavirus blocking

This disassembly did not occur and the coronavirus pandemic only exacerbated the situation, according to the report’s authors. While in 2019 the average length of disappearances was only a few days, detentions lasted longer because the courts were closed, traffic was restricted and most of Venezuela’s bureaucracy was blocked.

A spokesman for Voluntad Popular, a political organization opposed to Maduro, said cases like Jairo’s happen almost weekly.

Alfredo Romero, president of a bar association working on this type of case in Venezuela, says the blockade has caused huge violations of the rights of the defense.

Lawyers can no longer visit detainees or ask the courts for access to court documents. In some cases, detainees were transferred from one prison to another without their legal team ever knowing, for health reasons, according to Romero.

John Giro, meanwhile, remains in custody more than three months after he disappeared. His sister gives him hope that she will see him soon. “I just want to see him free.”

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Sugled Gasparini’s first name.

Audrey Ash reported from Atlanta, Stefano Pojebon from Bogota and Jorge Luis Perez Valeri from Caracas.

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