Earlier this week I wrote about the continued deterioration of democracy in Venezuela. Specifically, the Maduro loyalists on Venezuela’s packed Supreme Court announced they were handing control of two opposition parties to individuals who had previously left the parties and joined the Maduro regime. But today a human rights group has published a report documenting how “politicallly-motivated detentions” have become a major tool of repression in Venezuela. The numbers are staggering:
From January 1, 2014, to August 31, 2019, Foro Penal recorded 15,160 politically-motivated detentions in Venezuela. In this regard, it is important to mention that there have also been numerous cases of torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
The Bolivarian regime releases groups of detainees as it detains others in similar numbers in order to maintain a constant number of detainees and not to draw attention to the overwhelming number of arbitrary detentions. Foro Penal has labeled this tactic the “revolving door.”
Beyond the detentions often associated with protesters, the regime has increasingly turned to what the report calls “enforced disappearances.” This tactic has been particularly used against members of the military to keep them in line:
Overall, the number of total cases of enforced disappearance increased in 2019 (524 cases) compared to 2018 (200 cases). However, with regard to civilians, the percentage of detentions that resulted in enforced disappearances decreased from approximately 33% in 2018 to 23% in 2019. Similarly, the percentage of civilians subjected to enforced disappearance who were tortured fell from around 29% in 2018 to under 5% in 2019. In contrast, with regard to the military, the rates of enforced disappearance and torture significantly increased in 2019. While approximately 68% of military personnel detained were also forcibly disappeared in 2018, this percentage increased to 72.15% in 2019. Moreover, torture was reported in 83.6% of the cases of military official forcibly disappeared in 2018, but in 2019, military personnel, once forcibly disappeared, had a nearly 95% chance of also being tortured. The difference between these percentages and those of civilians suggests that, first, enforced disappearances of military members were generally planned, and second, that in 2019 the regime was more harshly repressing people linked to the military sector.
On the group’s website they highlight stories of some of the disappeared individuals, such as Ariana Granadillo (pictured above):
Ariana Granadillo became a victim of enforced disappearance by pursuing her dream to become a doctor and beginning a medical internship.
The then 21-year-old from a rural area in Monagas state was staying at the home of an uncle who lived close to the Caracas hospital where she was working in 2018, when she was arrested three times and forcibly disappeared twice. General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) officials arrested her and took her away because of her close relationship with her uncle, a retired army colonel being investigated by police for alleged conspiracy.
In detention, lawyers say, officers beat her, groped her, placed a bag over her head and tied her hands behind her back. The first arrest occurred in February 2018. Durnig the second arrest, in May, Granadillo’s mother and father were also taken away, detained in a clandestine detention center for nine days and unable to speak to their lawyers. They were only released after a social media campaign by Venezuelan human rights organization Foro Penal.
The second time she was “disappeared” a female agent held a plastic bag over her head and nearly suffocated her:
After being interrogated and struck, she said, she spent the night in a cell below the stairs. The next day, agents gave her water and a bit of food and “stressed that no one even knew that we had been kidnapped,” she said. Then a female agent came close.
“She looked me in the eyes and without a word took a bag from her fist and placed it over my face, covering it completely,” she said. “One of the men held my legs and my hands were tied behind my back.”
Unable to breathe under the plastic, she recalled, “I became desperate so fast that in seconds I felt asphyxiated.”
A week later she was released and she and her family eventually fled the country to Colombia. But others described in the report were not so lucky:
A 31-year-old deputy of the Venezuelan National Assembly, a husband and father of two young children, Juan Requesens has been held in the country’s infamous political prison El Helicoide for more than 600 days.
Requesens, a student leader at the Central University of Venezuela before his election as a deputy of the Venezuelan National Assembly in 2015, was attacked by law enforcement during protest marches in 2014 and 2017. In the first attack, his nose and jaw were broken. In the second, he was thrown down a sewer drain.
On August 7, 2018, Requesens and his sister, Rafaela, were detained by the Bolivian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) for allegedly participating in an assassination attempt on President Nicolás Maduro three days earlier.
That same day, Requesens gave an Assembly speech blaming Maduro for causing unrest in the nation, saying “I refuse to give up, I refuse to kneel in front of those who want to break our morale. Today I can speak from here, tomorrow I do not know. What I want to reaffirm is that we are going to continue doing everything we can to take Nicolás Maduro out of power.”
Requesen’s arrest and detention were illegal. Under the Venezuelan Constitution, deputies are given parliamentary immunity. After his arrest, he was forcibly disappeared for nine days, before a video surfaced on social media showing him in his underwear in El Helicoide, with clear signs of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.
Venezuela stopped being a democracy years ago. It is now just a failed state in which a gang of communist thugs use enforced disappearance, torture and intimidation to silence dissent and punish those who dare to oppose them. All of this is in addition to the thousands of murders that are also carried out by Maduro’s intelligence forces.