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CARACAS, Saturday December 01, 2012 | Update
 
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DOSSIER

The ones who never returned

61 people missing in Barinas state are recorded in the reports issued by the Peace and Life Committee. Its director has been denouncing and holding responsible a specific pillar of the political and trade union sectors

Oscar Pineda has been threatened several times because of his humanitarian activities in Barinas state (Handout Photo: Oscar Medina)
OSCAR MEDINA |  EL UNIVERSAL
Saturday December 01, 2012  12:00 AM

Oscar Pineda's office is not a comfortable place. Pineda is an old man, an elderly who perhaps should not be doing these things, risking his life, risking his family's life. He worked for state-run power utility Cadafe for 32 years. He was initially hired as an in-house messenger, but he accomplished great success and at the end, he retired as a manager. During his labor days, one day, he decided to join the political opposition party Primero Justicia in Barinas state. As a party member, he unsuccessfully tried the political party to engage in matters concerning insecurity.

The Peace and Life Committee for human rights was formally recorded by Pineda and five women relatives with victims on July  22, 2010. But actually, the work started before.

"Violence, kidnappings and murders started back in 2008. And all this skyrocketed in 2009. That is when we came to life," the activist asserts.

He would not speak of "missing people": kidnapping was the scourge. On June 1, 2009, Pineda took part in the organization committee of a citizen protest concerning insecurity in Barinas. That day he saw a poor lady approaching him. The woman went directly to meet him. She hugged him and told him: "My son was kidnapped, help me find him!" Such experience was a light-bulb moment: "She had no money. She was a janitor at the Governorate. Then everything started to reveal itself: there were not only kidnappings, but missing persons too."

A neighbor's experience confirmed what many had been spreading around in Barinas state: "His son was kidnapped and they asked for a sum of money amounting to 700,000,000 bolivars (USD 162,790,688). Four months later, his brother was also kidnapped and he had to pay 5,000,000 bolivars (USD 1,162,790.62). That stands for the most expensive kidnapping recovery that has been paid in this area."

Those standing on the government side would opt to keep silent rather than offering a response: "By the way, the only thing that (Barinas state) Governor Adán Chávez expressed was that I was financed by the empire (in reference to the United States) and that the oligarchy (opposition sector) was responsible for the kidnappings."

Pineda became increasingly more recognized, more active in making denunciations. And the victims' families sought his support. "People started to tell me their cases, they spoke of organized groups with balaclavas and military boots on and driving vans. I began to investigate more and there would appear more links with the Sindicato de la Construcción de Barinas (Barinas Construction Trade Union)."

And they were indeed guilty

In the morning of the first day of February of the current year, a bunch of agents from the Sebin (the Bolivarian Intelligence Service) raided Jaime "Bubaloo"  Landaeta's house, the trade union president. Right before breaking in, there was something suspicious that called their attention. Otto Salinas, commissioner in charge of the Bolivarian System for Security, related to the local media that at the moment of arriving, there was a young man in Agua Clara de Alto Barinas neighborhood, who waited for them outside the living place and invited them to come into the house. They, suspicious enough, found the hidden cables and then called the experts in explosives: the bomb monitored via web- would go off while the agents were inside the structure.

Salinas informed according to the article issued in newspaper La Prensa de Barinas- about the objects found in Landaeta's living place: hand grenades, a mortar launcher, an armored room, ten cell phones which were used to make calls and extort money from builders and contractors, as well as some other "crime-interest related elements."  Landaeta, warned beforehand by an informer, managed to run away on time.

On February 3 of the current year, the Sebin raided the place of Numa Altuve, another director of the trade union. Commissioner Salinas reported that they seized two packages of cocaine and 23 ID card photocopies of people who were victims of extortion and kidnapping.

That same day, Salinas warned that other directors of the trade union were sought: José Navas, Darío Aguirre, Keiver Molina and two other nicknamed El Saúl and El Caribe Johnny. "These citizens, according to different testimonies and proofs, would charge, every week, the vaccines' demanded by Landaeta and Altuve from contractors and businessmen in charge of developing the building project," the commissioner declared.

The Sebin's actions confirmed the denunciations, always overlooked, about the link of some unionist representatives with the increasing wave of crimes and offences arisen in Barinas since 2008. And, of course, Oscar Pineda was among the most tenacious claimants.

That month of February was of intense activity for the public opinion. On February 7, Numa Altuve appeared in a radio talk show called "Sensacional 94.7 FM." Besides pleading not guilty, he confirmed, among others, links with figures of the local government such as Antonio Albarrán government secretary of Adán Chávez. He asserted having granted funds for the campaigns of ruling United Socialist party of Venezuela (PSUV) and acknowledged having contracts for the development of five projects in Libertador municipality.  Additionally, Altuve, is -or was- the partner of the President of the City Council, Karly Linares, who made use of her contacts so that Mayor Abundio Sánchez provided her company with new contracts.

So far, only two of the trade union representatives presumably involved have been arrested: Adrián Báez and Reydilson Urbina. The rest of the group is now fugitive and, according to Pineda, they operate with certain freedom and count on security support in Barinas state.

Submitted to the IACHR

"Things have improved a little bit," Pineda admits: "The issue was brought up and then it was revealed who were involved in all this."

Peace and Life Committee has something more to bring to the table: Carlos Alfredo Arteaga's testimony. The member of the Sindicato de la Construcción charges his former workmates with attempting to murder him in brief: three shots, one year in recovery- due to his resistance to take part in blackmailing related to state-run food vendor Pdval and also holds them responsible for homicides, missing people, kidnapping and extortions.

Arteaga has made denunciations regarding the threats against his life at the Cicpc (Criminal and Forensic Investigation Agency). Additionally, he sought support from the NGO led by Pineda, in order to call the authorities attention and therefore listen to what he has to say. The files written in his own handwriting were submitted to the Attorney General's Office twice. The last time they were issued to Luisa Ortega Díaz's office was on June 27, 2011. These documents, for instance, contain a testimony where a witness speaks of a ranch and of a caiman, to which human bodies were thrown as food, some of them declared as missing. "(...) They (perpetrators) throw the victims to them (the caimans); they (perpetrators) electrify them (the victims)  to prevent them from getting away and if by any chance, these victims survive to such torture, they can then leave," reads the document submitted to the Attorney General's Office.

The aforementioned committee then requested the Attorney General to take part in the case of the forced disappearances occurred in Barinas. But no positive response was provided.

On March 26, 2012, the Peace and Life Committee paid a visit once again- to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHCR) in order to seek help. They had already requested the commission's help on March 2011, when they informed about 47 cases of kidnappings and missing people, as well as three murders involving police agents and trade union leaders.

In May 2012, the committee maintains having forwarded 41 letters, exposing the huge pile of issues in Barinas, to different government-led organizations. But it is always the same: no response. The report by then showed 58 cases "of missing people" and four cases of "extrajudicial" executions." Such committee points out, before the IACHR, that crimes are supported through "silence, omission and actions" by several government representatives: Barinas state governor Adán Chávez; President of the Legislative Power, Miguel León Artahona; Antonio Albarrán and police chiefs.

The number of missing people continues to rise: nowadays, there are 61 cases of missing people (seven reported as such have been found dead) and to date the numbers amount to 33 executions and eight kidnappings. Up to October 2012, the rate of murders amounts to 333.

"The thing is that the actions at the CIDH last longer than one may desire, but if God keeps me alive, I will see justice," Pineda claims. And he resumes: "Or perhaps a son's victim will."

ommedina@eluniversal.com

Translated by Adrián Valera Villani
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