Missing people are indeed a reality
The reasons for these cases are not of a political nature; however, enforced disappearances continued to be recorded here. Whereas the cases speak of a variety of police organizations and the Bolivarian Armed Forces (FAN) as the responsible for this, those who exercise justice in Venezuela look somewhere else
Although nobody knows where they are, they are still present yet hidden somewhere: an injure that does not heal, a pending debt and uncertainty. It is only their relatives that keep on waiting, and a few that try to help, who speak of them. Such portion of reality is covered by another violence matter: 19,000 murders in Venezuela in 2011 and 9,510 murders just during the first semester of the current year, which is about to end breaking a new record.
The following numbers may be nothing compared to he ones listed previously: 132 people reported as missing between 2000 and 2011 according to the records issued by NGO Provea or the 61 enforced disappearances in Barinas state calculated by NGO Comité Paz y Vida (Peace and Life Committee). However, although it may look like something insignificant, it concerns 132 unfinished stories, 61 chopped tales, with some common characteristics such as the participation -presumed or demonstrated- of police agents and officers from the Bolivarian Armed Forces. And they constitute, besides, evidence and symptoms of evils from the past.
Between October 2011 and August 2012, NGO Cofavic has accompanied the denouncers of 28 cases of extrajudicial executions, an offence very much linked with disappearances. And between January and August 2012, its press monitoring estimates 271 episodes of human rights violation, a number that includes 236 executions and seven cases of enforced disappearances.
The numbers, anyway, reflect a sub record, relative to the already common blocks to access to official information as well as the definitions of what enforced disappearance stands for.
Veterans of the evil
When it is spoken about this subject, the first reference point that comes to mind is the one concerning the dictatorships of the Southern Cone. And it is something to be alarmed of: that was among the most terrifying strategies utilized by the military regime in order to contain their political enemies.
And perhaps, that is why it is not well understood when it is said that in Venezuela there are indeed missing people: because the cause is not of a political character. Nevertheless, experts in recent history warned that our country was probably the pioneer in certain practices learned from that which was called School of the Americas.
"Enforced disappearances perpetrated by Governments started back in the decade of the 60's in Venezuela," Raúl Cubas indicates, who is an activist of human rights, and member/founder of NGO Provea as well as a victim in his own home (Argentina): "The armed forces used them to fight the guerrillas. The claims of enforced disappearances, tortures, people thrown down from helicopters to wild areas are in the public domain. In other words, that seen in Southern Cone had already been practiced here and in Guatemala."
Marino Alvarado, director of Provea, remembers the book Expediente Negro (Black Dossier), written by José Vicente Rangel, which denounces the human rights violations occurred between 1960 and 1970: "Years 61, 62 and 63 stood out as the most intense ones in regards to enforced disappearances attributed to the Armed Forces," Alvarado asserts.
The pacification policy, developed by former Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera during his first term in office (1969-1974), stopped the excesses. But considering the evident presence of the military way of thinking in the police organizations, new cases would emerge soon. This time linked with concepts of social "prophylaxis."
Raúl Cubas cites the event known as "the death's wells" as emblematic. On March 8, 1986, it was revealed the finding of a grave with dead bodies in Urdaneta municipality, located in Zulia state. Deputies of political MAS party, Carlos Tablante, Rafael Guerra Ramos and Luis Hómez were presented with a very precise denunciation and paid a visit to the place where, they finally found the remains of at least six missing people, murdered by police agents. By then, it was spoken of around 30 victims and the Judicial Technical Police was under suspicion.
That at its peak in February 1989 and in December 1999, is reedited in a new context. Subsequent to a period of few denunciations, in 2004, the numbers calculated by Provea show 11 cases of enforced disappearances. In 2005 and 2006, they estimated 17 denunciations per year. In 2007, the number was 15 denunciations. In 2008, it decreased to seven and in 2009, only three denunciations were filed. However, in 2010, the number skyrocketed to 39 reports of enforced disappearances, added by 10 claims from 2011.
"What happened back in the 60s was never either sentenced or judged. And the practices of enforced disappearances became the best way for mean police agents and military officers to get rid of an opponent," Raúl Cubas expresses: "When the underworld turned into a big problem, some officers started to make use of this, because here, there is neither control nor punishment."
Claudia Carrillo, coordinator of area of psychosocial care for victims of NGO Cofavic, remembers the rise of parapolice groups between 2000 and 2004: "There were so many victims that they started to organize themselves in committees. We now count on committees in the states of Falcón, Lara, Aragua, Anzoátegui, Barinas, Guárico and Yaracuy. We were not able to establish a committee in Portuguesa because the situation was too difficult to deal with for the relatives."
We already know that impunity is the appropriate environment. And it abounds here. In November, Cofavic submitted some numbers calculated by the Public Ministry and the National Executive, to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: between 2006 and 2010, more than 30,000 cases of human rights violations were submitted to the Attorney's General Office. Only 4% got final judgments. Last year, there were 8,813 cases: 97% were dismissed or filed as cold cases.
The numbers calculated by Raúl Cubas reflect more than 300 murders perpetrated by the Armed Forces since 1997: "The National Guard has been responsible for more than half of it. This does not happen in any democratic country as the armed forces are not in charge of public security."
Cubas speaks of a violence culture, of very rooted horrible police practices and supported by the military mindset. And regarding the hoods: "With the excuse of protecting the arrested citizen's identity, detainees are presented and driven with hoods, which have even the logo of the National Guard on them. In international bodies, the use of hoods is considered a torture. A hood is the first thing that they put on a missing person."
Marino Alvarado adds another component to the scene: "There is great indifference regarding this issue. There seems to be more missing people everyday and no interest to stop this is apparent. It is true that in the past, if was because of political reasons but now it is not the case; nevertheless, these are still human rights violations. And it is disappointing that most leftists, who for many years denounced the cases of enforced disappearance for political reasons, pay no attention to this problem."
Translated by Adrián Valera Villani
At first she agreed that I use her real name, that she had no problems with that at all. After all, living with HIV had driven her to help others – as a workshop facilitator giving talks and conducting seminars, or as a volunteer for local AIDS Service Organizations like Acción Solidaria (Solidary Action) and Mujeres Unidas por la Salud (Women United for Health, or Musa), a support group network for HIV-positive women. But when we were well into the interview, the realization that she might lose her private health insurance coverage made her change her mind.