The sons who still have not returned
Four youngsters were arrested by presumed police agents from the CICPC, and since then, their whereabouts are a mystery. More than three years have passed and their mothers keep on waiting for the Government to do something
Neris Pineda has faith. It is a desperate faith that seems to shatter at times. It is a hope maintained by some ethereal force, the faith in a God that should -must- be merciful: her son Oscarling and other three friends of him disappeared in May 2009. She has searched him to the point of despair and with an important restriction: her financial opportunities. False traces, mockery and indolence are the obstacles that she has encountered in this quest. Here, nothing is clear, but there is certainly a huge sense of emptiness. "We fear that our children stay out there as if they were homeless, as if they were beggars. That is what we do not want."
Oscarling de Ávila Pineda left home on May 13, 2009 driving his father's vehicle: a Machito car. His agenda for that day was full; two of his plans were to go to the campus to pay for the new term enrollment and to take his brother-in-law, Liberkeis Figueras, to buy spare parts for a bus.
At 3:30 pm, Neris was leaving the University Clinic Hospital and she got surprised when she saw her husband's car parked in the Hospital's parking lot: Neris first thought that Oscarling had decided to pick her up. Then she realized that something was not right and made a phone call to her other son in order to ask him to bring her the spare keys: the car was completely robbed inside and the battery did not work. And why was that car parked there? "There seems to be a lot going on here: since police agents do not enter this area, burglars take stolen cars to the UCV's (Central University of Venezuela) parking lot. The vehicle was under expert testimony for two months and they were not able to find a thing."
Geral Herrera Libernal woke up very early and left home at 7:00 am. At 11:30 am, he communicated with Carmen Libernal, his mother, and told her that he was at Petare Facility of Rodolfo Loero Arismendi Industrial Technology College (IUTIRLA), where he was studying Tax Administration. He also texted his girlfriend to let her know that he was about to leave the classroom.
At 1:00 pm, he was called several times, but he never answered the phone. "Only two months left for Geral to get his degree before he left," Carmen says.
"I woke up very early looking for him in the streets," Carmen Libernal says almost whispering: "I went to the CICPC office, to hospitals, everywhere... and found nothing. Then I went to the hospital based in El Llanito and to the local CICPC office."
Neris Pineda and Haydée Escalona mother of Liberkeis Figueras- saw that short lady who asked about his son's whereabouts. They met each other there and realized that their shared unfortunate event kept them together. "We had a talk. My son's dad told me that they were indeed friends, that he had seen the boys together at the motorbike race track in Guarenas. I did not know that, and my son knew them for little time."
The motorbikes seemed to be the common factor. Oscarling managed to make ends meet by delivering meals on his motorbike. Geral had worked as a motocab driver. And he even had a photograph where he appeared on Mauricio's motorbike, the fifth young guy involved in this story of four disappeared people.
Thanks to his testimony and other people's, it was possible to know that Oscarling, Geral, Liberkeis and Jhon Rivas were hanging out near Palo Verde Mall that day and that they were detained by presumed police agents from the Scientific, Criminal and Forensic Investigation Agency (CICPC) and police officers from the Metropolitan Police (PM).
In a document written by non-governmental organization Venezuelan Committee of Families of Victims of Human Rights Violations (COFAVIC) submitted on October 19, 2010, to the Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Díaz, it is explained that "the youngsters were forced to get in a green-colored Toyota Corolla vehicle, whereas officers of the National Guard station stopped the traffic, so that the youngsters were taken into the aforementioned vehicle."
The reason is still unknown, but Mauricio was lucky enough to have not gone on this trip.
The dilemma: To keep the mouth shut or to speak up
Carmen and Neris drink tea one morning at NGO Cofavic facility, a human rights advocate that advises them in their claim for justice. It has been more than three years since they started searching, waiting. They sit besides each other, to tell each their story again.
- We have been to prisons, hospitals, police stations; we have tried everything... we just want our sons back no matter what.
- We even consulted some psychics who told us to go to this and that place, that they saw them in Puerto La Cruz; that they saw them in Táchira... but the truth is that we have not known a thing since then... ever.
- About a week after he disappeared, they threatened me over the phone: "You stop talking to the authorities, because you do not know what we are capable of doing to your son."
- We made denunciations regarding all those phone calls, by providing the phone numbers to the CICPC, but they did not move a finger. There are also witnesses, many people witnessed the event, but nobody is going to put his life at risk for this. I took a young girl that had witnessed the whole scene to the police station, so that she explained to police agents what the people -who took them away- looked like, and officers from the CICPC scared her off immediately.
- I would not wish this on my worst enemy. It is a killing pain...
What about the grandchildren?
"My oldest grandchild is seven years old," Neris comments: "I am not brave enough to tell him a thing. I always tell him that his father went to study far, very far from here.
Carmen Libernal maintains on track in the search. Actually, it is only the two of them who continue struggling to get the slow machinery of public institutions going. But they are poor, there are tons of denunciations, you know how this goes, and there are few public prosecutors and few options that enable someone to seriously investigate a complicated matter like this one.
Cofavic has backed them. And in their documents submitted to the Public Minister, they remind the Government of its constitutional obligation to defend citizens' lives; to respect the right to personal freedom (Article 44); the obligation to make investigations and punish crimes against human rights and the explicit prohibition of forced disappearance of people exercised by any public authority, "be it of civilian or military nature, even in emergency state, exception or warranty restriction," according to what is contemplated in Article 45 of the National Constitution.
"I do believe that the public prosecutor in charge has worked on the case," Carmen concedes: "But we have to keep on waiting... it is a lot of cases that they have to get on..." She does not shoot herself in the foot; nevertheless, she does not share Neris' wishful thinking: "When I found out that my son was taken by those police agents, I immediately thought: "They killed my boy." But, what is the purpose of taking them away?" she does not know the answer, although she does seem to be certain about something: "If they were somewhere, they would have tried to escape or communicate with us all this time."
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.