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Disappearances, Venezuela, human rights


In the first four months of 2020, the numbers of missing persons in Venezuela have inexplicably skyrocketed. People leaving without saying goodbye or police officers out of control?

On March 18, the bodyguard John Jairo Gasparini went out to do some shopping at the Farmatodo pharmacy located at the entrance of the La Lagunita urbanization, Caracas. He did not return home. The relatives of this 42-year-old man turned to the municipal and investigations police and other organizations in search for information that would help to determine his whereabouts. They only knew that they saw him leave the aforementioned commercial premises on a black motorcycle, which was not found either. They then deduced that Gasparini’s absence was related to the subsequent attempted raid on an apartment at the Pacarima residences in Los Naranjos, whose occupant belongs to his family circle. But the days passed, and no one knew where Gasparini was. On March 20, the relatives of the bodyguard went to the judicial police to formalize the complaint about what appeared to be a disappearance. This man’s case is part of a growing list of people whose tracks have been lost, which is being processed by the Scientific, Criminal and Criminal Investigation Agency (CICPC).

Only in the first four months of 2020, the different offices of this body have received 124 complaints about the disappearance of people. What is most striking is that the curve has been on the rise over the months. In January, 16 complaints were received; 28 in February; 39 in March and 41 in April. Between the first and fourth months, the figures reflect an increase of 156%. All this, in addition, in a context in which it is assumed that people should not disappear, since the majority must remain in their homes as a result of the decree of national alarm, issued on March 13.

According to Commissioner Sergio González, former head of CICPC’s Anti-Extortion and Kidnapping Division, the security forces can receive and process reports of disappearances after 72 hours from the moment the victim was last seen. The official (current director of the El Hatillo police) explained that when the person does not appear after a reasonable time, and there is no evidence that he may have been kidnapped, the police logic indicates that he could be dead or that he could have been victim of an illegitimate deprivation of liberty.

The relatives of the bodyguard Gasparini were able to determine his whereabouts two weeks later, when they confirmed that he was in the custody of Military Counterintelligence. However, at the time of writing this note, they are still wondering which investigation they are linking him to.

González was surprised by the growth in the number of disappearances, and indicated that the highest probability points to the actions of the public force. “The norm indicates that a person cannot be detained for more than twelve hours without notifying the Public Ministry. But we have seen cases of people of whom nothing has been known for more than a month, and then it was learned that they were in the hands of some agency”, he said.

No trace in pandemic

The problem of disappearances, and especially those enforced, was warned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in the two reports on Venezuela presented during 2019. According to Marino Alvarado (Provea), the disappearances of people became more frequent after the People’s Liberation Operations. He recalled the case of the massacre in the El Café sector, Barlovento, in October 2016, which began with the transfer of 15 people to an unknown place in the course of a raid by Army troops. The bodies were found a month later. “In the case of the Gideon operation, there are families who still do not know the whereabouts of the people who are supposedly detained”, he said.

According to unofficially known statistics, 49% of the disappearances have occurred as of March 13, when Nicolás Maduro issued the decree of national alarm. Something that seems paradoxical, because in this period, emphasis has been placed on people staying at home. On the other hand, 35% of the disappearances corresponding to the January-April period have been reported in the Capital District and Miranda. The second state with the highest number is Bolívar, with 14; Monagas and Falcón have nine cases each, and in Zulia they have started eight investigations. As a curious aspect, in Táchira they have only registered one complaint.

In the current national context, with a number of kidnappings that is down with respect to other years, the majority of disappearances are due to political issues or are a consequence of the concealment of homicide victims. Hence, according to González, in Caracas, complaints about disappearances are processed by the division against Homicides. However, if there is contact between kidnappers and their relatives, agents specialized in kidnapping intervene. “However, we cannot speak of homicide until the body of the victim appears. Meanwhile, the person will remain as a disappeared person”, he indicated.

PS.: After the publication of this note in Runrunes and Tal Cual, a new disappearance was corroborated. This time it is the frigate lieutenant José Antonio Zamora. The 31-year-old officer is assigned to the Western Platform and Maintenance Service of the Punto Fijo naval base. According to his brother, the lawyer Sucre Zamora, on May 7 a commission of military police took him into custody from that unit, and since then they have had no information about his whereabouts. The officer’s relatives sent a letter to the military attorney general, Major General Jesús Vásquez Quintero, requesting some clue as to the status of the frigate lieutenant. So far, they have not received a response. In the Military Counterintelligence headquarters, they denied having a detainee with that name. In the Intelligence Police they said the same. “If they point him out for something, the most logical thing is that they present him in court,” reasoned the officer’s brother.

Source: Javier Ignacio Mayorca, @javiermayorca