Human Rights in Venezuela are under severe threat, with violations occurring on a daily basis. In early 2018, Human Rights Watch reported that there are no independent institutions left to act as a check on executive power in Venezuela, leaving the system open to abuse. SEBIN, Venezuela’s internal security agency, and DGCIM, the military counter-intelligence agency, have raided homes without a warrant and detained hundreds of people without trial. Today there are over 450 political prisoners in Venezuela. SEBIN routinely uses torture; its commander is known as 220 for the voltage applied to a detainee’s genitals in between bouts of being forced to eat human excrement. Fear of SEBIN and DGCIM is just one of the many reasons why so many Venezuelans are fleeing the country.
In May 2017 the government stripped all power away from the opposition-led National Assembly, instead installing a Constituent Assembly containing only government supporters and with a mandate to change the 1999 constitution. Smartmatic, the company that provides the technology for Venezuela’s elections, confirmed in a statement that without any doubt, the turnout figures for the Constituent Assembly election were manipulated. With the National Assembly stripped of all authority, Venezuela can no longer be said to be a democracy of any type.
During the opposition-led protests that shook the country in 2017, demonstrators were met with extreme violence by Venezuela’s security forces, the National Police (PNB) and National Guard (GNB). During the protests, 124 deaths were recorded by Venezuela͛s Attorney General. Other organizations believe the number of deaths is as high as 157. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 73 of these deaths were by security forces or armed government vigilante groups, known as colectivos. Another 1,958 people were injured, with 5,000 detained and kept in squalid conditions. Most of the victims were students or had just finished their studies.
Oscar Perez, a former investigator and actor, was ruthlessly hunted down by the authorities after he staged a protest attack on a government building by helicopter. The farmer who found Perez’s helicopter was detained and taken to military prison. When the authorities finally found Perez in January 2018, he and all 6 of his companions were killed. The official version is that they died in a firefight. However, his autopsy reports that he died of a single shot to the head, suggesting an extrajudicial killing. After the incident, the crime scene was destroyed. Suspects connected to Perez have been tortured, and the house of Perez’s family was apparently burned down by DGCIM.
The sinister OLP (Operation Liberate the People) has claimed more than 8,000 lives in a brutal crack-down on gang crime. In the poorest barrios of Venezuela, security forces descend at night and massacre those they claim to suspect of involvement with gangs. Those killed however often have no involvement whatsoever in criminal activity.
In parts of Venezuela de facto control has passed to armed criminal gangs linked to senior military officers. These groups are often involved in smuggling and brutalise the local population. An International Crisis Group Report quoted a farmer in Bolívar state, who said “they come and ask for food, if you say you don’t have any, they shoot your cattle right in front of you.”