A new massacre in Venezuela this week generated a stir on social media networks and the front pages of print media, as a mass grave with twelve bodies was discovered in Barlovento, Miranda state.
According to the investigations, eleven Venezuelan army officers were responsible for murdering twelve people under the auspices of the Operation of Liberation of the People (PLO), a security program implemented by Nicolás Maduro.
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What allegedly began as a security program in Venezuela ended in a massacre involving extrajudicial executions and mass graves packed with bodies.
The alleged suspects are Venezuelan army soldiers who were part of a specialized patrol group that has been deployed in the area since October 7.
The victims’ relatives began to look for the missing youths, many of them farm workers. But the authorities never informed them with certainty of their whereabouts.
Days after the disappearances, the Minister of Interior and Justice, Néstor Reverol, held a press conference to praise the alleged success that the PLO had enjoyed in the Mirandine region.
The twelve dead were detained by the military on October 15 under false pretenses: they were not caught committing any crime, and no warrant had been issued for their arrest.
And the case appears to be full of irregularities. Last October 21 the military released eight of twenty youths who had been arrested in a related case. According to relatives, they were in serious condition, because “they were tortured and forced to sign documents against their will without having read them.” Some of them could not read or write.
After being informed of this, and of the repeated denunciations of the relatives of the twelve disappeared, the International Secretariat of the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) publicized the case in conjunction with the Network of Support for Justice and Peace.
The OMTC urged the Venezuelan authorities to take all necessary measures to find the whereabouts of the young men and to guarantee their physical safety.
The petitions were officially presented to President Nicolás Maduro, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, and ombudsman Tarek William Saab.
The gruesome discovery occurred Friday November 25, when two mass graves were found in the municipalities of Acevedo and Brión in the state of Miranda.
The Venezuelan National Armed Forces (FANB) issued a statement expressing “its deepest dismay” regarding the case in which military “who carried out reconnaissance and patrol operations to ensure security […] murdered several citizens.”
For his part, the Minister of Interior Relations and Justice, Néstor Reverol Torres, reported on the finding. Nevertheless he denied that the deaths occurred within the framework of the PLO. On the contrary, he argued that the operation was initiated after the local residents denounced arbitrary evictions “by groups generating violence linked to Colombian paramilitaries and organized crime.”
Massacres and mass graves have become customary in Venezuela.
In March 2016, 28 miners died in the Tumeremo region of southern Bolivar state, in a clash which allegedly involved battling criminal gangs for control of mining territory.
This massacre became the most serious in the history of the country, after the Caracazo.
The Caracazo was a series of protests and riots in Venezuela during the government of Carlos Andres Perez, which began on February 27 and ended on March 8, 1989, in the city of Caracas. Although the official figures report 276 dead and numerous injured, some unofficial reports speak of more than 300 people deceased and 2,000 disappeared.
In May of 2015, 12 corpses were found in two mass graves located in Ureña in Táchira state, on the Colombian Venezuelan border.
The finding came after authorities received information from a suspected paramilitary who had been arrested. He confessed to knowledge of multiple homicide committed at the end of last year by subjects belonging to criminal bands.