CARACAS (Reuters) – After Venezuelan law enforcement officials clad in black navy uniforms and masks stopped 27-year-old Yohendry Fernandez at gunpoint in the Caracas slum of Jose Felix Ribas, they requested him if he had a legal document. He replied sure.
The officers then dragged him into an alley and shot him twice in the chest, killing him, based on his household and a witness.
It was the afternoon of Jan. 24, the day after tens of hundreds of slum residents left their hillside properties to affix mass protests in opposition to President Nicolas Maduro, who they blame for an financial disaster that has left them with out water, energy, medicines and meals.
Several dozen officers from the National Police’s Special Action Force (FAES) drove into the slum in armored automobiles and on bikes.
As they roared down the dusty streets, some opened fireplace as residents fled earlier than them shouting “They’re here,” based on witnesses. Police snipers clambered atop tin rooftops and locals hid underneath beds because the gunshots rang out, the witnesses stated.
By daybreak, the FAES unit had killed as many as 10 folks, leaving with their our bodies and about a dozen hooded detainees, based on 4 local people leaders.
Venezuela’s Information Ministry, which handles all media inquiries, together with on behalf of the nationwide police, didn’t reply to requests for remark on the operation. Diosdado Cabello, the ruling Socialist Party’s deputy head, accused the opposition of fabricating loss of life tolls from police raids.
The FAES stated stories of abuses had been “fake news” unfold by right-wing opponents. “Our struggle is against all criminals that ravage our communities. If you fear the FAES it’s because you’re a criminal,” the unit stated on Thursday on Instagram.
Residents stated the FAES officers returned to Jose Felix Ribas for the subsequent three afternoons, spreading terror in a poor neighborhood that was a bastion of assist for Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez. Five years of financial recession have turned many into Maduro’s most fervent opponents.
The raids, the deadliest of a number of in Caracas final month, present how the federal government has used the FAES to focus on critics since opposition chief Juan Guaido proclaimed himself interim president and gained the assist of Western powers who say Maduro is illegitimate.
Reuters spoke with a dozen witnesses, native politicians, and attorneys, together with consultants who research the FAES, to supply the primary detailed have a look at the operation. Reuters additionally pieced collectively footage of the raid posted on social media, which witnesses verified.
For a map of the place police shot Fernandez, click on: tmsnrt.rs/2HInzML
FEAR THE FAES
The reporting reveals a sample of road justice employed by FAES, arrange in 2017 as an elite pressure to fight terrorism and arranged crime, and an environment of impunity.
The Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, a native crime monitoring group, attributes 43 deaths to safety forces throughout protests and raids since Jan. 22, and says it’s processing stories of extra.
Keymer Avila, a criminology professor on the Central University of Venezuela, stated he had not but verified all of the deaths in Jose Felix Ribas however that 10 appeared affordable based mostly on his understanding of the occasions.
Rights teams accuse the federal government of utilizing the FAES to raid Venezuelans’ properties after they return from protests, with the assistance of tip-offs from supporters. Authorities have arrested greater than 900 protesters since Jan. 21, the rights teams say.
Jose Pinto, head of the Revolutionary Tupamaro Movement, a militant group that backs Maduro, informed Reuters he and different so-called “colectivos” had been increasing their networks of informants.
They alerted police to “suspicious activity” earlier than the Jan. 23 protests, Pino stated, sending them photos and addresses of suspected “right-wing conspirators,” which he stated led to raids.
On Jan. 22, based on residents, an unmarked pickup truck mounted with audio system drove by Jose Felix Ribas, a district inside Caracas’ sprawling Petare shantytown, broadcasting a message: “If you protest tomorrow, there will be consequences.”
Most stated they took little heed. But six locals stated the implications grew to become clear on Jan. 24 when FAES officers pulled a 23-year-old mom, the cousin of an alleged gang chief, from her home and shot her useless. A church was sprayed with bullets. One man was executed after being handcuffed inside a automobile, residents stated.
Local politicians stated authorities justified the raid as an operation in opposition to a legal group. The authorities has but to indicate any proof in opposition to these killed.
Paula Navas, a native political organizer, stated the authorities sought to silence her neighborhood.
“They traumatized children. What was the objective of this?” Navas requested.
Yohendry Fernandez had been fixing bikes in a parking zone on the slum’s principal street, some 200 meters (yards) from his household residence.
Motorcycles had been his obsession, kin stated, and movies on his Facebook web page present him racing down Caracas avenues performing wheelies. He typically repaired bikes for the native police, they stated.
At three p.m., simply as Fernandez was about to go residence, FAES officers arrived and cut up into teams that superior into the barrio’s higher reaches. One group arrange a blockade on a plaza the place the street divided. Fernandez’s residence, the place his spouse and two youngsters had been ready, was on the opposite aspect.
“DON’T HURT HIM”
After relations informed his mom, Isabel Pino, that he had been arrested on the plaza, she raced to the scene and begged an officer: “Please don’t hurt him, he’s special.”
The officer ordered her to return inside, Pino, 49, informed Reuters. Then, she stated, she heard two pictures.
The subsequent time Pino noticed her son was when she considered his physique on the hospital, a gunshot wound to his coronary heart and one other in his sternum. She stated she has obtained no official rationalization for his loss of life, and that every one his private belongings had been taken.
The household buried Fernandez final week at a cemetery outdoors town, the one place they might afford. She says she tells his Four-year-old son, Andres, that his father is asleep.
Fernandez’s spouse, Wendys, together with Navas and Aviud Morales, a native trainer, confirmed the small print of his loss of life.
When FAES officers returned to Jose Felix Ribas in the times after the raid, they questioned the household about alleged legal connections, which Pino denied. An evening-time curfew was imposed throughout the entire sector.
“Just to hear the name, FAES, leaves me terrified. I was just told they are back around here and I can feel the pain in my stomach,” Pino stated, her voice shaking.
Editing by Daniel Flynn and Daniel Wallis