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  HOME | Venezuela (Click here for more Venezuela news)

Violence Relentlessly Takes Toll Across Venezuela

By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff

CARACAS -- For a while, it looked as if violent crime had come a little too close to the family for Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami, who tends to say not very much about Venezuela's at times astounding penchant for blood-soaked lawlessness, despite or perhaps because opinion polls consistently put crime at the top of the public concern.

Haitam Sabeck, a senior official who oversees private security forces at El Aissami's ministry, was attacked and severely wounded Wednesday night by gunmen in what was taken to be an attempted kidnapping. Initially, reports described him as a cousin of the minister, sparking off grumbling in the street about nepotism in high places.

El Aissami called in the media Thursday to deny any familial relation with Sabeck, whom he said had been a student leader and a stalwart of President Hugo Chávez's ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Sabeck was struggling between life and death at a hospital, he added.

Sabeck is reported to have been left bleeding at the side of a highway in south-west Caracas after having been shot at least five times, and employees at the ministry are said to have been called upon to donate blood.

The minister vowed that 2010 would be the year of an "offensive against insecurity" which the government was surely going to win. He conceded that violence and the lack of security were among "some of the principal problems" facing the country.

El Aissaimi went on to laud the government's efforts to maintain law and order in the capital over the festive season. This was not the view taken by the president of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, Monseńor Ubaldo Santana, at its annual convention that very same morning.

"Venezuela has become a violent society," Santana declared. "With great consternation we see the increase in the indices of death by violent acts in cities, the country and frontiers." Weekends had become a crude and painful tragedy for many families, with children and youths the principal victims of a "violent flagellation which has taken over the country without distinguishing between political affiliation, social class or religious faith," he added.

Few would quarrel with that, although it is the poorer districts of the city which are hardest hit by a seemingly endless flood of murders. Arguably worse still from the point of view of those trying to preserve some semblance of morality in what's statistically one of the planet's most perilous places outside a war zone, there are signs that some citizens have become enured against the horrors of seeing the actuality or results of violence on the streets.

Christmas sentiment seems to have made no impact on this, to judge by what happened after a man was slain in the street at around 3.30 in the morning on December 28.

El Aissaimi went on to laud the government's efforts to maintain law and order in the capital over the festive season. This was not the view taken by the president of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, Monseńor Ubaldo Santana, at its annual convention that very same morning.

"Venezuela has become a violent society," Santana declared. "With great consternation we see the increase in the indices of death by violent acts in cities, the country and frontiers." Weekends had become a crude and painful tragedy for many families, with children and youths the principal victims of a "violent flagellation which has taken over the country without distinguishing between political affiliation, social class or religious faith," he added.

Few would quarrel with that, although it is the poorer districts of the city which are hardest hit by a seemingly endless flood of murders. Arguably worse still from the point of view of those trying to preserve some semblance of morality in what's statistically one of the planet's most perilous places outside a war zone, there are signs that some citizens have become enured against the horrors of seeing the actuality or results of violence on the streets.

Christmas sentiment seems to have made no impact on this, to judge by what happened after a man was slain in the street at around 3.30 in the morning on December 28.

Railey Javier Molina Capriles, 23, came out of the Maroma Bar, a disco nightclub in Las Mercedes, a glitzy district crammed with wall-to-wall eateries and late night joints. It's well-lit and oozing with money; it's where the better-off go to hang out and let their hair down.


Molina Capriles, who was in the company of another man since named as Luis Wollel Coll Flores, 28, had barely seconds to live. A third man suddenly appeared and let loose with four gunshots. Coll Flores also seems to have been packing: he fired back, but was wounded for his pains as his companion lay mortally wounded, feet strewn over the doorway of the club.

One of those present was a young Englishman who'd come out of the same club only minutes before. According to this quite evidently affected individual some hours afterwards, there were two bullet holes in the back of Molina Capriles' head and blood and brain material was "streaming like rivers" across the sidewalk.

Some of the onlookers were a whole lot more sanguine about seeing yet another sudden show of death in the wee small hours of the night. As other folks bolted for their cars and burned rubber as they rushed from the scene, a small hoard of ghoulish gawkers whipped out cameras and started snapping photos of the body as if they were so many press professionals.

One of the first things a cop did after they'd arrived at the scene was use his hand to block the lens of a video recorder wielded by a woman who was calmly filming the carnage. The body was taken away within 10 minutes.

This was highly questionable procedure in terms of gathering evidence. But by then, the police may have considered restoring some semblance of order if not decency the over-riding priority of the moment.

Police later announced that they had found a Glock pistol in the street not far away. This sophisticated weapon has been adopted as standard regulation issue for the law and order forces, and had been thought not yet to have become readily available in criminal circles.

The serial number had been scratched out, suggesting that may no longer be the case. The clinical manner in which Molina Capriles was despatched from this life prompted suspicions that this killing was a professional job, and one possibly linked with gangland, rather than an impromptu act made in the heat of the moment.

This entirely reasonable hypothesis gained weight as the plot steadily thickened. Detectives at the scientific and investigative police, CICPC, said Molina Capriles was one of two men who walked into a Caracas hospital in September last year, disguised themselves as doctors, and then wandered into a ward to do away with Roymar José Borrero Romero, 26, who until then had been recovering from an operation.

At the time, Borrero Romero was regarded as a bad guy. He'd been put on the Wanted list in connection with a murder some years back, although the relevant court documents had somehow been mysteriously shelved in 2008.

As is by now customary, El Aissaimi didn't issue any figures to back up his claim that the security operation had been a success. But elsewhere, unofficial estimates had it that Molina Capriles was just one of 220 people who met with violent deaths in Caracas between Christmas Eve and last Monday morning.
Signs of imminent violence are never far away in this capital, and it's not all to do with criminals taking it out on each other. Downtown, scrawled on the wall of the ugly giant archway leading to the complex below the twin towers at El Silencio is a slogan screaching "UBT Mortadella."


UBT is the Unión Bolivariana de Trabajadores, a pro-Chávez faction of Venezuela's disparate and divided labor movement. Violent clashes are not uncommon between members of rival unions, and as often as not they involve guns.

That there was evidently no let-up as the killings relentlessly rolled on before and during the festivities appears to have been as true of the rest of the country as it was of the capital. And there was a certain vicious circularity about quite a lot of the blood-letting.

Down in a district called Parosca in Ocumare del Tuy, south of the capital, Christmas never came for seven people who were mown down in a matter of minutes. One of the victims was a woman, the others male adults, and the multiple murder is being linked to a turf battle for control of illegal drugs in the area.

The bloodbath began when a bunch of guys with guns who are said to belong to a gang in nearby Santa Barbara marched into a store and demanded payment of a debt supposedly owed by another gang led until recently by one Victor Rafael Belisario, 25, otherwise known as El Vitico. On being refused payment, two of Belisario's acolytes were slain on the spot.

Belisario's bunch weren’t going to take this lying down and went looking for the killers. A gun battle quickly followed and five more soon lay dead in an alleyway, all of them from the Santa Barbara gang. But it seems that these deaths still were not enough to satisfy the bloodlust, sense of honor or whatever demanded by El Vitico's gang. All five bodies were dragged to a nearby avenue, sprinkled with gasoline, and set on fire.

It was left to local residents, who had watched all this go down, to pick up the pieces on behalf of the still living. The police said this squabble had been going on for 20 days after El Vitico was killed in a shoot-out with the cops. The Santa Barbarians had then marched in to take advantage of the other lot's loss of leadership.

The dead included a woman known locally as “Maryori”, who seems to have liked keeping things in the family. Among the bodies accompanying hers to the morgue were those of her brother, alias “Daniel”, and her son, “Alvarito”. All were on the Wanted list and had criminal records. The neighbors' lips stayed sealed as the police let slip the aliases of four suspects hailing from El Vitico’s gang.

Anzoátegui state was also in the headlines both sides of the festivities. Monday got off to a bang with an armed stand-off followed by a shoot-out, at first between two gangs until Cicpc, the local police and the National Guard all joined in as the bullets flew.

This small war in La Ponderosa outside the state capital, Barcelona, ended with seven alleged criminals dead and at least a dozen wounded, five of whom were cops. All the slain were labelled as local villains, among them El Javielito, described locally as a highly dangerous thug whose gang had killed three members of another mob a few hours before.


The previous Saturday, José Marcano, described both as a police officer and a cousin of El Javielito, had been gunned down. On Sunday, Gustavo Daniel Lorenzo Mengha, alias Tavo, and his father, a manager at the local Mitusbishi Motors plant, were ambushed and slain in apparent revenge for Marcano's murder.
The hoodlums who did that one then holed up in a house where they came under attack from El Javielito and his cronies. The shoot-out got under way, leading to the intervention by law enforcement officers, and the bloodbath began.

El Javielito's real name has yet to be established with any degree of certainty. But his mother, Martha Gómez, went public to claim that the security forces had been bent on killing her son instead of tracking down "real criminals" who were out and about and up to no good.

"My son is a criminal and it's not a matter of pride for us," she declared with confused regard for tense. "Not everything that happens in this state is down to Javielito, there are parallel groups and the police have licences to commit crime." In slaying her little Javier, the cops had killed a "revolutionary" -- a word that in today's Venezuela indelibly signifies a supporter Chávez and his cause.

As they say, partying can bring out the worst in some people -- and, it would seem, all the more so if they're in the wrong company in the first place. Three young males went to a fiesta in Anzoategui state and never left alive after one of them got into a quarrel, apparently over a girl. Only a few days later, there was an echo of this little drama at another party in far from peaceful Petare in the east of Caracas.

Only days before Christmas, vengeance was inflicted on Jean Carlos Fernández, 30, as he lay receiving dialysis treatment at a hospital near the bus station at La Bandera. Like the massacre in Ocumare del Tuy, this case, is said to have centered on a debt.

A man later identified as Luis Alfredo Espinosa, age undisclosed but described as a neighbour, came to visit Fernández one morning. At first, the two men seemed to be chatting quite amicably until discussion turned to a question of money. Espinosa was suddenly heard to yell “I want my cash”, at which point a doctor asked him to leave.

Espinosa duly did so, only to return to the hospital on the back of a motorbike, march back into the clinic, whip out a handgun, shoot the prone patient four times, and take flight, this time without having to be told. Curiously, the killer is said also to have recently received dialysis treatment at the same clinic.

Fernández’ aunt, Carmen Bravo, decided to go to the very top. “The bad guys are consuming us, and President Chavez has to put justice into effect,” she declared. “I’m a chavista but this is what’s going on at the moment.”

In the largely rural and less than densely populated western state of Táchira, the murder rate is reported to have hit more than one a day since the turn of the year. On Tuesday, prosecutors formally charged a man with the murder of two National Guard sergeants who were jumped by four men on motorbikes at a highway control point in November last year.


Yonder Manuel Moros Rodríguez was accused of intentional homicide, illegal possession of a firearm, criminal association and resisting authority, all within the framework of the Law against Organized Crime. He was arrested only hours after the shooting, allegedly in possession of two handguns from which the serial numbers had been erased, and is being held at the notoriously violent jail complex at El Rodeo in Miranda state.

Moros Rodríguez is just 20 years old. He could waste much if not most of the rest of his useful life behind bars if he's convicted and gets the maximum 30 years jail sentence allowed in Venezuela.

A prisoner protest at Yare I, another nasty jail, dragged on with a number of inmates' mothers, wives and children inside the occupied block. The relatives have claimed that National Guard units at the jail repeatedly beat up prisoners as a matter of cause, and they have demanded El Aissami's presence at the jail.

The minister has declined to do so. On Thursday, he dismissed reports that kinfolk were being held hostage, insisting they were inside the jail of their own will. Blaming the protest on "mafias who aren't interested in the humanization plan reaching the prisons," he vowed that the government wasn't going to be "blackmailed" by the inmates. Again in the absence of government statistics, unofficial estimates are that at least 400 prisoners died by violent means behind bars last year.

 

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