Olga Meza sat down at the table in the office of a local human rights organization in Venezuela and said she wanted justice for her 16-year-old son. She broke down in tears as she spoke of the night that members of Venezuela’s investigative police force broke into her home, beat her and other members of her family, and forced her to watch as a security agent stormed into her son’s bedroom and shot him dead.
Washington, along with a handful of Latin American capitals and several former heads of state, has criticized the administration of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro for using excessive force against antigovernment protesters, prosecuting its critics, and jailing political opposition leaders.
Maduro’s crackdown, though, is worse than even his critics realize. His broad and aggressive exercise of unchecked executive power has also been directed at residents of low-income and immigrant communities, where there was widespread support for the Bolivarian Revolution, the leftist, social movement of Hugo Chávez, who served as president from 1999 to 2013.
Since last July, the government has conducted a series of police and military raids against such communities under the umbrella of what it says is an operation to combat criminal gangs.
Venezuelans face one of the highest murder rates in the region, and they urgently need effective protection from violent crime. But the government’s get-tough-on-crime approach has led to serious harm. Many victims and witnesses whom our organizations have interviewed describe widespread abuses that security forces inflict on the communities that most need their protection.
“I am looking for justice, and I can’t find it anywhere.”
Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz said in February that 245 people were killed during such raids in 2015. Dozens more have reportedly been killed since January. Government officials claim that victims died during security force “confrontations”