Venezuela Government, Experts Clash on Results of Security Operation

Opposition supporters clash with riot policemen during a rally to demand a referendum to remove President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela. File photo REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Opposition supporters clash with riot police. File photo REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Venezuela’s government has touted the achievements of a militarized security operation that began a year ago, but many experts say it hasn’t reduced crime and is in fact generating a greater number of human rights abuses.

Venezuela Minister of the Interior, Justice and Peace Gustavo González López presented the results of the Operation Liberation of the People (Operación de Liberación del Pueblo – OLP) July 13, exactly one year after he announced the creation of the joint police-military operation.

López said the OLP has dismantled 157 criminal groups, “a great number of which are dedicated to paramilitary activity under the structure of organized crime,” reported El Nacional. He added that a total of 2,399 suspects have been arrested, and 1,492 weapons have been seized during the past year.

The OLP “has significantly mitigated crime rates in the zones and places in which the principal groups operate,” he said.

The minister also said that a recent poll showed 82 percent of Venezuelans approve of the OLP.
InSight Crime Analysis

The government’s praise for the OLP runs in sharp contrast to criticism leveled by security experts and observers. Kemyer Ávila, a professor of criminology at the Central University of Venezuela, said the OLP operations have been “counterproductive, because they are increasing institutional violence.” According to Ávila, 445 people have died as a result of OLP activity.

Criminologist Luis Izquiel told El Nacional that the country’s militarized approach to citizen security has failed to reduce crime.

“This concept of being prepared for war has not served to diminish criminality, and there is no better evidence than what we are experiencing,” he said.

Concerns about the OLP’s negative impact on human rights abuses began immediately and have continued over the course of the past year. At least 17 people were killed during the OLP’s initial raids in July 2015. In April of this year, Human Rights Watch published a report documenting several cases of alleged extrajudicial killings by OLP forces.

It is somewhat more difficult to pin down the OLP’s effect on crime rates. Proponents say the OLP has brought down violence, critics say it hasn’t, but it is next to impossible to know for sure since the government routinely withholds data on crime indicators. Venezuela’s murky system for reporting on its security situation has even made it difficult for researchers to accurately estimate the number of violent deaths in a given year, one of the few crime statistics that can be counted with a relatively high level of certainty.