Armed and masked members of Venezuela’s ‘Death Squad’ have killed more than 200 people over the last year, according to the country’s leading rights’ group.
President Maduro established the Bolivarian National Police’s Special Action Forces (FAES) in 2017, ostensibly to tackle emergency situations such as terrorism and hostage-taking.
But rights groups say the uniformed squad, who possess elite military training and weapons, are responsible extra-judicial killings of hundreds of people in non-extraordinary situations.
FAES officers are accused of targeting petty criminals in poor areas and opponents of President Maduro, to whom they remain loyal. Photographs on social media show them drawing weapons and transporting a lifeless man
Members of the Bolivarian National Police Special Forces Group (FAES), which has been accused of functioning as a ‘death squad’ deploy during an operation against criminal groups at Petare neighborhood in Caracas
According PROVEA, a Venezuelan NGO, the 1,300-strong FAES set their sights on petty criminals last year and have since killed hundreds of people in low-income neighborhoods without any subsequent investigations.
And the National Police contingent, which remains loyal to the beleaguered Maduro, have reportedly targeted and killed more than 40 demonstrators at anti-government rallies that erupted across the country earlier this year.
Marino Alvarado, PROVEA’s investigations coordinator, says in total the FAES have killed 205 people.
‘Every time they got involved, it ended in a fatality,’ he told Fox News. ‘They massacred about four or so people every week.’
The uniformed squad have elite military training and weapons, and were set up to tackle national emergencies. But rights groups say they are responsible for the extra-judicial killings of hundreds of people in non-extraordinary situations.
‘Here was a military-level elite unit theoretically created to save lives, but the reality is that they extinguish lives,’ Alvarado said. ‘Their mission now is to take up arms against the Venezuelan people, against those who express dissent.’
Venezuela was plunged into deep political crisis after opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself the interim President at a rally against Maduro in January.
His legitimacy has since been recognised by around 65 countries, including the U.S.
Yesterday the Trump administration issued new Venezuela-related sanctions against five individuals as it ratchets up pressure on Maduro to quit.
According to the U.S. Treasury, one of those targeted is FAES director Rafael Enrique Bastardo Mendoza.
‘Treasury continues to target officials who have helped the illegitimate Maduro regime repress the Venezuelan people,’ Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a
‘We are sanctioning officials in charge of Maduro’s security and intelligence apparatus, which has systematically violated human rights and suppressed democracy, including through torture and other brutal use of force.’
FAES officers detain a group of men during an operation against criminal groups at Petare neighborhood in Caracas. The FAES are loyal to the beleagured President, who is under increasing pressure to resign but has so far clung to power
Venezuelan rights group PROVEA says the 1,300-strong FAES – who are armed with Russian and Chinese weapons – have illegally set their sights on petty criminals and anti-government demonstrators
Explaining the decision to issue sanctions against Bastardo, the agency press release said: ‘FAES has been branded as Maduro’s “extermination squad,” known for its brutal methods and masked appearances, carrying out nighttime raids throughout Caracas.
‘Since Guaidó assumed his position as Interim President, FAES has been accused of dozens of extrajudicial killings targeting the opposition.
‘On January 31, 2019, in the middle of Guaidó’s news conference on his economic plans, Guaidó said that FAES were in his home threatening his family.’
Even as Maduro desperately clings to power in the face of the tightening sanctions the FAES has proclaimed its loyalty to his government.
‘These are extremely difficult moments, moments when we have to show which of us are loyal, and which of us are disloyal,’ Bastardo said in a speech posted on the unit’s Instagram account.
The FAES has denied accusations it is a ‘death squad’ on social media, saying: ‘Our struggle is against all criminals that ravage our communities. If you fear the FAES it’s because you’re a criminal.’
The FAES faces allegations of extreme brutality and extra-judicial killings, for which no investigations have yet been launched
And Maduro ally Diosdado Cabello – himself a target of U.S. sanctions – said the accusations of overreach and extra-judicial killings are lies being manufactured and spread by political opponents.
Cabello, who is leader of the ruling socialist party, said on his talk show on Wednesday: ‘The European Union should worry about its own affairs.
‘They’ve got plenty of human beings they’ve allowed to drown in the Mediterranean, plenty of human rights violations that occur in their countries and to which they close their eyes.’
Yet the allegations of brutality are backed up by pictures and footage posted on social media, which appear to show the FAES transporting lifeless bodies and drawing their weapons on protesters.
The FAES has denied accusations that it is a ‘death squad’ – saying only criminals have anything to fear
On January 24, several dozen FAES officers drove into the Caracas slum of Jose Felix Ribas in armoured vehicles and on motorcycles.
The officers, clad in black military uniforms and masks, stopped 27-year-old Yohendry Fernandez at gunpoint and asked if he had a criminal record, according to family and friends.
When he replied yes, they dragged him into an alley and killed him with two bullets in the chest.
The previous day, tens of thousands of Jose Felix Ribas residents left their hillside homes to join mass protests against Maduro, who they blame for an economic crisis in a country with the world’s largest oil reserves.
The devastating economic collapse has left the poorest Venezuelan’s without water, power, medicines and food and three million people have since fled the country since 2014.
Some 15 per cent of children have malnutrition and a basic basket of shopping costs 16 times the minimum wage.
Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, Tarek Saab, vowed earlier this month that the government would investigate any officials who carry out extrajudicial executions and arbitrary detentions. No FAES officers are thought to have been arrested so far.