Mérida, August 26, 2020 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Four agents of the Bolivarian National Police’s Special Action Forces (FAES) have been arrested after the extrajudicial executions of two journalists in Cabimas, Zulia State.
Venezuela's Attorney General Tarek William Saab informed on Tuesday that FAES officers Jose Contreras and Nestor Olano, who have been charged with premeditated murder, as well as supervisors Freddy Deroy and Deivid Guerrero were in custody.
Four other officers involved in the Friday, August 21 operation reportedly fled after arrest warrants were issued. Public attorney Jackbe Galban was removed from her post and arrested for allegedly collaborating in their escape.
Andres Eloy Nieves Zacarias and Victor Manuel Torres Guerra, 33 and 29 years-old, respectively, were assassinated in a FAES raid on Guacamaya TV, a community media outlet in Zulia State where they worked.
Saab referred to the event as “embarrassing” and decried that FAES agents tried to cover up the extrajudicial killings as an armed confrontation.
“For me, these are infiltrated officers who need to be singled out so this never happens again in a police body,” the attorney general told reporters.
The events were initially investigated by a FAES commission that traveled to Cabimas to take statements from each of the officers participating in the operation.
Saab’s office reported that examinations and autopsy logs showed that the victims were below their shooters, on their knees or sitting, which confirmed the execution hypothesis.
The FAES agents were also accused of stealing the TV station’s equipment after the executions.
Interior Minister Nestor Reverol called the procedure an "irregular act" and appointed a multidisciplinary team to carry out an investigation.
"In any situation that constitutes a deviation from the established procedures and protocols, we will be ruthless in the enforcement of the law," read the official statement issued by the Interior Ministry.
The executions, as well as FAES attempts to present the victims as criminals to the media, have been condemned from various sectors. Several popular and community media outlets, militants of the youth fraction of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and the Francisco de Miranda Front all released communiques, while a hashtag #JusticiaParaAndresYVictor (“Justice for Andres and Victor”) became a trend on social media.
The Inter American Press Society and the International Press Institute likewise made public their condemnation, calling on Venezuelan authorities to thoroughly investigate the killings.
The founder of Guacamaya TV, Franklin Torres, who is also the father of Victor Torres, said that the two journalists were dragged out of the offices by the FAES and ‘vilely murdered’. He went on to claim that the information released about the murder was false and that the weapons allegedly found at headquarters were planted by FAES agents.
“For our murdered kids, we will not rest until justice is served,” read a statement released by the Torres family on Wednesday. The relatives praised the quick response of the Attorney General’s office and demanded a thorough investigation up the Bolivarian National Police’s chain of command.
Nieves and Torres were described by those who knew them as honest workers who were deeply involved with their community. Nieves was also a member of the Francisco de Miranda Front. Tributes painted him as a dedicated Chavista who stood up for just causes and a popular member of the community media scene in Venezuela.
Popular movements have recognized authorities’ response in this case, but the reported increase in heavy handed police tactics and the FAES in particular have been subjects of intense debate. Chavista human rights collective Surgentes launched a campaign in November 2019 to denounce a growing number of police extrajudicial killings in popular neighborhoods and bring back a debate on police reform initiated by former President Hugo Chávez.
Edited and with additional reporting by Ricardo Vaz from Mérida.