The United Nations report published last week documents the human rights atrocities that have occurred in Venezuela in recent years. Security forces under Maduro’s command have systematically tortured civilians including political opponents and used disappearances and extrajudicial executions on a scale similar to or worse than the Dirty War dictatorships of the 1970’s and early 80’s.

The 400 page report is meticulous, outlining background information, black torture sites, horrific detention conditions, extrajudicial executions, and the abuses of the judicial process that allowed political opponents to be detained and repressed. It’s politically damaging to Maduro today as he fights for international legitimacy and it is an early draft of the historical record that will be studied for decades to come.

The documentation of these abuses demonstrates that human rights violations are being tracked closely. As a practical application of this report, companies that work with individuals involved in this repression apparatus are at risk of sanctions and lawsuits and those punishments could outlast the Maduro regime. That is on top of the fact it is unethical to do business with them.

Additionally, in spite of the recent high-profile release of some political prisoners, detentions continue. The Maduro regime is looking for bargaining chips to negotiate with the international community. As the report documents (and recent detentions have confirmed), security forces are happy to plant evidence on people they detain and make up charges.

Repression does not equal security

The abuses by the security forces and overcrowded prisons do not imply that Maduro controls everything going on. Venezuela’s security forces have successfully repressed uprisings and peaceful organization by political opponents, but they’ve failed at providing basic security for the population. In fact, Maduro’s security forces are among the violent gangs that extort the population and engage in violent battles for territory against other criminal organizations. As the following chart from the UN report shows, the security forces are one of the top causes of homicides in the country.

Above: Page 200 of the UN report provides various estimates of the numbers of people killed by Maduro’s security forces since 2014.

The abuses by security  has led Venezuela to have one of the highest homicide rates in the hemisphere. Government statistics are both generally unavailable and unreliable when they do appear. OVV. a local NGO, reports 16,506 people were killed in 2019, leading to a homicide rate of 60 per 100,000 population. I used the OVV data to create the map below of homicides in Venezuela.

Above: Map created with Datawrapper using data from OVV.

The capital area is the among most violent in the country, but the violence is widespread with no states that could be considered “peaceful.”  In Venezuela, all 24 states are above 30 homicides per 100,000. As a comparison, only nine of Mexico’s 32 states and eight of Brazil’s 24 states have homicide rates above 30 per 100,000.

Criminal group expansion and clashes with Venezuelan security forces

The expansion of various criminal groups in Venezuela including the ELN and dissident FARC cells has driven organized violence. As occurs in other countries with armed conflict, regions controlled by a single criminal organization tend to have less and more targeted violence relative to the areas with clashes among criminal groups.

Sources in Venezuela report increasing clashes between Venezuelan security forces, particularly the National Guard, and criminal groups. There was one publicly reported clash with a dissident FARC group this past weekend that led to four soldiers dying. One analyst inside Venezuela said he believes the Maduro’s regime’s alliance with the ELN has accelerated the battle between government forces and other criminal organizations.

The UN report discusses the Maduro regime’s obligations as a nation-state. However, the regime’s security forces are at times best understood as their own criminal organization. Reduced government resources have meant that local military, national guard and police commanders must rely even more on robberies of basic goods and criminal extortion at checkpoints. Moving around the country (a difficult task given movement restrictions and limitations on fuel) requires passing numerous checkpoints and dealing with security forces charging absurd prices to access limited fuel supplies.

Violence due to repression by security forces and clashes among criminal groups and regime forces may increase as the December elections and January power struggle occur. Maduro’s regime is tolerant of criminal violence, but it is very nervous about any potential violent groups that could have political aims.

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Source: Boz