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Guardia Nacional Bolivaria (GNB) - Activities

As early as 1996, the US State Department reported that corruption among some member the Venezuelan National Guard was a problem that had hindered counternarcotics efforts. Later, in 2004, State reported that public corruption continued to plague Venezuela and cited evidence of midlevel National Guard officers smuggling drugs through the international airport in Caracas. By 2007, State reported that corruption was rampant within the Venezuelan government and military and had fueled a permissiv operating environment for drug traffickers. The September 2008 OFAC drug kingpin designations illustrated that corruption had reached the ministerial level of the Venezuelan government.

A special investigative committee set up by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez dismissed National Guard Brig. Gen. Alberto Betancourt Nieves 03 June 2005 reportedly because small mining cooperatives in Bolivar State complained to National Assembly legislators in mid-May that National Guard troops had extorted them, destroyed their property, and violated human rights. Army Maj. Gen. Jesus Wilhelm Becerra, now in charge of all state military units, had also raised the reports of corruption with Chavez.

Chavez deactivated Betancourt's Eighth Regional National Guard Command (CORE 8) on June 7, using army troops from Gen. Wilhelm's Fifth Infantry Division to replace local National Guard forces. CORE 8 personnel protested the army had "humiliated" and "mistreated" them, according to press reports. Chavez also deactivated the local anti-extortion and kidnapping group, National Guard personnel guarding the airport in Ciudad Bolivar, and two other rural commands and detachments, whose weapons were shipped to Caracas. Opposition National Assembly deputy Andres Velasquez (Causa R) complained to reporters about the hasty removal of arms and demanded that the GOV report their destination.

Anti-Chavez media outlets reported 13 June 2005 that National Guard non-commissioned officers acting in solidarity with their CORE 8 counterparts had "taken over" their own CORE 9 headquarters in Amazonas State and had threatened to take over installations of state industries and other Regional Commands. They also reported that some National Guard troops had started a leaflet campaign against CORE 8's deactivation.

Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel said harmony and normalcy reigned in the military, which had "finished off the (expletive deleted) and soldiers who let themselves be swindled by the old regime." According to 15 June 2005 press, the CORE 9 commander, also denying reports of National Guard insurrection, said the Army had taken two posts from the National Guard but had returned them after realizing it had misunderstood orders. Chavez also weighed in, saying he had received a recommendation to replace CORE 8 with TO5 a year ago because of the corruption and irregularities there, but had opted to wait for changes. Upon receiving recent evidence the command was becoming more corrupt, he added, he had decided to act.

The Army's presence would be worse than that of the National Guard. Locals understood how to deal with the Guard's corruption but would have additional problems dealing with Army troops, who tended to be younger, urban, less professional soldiers with no law enforcement experience.

By 2009 Venezuelan military and law enforcement officials, including those in the National Guard, provided support and weapons and do lit prevent illegal armed groups from crossing the border. By allowing illegal armed groups to elude capture and by providing material support, Venezuela extended a lifeline to Colombian illegal armed groups.

Opposition leaders had been under continuous assault by President Chavez and his followers since winning office in November 2008. From having offices looted before the transfer of power to the removal of their authority to raise revenue and provide services once in office, every opposition mayor and governor has been targeted.

At 0530 15 July 2009, forty soldiers from the Venezuelan Guardia Nacional or National Guard (GN), an active branch of the Venezuelan armed forces charged with border and infrastructure security, threw tear gas into a Miranda state police (PoliMiranda) substation in the rural town of Curiepe. A crowd of residents gathered later that morning to protest the take over and were dispersed by the GN with tear gas and plastic bullets, resulting in six injuries.

Motivations behind the building seizure remained unclear. Opposition media claim mayor Liliana Gonzalez, the Chavista mayor of Brion, the municipal government with authority in the region, was trying to gain control of the state Civil Registry, co-located in the police building. Speculation ran that, with access to land and business titles, Gonzalez could make an enemies list. For her part, Gonzalez claimed the building is built on municipal property and therefore is not state property; she claims to have court order approving the takeover. By 17 July 2009, Gonzalez claimed she never ordered the GN to eject the police. General Alirio Ramirez of the GN 5th corps alternately claimed that "the people" or Mayor Gonzalez petitioned for GN intervention to reduce crime.

Government officials blame Miranda governor Capriles Rodonski and his police for causing the trouble. Minister of Interior and Justice Tarek El Aissami accused Capriles Rodonski of using his police, "to attack facilities that don't belong to him." El Aissami added that the governor had ignored instructions to withdraw and was "acting like a neighborhood bully." Mayor Gonzalez accused the governor of directing the mob claiming, "it is part of his political operations."

Mass protests in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela began 01 April 2017. On 18 April 2017, President Maduro publicly announced the launch of Plan Zamora, a “special civil-military strategic plan to guarantee the functioning of the country, its security, internal order and social integration”, through the joint operation of armed forces, militias and peoples’ forces. A second phase of the Plan Zamora was launched on 17 May 2017. While there is no accessible public or official document explaining what Plan Zamora entails, military and public officials have referred to it to justify the use of military jurisdiction for civilians and to deploy the GNB to control demonstrations.

Security forces systematically used excessive force to deter demonstrations, crush dissent and instil fear. The Bolivarian National Police (PNB) and the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB), which is part of the armed forces, used tear gas and other less lethal weapons, such as water cannons and plastic pellets, during demonstrations without prior warning, in a non-progressive manner, and in violation of the international legal principles of necessity and proportionality. Less lethal weapons were also used systematically in a manner intended to cause unnecessary harm, for example security forces shot tear gas grenades directly at demonstrators at short range and manipulated ammunition to make them more harmful. Authorities rarely condemned incidents of excessive use of force, in most cases denied security forces were responsible for such incidents, and repeatedly labelled demonstrators as “terrorists.” Antiriot armored vehicles used by the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) regularly discharged dozens of tear gas grenades simultaneously. Water cannons were also used, sometimes knocking demonstrators over and hitting them on the head.

On 20 June 2017, Nicolás Maduro moved his military pieces. The Bolivarian National Guard, main body that has repressed the demonstrations in Venezuela, underwent a change of commander. Major General Benavides Torres was dismissed to put General Sergio Rivero in his place. The previous day, a young Venezuelan had been killed. This time by members of the Bolivarian National Guard who wielded guns and fired on demonstrators.

Members of Venezuela’s National Guard have been acquitted of murdering opposition protesters despite the Public Ministry’s efforts. In response, Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz said the country was witnessing a “decomposition of the judiciary,” which was preventing those carrying out heinous acts on behalf of the regime to face justice. She said 21 June 2016 that after 80 days of ongoing protests, 23 arrest warrants for the death of protestors have been issued but not carried out.

The Bolivarian National Guard and its head are directly responsible for the repression that has murdered, imprisoned, and tortured people. The brutal repression shows the National Guard as the perpetrator of the violation of right to life, freedoms and guarantees of due process. Behind every detainee, every political prisoner, behind every person tortured and killed there is someone institutionally responsible in Venezuela.

Security forces in charge of controlling the demonstrations were the GNB, Bolivarian National Police (PNB), and the local police. As part of the armed forces and according to domestic regulations, the GNB should coordinate its actions with civilian authorities and should have a supporting role in the context of demonstrations. However, accounts gathered by OHCHR highlighted that in many cases the GNB both led the operations and used the highest level of violence against demonstrators in such operations. Other security institutions that do not have a mandate to engage in crowd control were involved, such as the National Anti-extortion and Kidnappings Command (CONAS) and the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN).

The number of injured individuals may be considerably higher as not everyone reports injuries due to lack of confidence in the justice system and fear of reprisals. According to estimates made by physicians, 10,000 to 12,000 people might have been injured across the country in the first 100 days of demonstrations alone.

Government authorities rarely condemned incidents of excessive force. On 6 June, the Ministry of Defence acknowledged the existence of “isolated incidents of excessive use of force by some members of the GNB” and instructed them to respect human rights.41 After the killing of Fabián Urbina on 19 June 2017, the Minister of Interior, Justice and Peace acknowledged that two members of the GNB might have used force disproportionately.

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Page last modified: 08-09-2017 18:25:33 ZULU