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Necropolitics: the exercise of uncontrolled power in Venezuela

In 2017, 26% of homicides died at the hands of security forces. In 2018 this increased to 33%, meaning that 1 in 3 murders are the result of intervention by the State security forces.

Keymer Ávila
3 September 2019
Opposition rally ends up in clashes with the police forces in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 8, 2017.
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Photo: Fabiola Ferrero/SIPA USA/PA Images. All Rights Reserved.

In this article I will present a summary of my main findings from research on the use of lethal violence in Venezuela, which was carried out within the framework of a regional comparative study monitoring the use of lethal force in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico and Venezuela.

From a normative point of view, Venezuela could be considered an advanced country in terms of regulation on the use of force by security forces. The constitution and other institutions of the State have at their core a defence of life. They include accountability on the part of the state and there are norms and protocols for how state forces should act. However, none of this is effectively applied, as evidenced by our studies on deaths at the hands of state security forces.

Analysis of official statistics show a clear trend that highlights the increasing number of deaths at the hands of the security forces. Complaints of excessive police violence are often based on old data, but new data shows a clear increase in the number of deaths by State security forces in 2013 and even bigger increases in 2015 and 2016, when the emphasis is placed on militarized police operations.

In 2010, for every 100,000 inhabitants, 2.3 were killed by State security policies and by 2016 this reached 19. This is an increase of 726%! Between 2010 and 2017, approximately 18,401 people have died in the hands of state security forces. 60% of these cases occurred between 2016 and 2017.

When considering the indicators of police brutality, we chose to prioritise official information only using news reports when official information was not available. For reasons of space I will only present the most relevant indicators of our report from the year 2017, which was the period agreed by the regional group.

“The approximate rate of civilian deaths for every 1000 public security agents is 28.6”.

Frequency indicators

Frequency indicators measure the intensity of the use of force against civilians. In Venezuela the figures are as follows:

  • According to official information, in 2017, 4,998 people were killed by interventions from State security forces. This number was higher than Brazil, despite Brazil’s population being seven times that of Venezuela
  • This figure represents a rate of 15.9 civilians killed by intervention of public security forces per 100,000 inhabitants, a number higher than the total homicide rate of most countries in the world. The country with the highest rate after Venezuela is El Salvador with 6.8, followed by Brazil with 2.3.
  • The approximate rate of civilians killed per 1,000 police and public security forces is 28.6. There are clear gaps between Venezuela and other Latin America countries: El Salvador has a rate of 9.9 followed by Brazil with 7.8.
  • During this period, 157 officers were killed, of which only 57 (36%) were on duty.
  • The figure above means that for every 1,000 public security and police officers there is death rate of 0.3. That figure is similar to Colombia (0.3), less than Mexico (0.5) and higher than Brazil (0.1) and El Salvador (0.1)

In Venezuela one in three homicides is due to the intervention from the State security officials.

Indicators of abuse

Indicators of abuse of lethal force try to measure to what extent, in a specific set of cases, patterns of excessive force can be found. Generally, these indicators are linked to proportionality in the use of force. The findings for the Venezuelan case are below:

  • In 2017, the percentage of deaths that were the result of interventions from the security forces in the Venezuela was 26%. In 2018 this increased to 33%, meaning that currently in Venezuela one in three homicides is due to the intervention from the state security officials. It is usually estimated that a percentage higher than 10% of deaths caused by intervention from public security forces is e a clear indication of abusive use by the police. El Salvador has a percentage of 10.3% and Brazil 7.3%.
  • In accordance with the methodology agreed by the regional research group, the relationship between civilians and police officers killed is as follows: for each police officer killed, 26 civilians die. Chevigny states that the death of more than 10 civilians for each security officer "suggests that lethal force could have been used for purposes other than the protection of life in emergency situations": , this serves as indicator of excessive use of lethal force. This indicator is based media data, so could only be compared with Mexico, which used the same source. Mexico’s figure was 4.6. The results in El Salvador (10.8) and Brazil (57.7) are based on official data.
  • Another indicator is the difference between citizens killed by intervention by the police and other security forces and those who are injured by security forces. In Venezuela for each injured citizen, 16 are killed. This is a very worrying figure because even in wartime we don’t expect the number of deaths to greatly exceed the number of injured.
  • The number of civilians killed per case is 1.5. This figure confirms what we have stated on other occasions: in Venezuela an ongoing slaughter is underway. According to the official figures analysed, 14 people died daily due to the intervention of the security forces during 2017. This number rose to 15 in 2018.

The deaths at the hands of the State security forces are an indicator of the ongoing insecurity and institutional deterioration, that is happening in Venezuela.

The State is exercising uncontrolled power, without accountability. These deaths are a clear expression of the necropolitics that is growing across the country.

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A version of this article was published on effectcocuyo.com. Read the original here

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