On 6/30/2017 1:32 AM, jat wrote: "and now for the rest of the story"
Venezuela prosecutor charging ex-national guard chief
By JORGE RUEDA
Published June 29, 2017
CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela's renegade chief prosecutor charged the
former head of the country's national guard Thursday with systemically
violating human rights during three months of anti-government protests
that have left nearly 80 people dead.
Luisa Ortega Diaz's office announced the charges against Antonio
Benavides Torres a day after the nation's Supreme Court declared it was
barring her from leaving Venezuela and ordering her bank accounts frozen.
Ortega Diaz, a longtime loyalist of the socialist government who
recently broke ranks with President Nicolas Maduro, said police and
military officials are responsible for 23 protest deaths to date as well
as 853 injuries.
"In a great number of these incidents, there is evidence of excessive
use of force in repressing protests," Venezuela's Public Ministry said
in a statement, citing the use of unauthorized firearms and torture of
The charges are likely to further escalate tensions between Maduro and
Ortega Diaz, who has become one the president's most vocal critics. She
has filed numerous motions to the government-packed Supreme Court
challenging Maduro's call for a special assembly to rewrite Venezuela's
constitution, all of which have been rejected. Meanwhile, the Supreme
Court is proceeding with a complaint filed against her by socialist
party lawmaker Pedro Carreno.
Maduro announced he was replacing Benavides Torres last week and instead
assigning him as government head of the capital district.
Opposition protests demanding new elections and decrying Venezuela's
triple-digit inflation, food shortages and worsening crime are
continuing to rock the nation as Maduro pushes forward with his plan to
draft a new constitution.
On a near daily basis, national guardsmen and police have launched tear
gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators, some of whom have responded
with rocks and firebombs. The United States, European Union, Canada and
others have urged the government refrain from using force against
protesters. But protests deaths and injuries have steadily risen, nearly
doubling the number of people killed during Venezuela's last wave of
political unrest in 2014.
The figures released by Ortega Diaz's office Thursday indicate police
and military officers are responsible for about a quarter of the deaths.
Opposition leaders also blame armed pro-government groups known as
"colectivos" for the violence, while Maduro's administration insists
criminal gangs contracted by right-wing political groups are responsible
for the bloodshed.
Benavides Torres was one of seven Venezuelan officials sanctioned by
then U.S. President Barack Obama in 2015 for allegedly violating human
rights against protesters during the 2014 demonstrations that left 43
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued a ruling broadening the powers of
staunchly pro-government ombudsman Tarek William Saab, allowing him to
carry out criminal investigations that are the exclusive prerogative of
A defiant Ortega Diaz said she wouldn't recognize the ruling, which she
portrayed as a brazen attempt to eliminate her position as Venezuela's
top law enforcement official.
"These rulings are giving the power to investigate human rights abuses
to people who possibly are violating those rights," she said.
The ruling came on the same evening that authorities say police
investigator Oscar Perez stole a police helicopter and flew it over the
Supreme Court and Interior Ministry while firing at the buildings.
Maduro characterized it as a "terrorist attack."
Witnesses said the helicopter had hanging from its side a large banner
referring to article 350 of the country's constitution, which empowers
Venezuelans to disobey any regime that violates human rights.
There was relatively little damage to the buildings and no one was injured.
On his Instagram account, Perez, a police pilot and budding action movie
actor, posted a video in which he read a manifesto calling for
rebellion. He claimed to speak on behalf of a coalition of renegade
members of the security forces, though there was no indication of a
larger military involvement.
Authorities found Perez's helicopter in the northern state of Vargas on
Wednesday afternoon and a nationwide manhunt continued for him Thursday.
Associated Press writers Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas and Christine
Armario in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.