The Fernández Family

Latin America

Andrés is a proud Chavista, and member of the government-run Bolivarian Militias. He and his wife live next door to their nieces Carmen, Liliana, and Lucía as well as their 10 children in one of the poorer neighborhoods of Altagracia de Orituco. All of them eke out a living in the informal sector, selling vegetables, candy, cigarettes, and coffee on the streets.

This story is part of an investigation produced by InSight Crime and the Venezuelan human rights organization Defiende Venezuela that exposes the abuses of the Venezuelan security forces and tells the stories of their victims. Explore these stories and the full human rights report here.

It was 6:00 a.m., and there was a banging on the door of the Fernández family home. When Andrés opened the door, police officials pushed their way in, threw him to the floor, and pointed their weapons at him.

Andrés was taken to the police station, where officers beat him in a corridor and discussed handing him off to the national intelligence service, the SEBIN. “Don’t kill him here. Take him to the SEBIN. No one will hear you there,” … he heard one say.

The officers took him to a SEBIN site, where they interrogated him about the gang presence in his neighborhood. They placed a plastic bag over his head to asphyxiate him. When he bit a hole in the bag to breathe, they used it to fill the bag up with water.

They placed cables either side of his head to administer electric shocks, and officials took turns beating him, asking him over and again if he knew the “malandros” – the gangsters.

Finally, a police commander arrived and told the officials to let Andrés go. They removed the handcuffs and released him, but they left him penniless and without a phone at the roadside in the mountains, far from town. 

The raids on the neighborhood continued, as the police seemed convinced residents would know gang members simply because they lived in a poor area. A week after Andrés’s arrest, around 20 police vehicles filled with heavily armed officers returned to their street.

Andrés’ nieces, Carmen and Liliana, who lived next door, ran inside the house with their infirm grandmother and ten children. The officers followed them inside, shouting insults and accusing them of selling drugs. They commandeered a bedroom to search all the women one by one.

Liliana entered the room carrying her 4-year-old daughter, who has learning disabilities and a heart condition, and who had fainted when the police arrived. “Put her down!” they screamed, and she was forced to lay her child on the bed, still unconscious.

The all-male officers beat her with a pistol then forced her to take her clothes off.

They forced her to open her legs and looked in her vagina and anus. After finding nothing, they began to say she was hiding drugs inside her and began to prod and poke her stomach.

Carmen was next. The officers said they would kill her if she didn’t take her clothes off and keep quiet. Again, they checked her vagina and anus, and when they found nothing, they dragged her out by her hair and threw her into the next room.

Their sister Lucía had been showering when the police arrived, and they forced her to drop her towel, leaving her naked. They carried out the same checks, while pointing a pistol at her and making lewd gestures.

After all the women had been searched, they lined them up against the wall, pointed a gun at them and threatened to kill them while shouting abuse.

They found Andrés in the kitchen next door, and beat him over the head and in the ribs with a shotgun. But for him there was no strip search.

After around two hours, the officers left, taking with them all the cash they could find, as well as the merchandise the sisters sold on the streets. Before they went, they told the family, “We are the FAES, and we have a presidential order. We can do whatever we want.”

On July 10, 2023, the family, with the help of the Defiende Venezuela legal team, filed a complaint about the abuses and rights violations they suffered with the Registration Unit of the General Secretariat Directorate of the Public Ministry. To date, no investigation has been carried out. In January 2024, Carmen reported to Defiende Venezuela that she had been arrested again after officers planted drugs on her, and had suffered further sexual abuse. She was released ahead of sentencing on the condition that she report to the court every 20 days.

The Fernández family are among the thousands of victims of security forces abuses documented in Venezuela by human rights organizations.

If you value this work, please consider making a donation.

We want to continue working with local partners to expose crime and corruption and to tell compelling stories. In order to do that we need your support. You can make a single donation or become a regular donor if you wish to support our work.

This story is part of an investigation produced by InSight Crime and the Venezuelan human rights organization Defiende Venezuela that exposes the abuses of the Venezuelan security forces and tells the stories of their victims. Explore these stories and the full human rights report here.

Andrés is a proud Chavista, and member of the government-run Bolivarian Militias. He and his wife live next door to their nieces Carmen, Liliana, and Lucía and their ten children in one of the poorer neighborhoods of Altagracia de Orituco. All of them eke out a living in the informal sector, selling vegetables, candy, cigarettes, and coffee on the streets.

This story is part of an investigation produced by InSight Crime and the Venezuelan human rights organization Defiende Venezuela that exposes the abuses of the Venezuelan security forces and tells the stories of their victims. Explore these stories and the full human rights report here

It was 6:00 a.m., and there was a banging on the door of the Fernández family home. When Andrés opened the door, police officials pushed their way in, threw him to the floor, and pointed their weapons at him.

Andrés was taken to the police station, where officers beat him in a corridor and discussed handing him off to the national intelligence service, the SEBIN.

“Don’t kill him here. Take him to the SEBIN. No one will hear you there,”

… he heard one say.

The officers took him to a SEBIN site, where they interrogated him about the gang presence in his neighborhood. They placed a plastic bag over his head to asphyxiate him. When he bit a hole in the bag to breathe, they used it to fill the bag up with water.

They placed cables either side of his head to administer electric shocks, and officials took turns beating him, asking him over and again if he knew the “malandros” – the gangsters.

The raids on the neighborhood continued, as the police seemed convinced residents would know gang members simply because they lived in a poor area. A week after Andrés’s arrest, around 20 police vehicles filled with heavily armed officers returned to their street.

Andrés’ nieces, Carmen and Liliana, who lived next door, ran inside the house with their infirm grandmother and ten children. The officers followed them inside, shouting insults and accusing them of selling drugs. They commandeered a bedroom to search all the women one by one.

Liliana entered the room carrying her 4-year-old daughter, who has learning disabilities and a heart condition, and who had fainted when the police arrived. “Put her down!” they screamed, and she was forced to lay her child on the bed, still unconscious.

The all-male officers beat her with a pistol then forced her to take her clothes off.

They forced her to open her legs and looked in her vagina and anus. After finding nothing, they began to say she was hiding drugs inside her and began to prod and poke her stomach.

Carmen was next. The officers said they would kill her if she didn’t take her clothes off and keep quiet. Again, they checked her vagina and anus, and when they found nothing, they dragged her out by her hair and threw her into the next room.

Their sister Lucía had been showering when the police arrived, and they forced her to drop her towel, leaving her naked. They carried out the same checks, while pointing a pistol at her and making lewd gestures.

After all the women had been searched, they lined them up against the wall, pointed a gun at them and threatened to kill them while shouting abuse.

They found Andrés in the kitchen next door, and beat him over the head and in the ribs with a shotgun. But for him there was no strip search.

After around two hours, the officers left, taking with them all the cash they could find, as well as the merchandise the sisters sold on the streets. Before they went, they told the family.

On July 10, 2023, the family, with the help of the Defiende Venezuela legal team, filed a complaint about the abuses and rights violations they suffered with the Registration Unit of the General Secretariat Directorate of the Public Ministry. To date, no investigation has been carried out. In January 2024, Carmen reported to Defiende Venezuela that she had been arrested again after officers planted drugs on her, and had suffered further sexual abuse. She was released ahead of sentencing on the condition that she report to the court every 20 days.

The Fernández family are among the thousands of victims of security forces abuses documented in Venezuela by human rights organizations.

If you value this work, please consider making a donation.

We want to continue working with local partners to expose crime and corruption and to tell compelling stories. In order to do that we need your support. You can make a single donation or become a regular donor if you wish to support our work.

This story is part of an investigation produced by InSight Crime and the Venezuelan human rights organization Defiende Venezuela that exposes the abuses of the Venezuelan security forces and tells the stories of their victims. Explore these stories and the full human rights report here.

Credits

Illustrations and color: Juan José Restrepo
Investigation: Ezequiel A. Monsalve Fernandez, Hjalmar D. Soler Zambrano
Texts: James Bargent
Creative direction and art direction: Elisa Roldán

Layout and effects: Belmar Santanilla
Editing: Mike LaSusa, María Fernanda Ramírez, Lara Loaiza
Graphic design: Juan José Restrepo, María Isabel Gaviria, Ana Isabel Rico
Social media: Camila Aristizábal, Paula Rojas, Daniel Reyes

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