Venezuela Opposition Accuses Security Forces of Robbing Protesters
Venezuelan opposition leaders on Tuesday accused security forces of assaulting and robbing demonstrators who participate in protests against President Nicolas Maduro.
Two videos distributed over social networks appear to show police and troops taking protesters’ possessions during rallies on Monday, spurring outrage among many Venezuelans who already complain of excessive use of force during the two months of protests.
Opposition legislators on Tuesday filed a complaint with the state prosecutors’ office against the police and the National Guard in relation to the alleged robberies.
Reuters could not independently verify the content of the videos. The Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“[Interior Minister] Nestor Reverol gives them license to steal,” said legislator Juan Matheus, adding that the complaint includes accusations of cruel and inhumane treatment.
One video shows four police officers surrounding a woman who is reeling from the effects of tear gas, with one of the officers pulling what appears to be a watch from her wrist.
In another, troops take a protester’s helmet and handbag before boarding motorcycles.
The government says it is fighting opposition “terrorist cells” trying to overthrow Maduro.
They say the effort is similar to a 2002 coup that briefly ousted late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, noting that protesters routinely disrupt traffic and damage public property while mounting barricades of burning debris.
Legislators said during Tuesday’s congressional session that they had registered 16 attacks against journalists on Monday alone, with some 300 during the two months of protest. Ruling Socialist Party legislators did not attend the congressional session.
Francisco Zambrano, a journalist with website Runrun.es which is critical of the government, said in a telephone interview that troops had blocked his way when he attempted to run from a cloud of tear gas fired to disperse demonstrators.
“I identified myself as a journalist, but they still opened my bag, threw my things to the ground and searched my pockets,” said Zambrano. “I thought it was a regular procedure until they took out my cellphone and one of them kept it.”
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas, asked on Monday about an incident involving troops throwing a television camera off a highway, said the National Guard as an institution was being unfairly held responsible for actions by individuals.
“I know and have worked with men and women of the National Guard, who are honorable and are out there risking their lives. They have also been the victim of aggression,” he said during a televised interview.
The protests have left some 65 people dead and thousands injured.
The government is preparing an election at the end of July for a constituent assembly that will have the power to rewrite the constitution and potentially dissolve state institutions.
Maduro’s critics call it a power grab meant to ensure his presidency indefinitely.