Venezuela Profiles: Stories of the Disappeared
In Venezuela, the Bolivarian regime has increasingly used enforced disappearances as a way to silence and intimidate political opponents. We highlight three people who were disappeared, not because they were perceived as a threat but rather to punish their loved ones for their dissent.
They are husbands and wives, daughters and sons, merchants, doctors, and medical students. Enforced disappearance—a common practice by Venezuelan government officials—aims to prevent those being arbitrarily detained from defending themselves, scaring them into submission and silence.
As we work to highlight and eradicate this practice, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Foro Penal have tracked more than 720 enforced disappearances in Venezuela during a two-year period.
Here are some of their stories.
A 31-year-old deputy of the Venezuelan National Assembly, a husband and father of two young children, Juan Requesens has been held in the country’s infamous political prison El Helicoide for more than 600 days.
Requesens, a student leader at the Central University of Venezuela before his election as a deputy of the Venezuelan National Assembly in 2015, was attacked by law enforcement during protest marches in 2014 and 2017. In the first attack, his nose and jaw were broken. In the second, he was thrown down a sewer drain.
On August 7, 2018, Requesens and his sister, Rafaela, were detained by the Bolivian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) for allegedly participating in an assassination attempt on President Nicolás Maduro three days earlier.
That same day, Requesens gave an Assembly speech blaming Maduro for causing unrest in the nation, saying “I refuse to give up, I refuse to kneel in front of those who want to break our morale. Today I can speak from here, tomorrow I do not know. What I want to reaffirm is that we are going to continue doing everything we can to take Nicolás Maduro out of power.”
Requesen’s arrest and detention were illegal. Under the Venezuelan Constitution, deputies are given parliamentary immunity. After his arrest, he was forcibly disappeared for nine days, before a video surfaced on social media showing him in his underwear in El Helicoide, with clear signs of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.
His detention has been condemned by the Venezuelan National Assembly.
The Twitter hashtag #YoMeNiegoARendirme has become a popular tribute.
Ariana Granadillo became a victim of enforced disappearance by pursuing her dream to become a doctor and beginning a medical internship.
The then 21-year-old from a rural area in Monagas state was staying at the home of an uncle who lived close to the Caracas hospital where she was working in 2018, when she was arrested three times and forcibly disappeared twice. General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) officials arrested her and took her away because of her close relationship with her uncle, a retired army colonel being investigated by police for alleged conspiracy.
In detention, lawyers say, officers beat her, groped her, placed a bag over her head and tied her hands behind her back. The first arrest occurred in February 2018. Durnig the second arrest, in May, Granadillo’s mother and father were also taken away, detained in a clandestine detention center for nine days and unable to speak to their lawyers. They were only released after a social media campaign by Venezuelan human rights organization Foro Penal.
On June 23, 2019, Granadillo was detained again by Venezuelan investigative police, on the grounds that there was an alleged warrant out for her arrest due to a military uprising on May 27—conveniently, the date she was forcibly disappeared, and a missing person’s report was filed with the Public Prosecutor’s office. Granadillo was released two days later after she was brought before a military court in Caracas. Her release was conditioned on several restrictive measures, including being banned from international travel and being forced to check in with the court every eight days. She eventually fled Venezuela and has sought asylum in another country.
A merchant in the state of Táchira, Mora was arrested on May 22, 2018, by SEBIN, the intelligence service subordinate to the Vice President of Venezuela. Officials arrived at his home heavily armed and without search or arrest warrants, informing him that he would be taken into custody for an investigation.
Then, he was gone, his family unable to see him or contact him. His children were so desperate to learn clues about their father’s whereabouts that they uploaded videos on Twitter searching for answers. Mora disappeared for a week, and was tortured, choked and beaten by officers during interrogations. On May 27, he was brought before a military court on charges of treason and detained in the Ramo Verde military prison in a punishment cell for 12 days. That July, 50 days after his initial detention, he was given a conditional release. He cannot travel internationally, take part in demonstrations, and must check in with the court system once a month. He’s also forbidden from speaking to the media about his case.
JOSÉ ALBERTO MARULANDA
A trauma surgeon specializing in hand surgery Jose Alberto Marulanda, 53, was arrested on Election Day—May 20, 2018—by military police. Police had come for his partner, an officer in the Venezuelan Navy, who they said was a participant in an anti-government conspiracy. She wasn’t home, resulting in Marulanda’s five-day enforced disappearance. He was brought before a military court on May 24—despite his status as a civilian. Accused of treason for discussing conspiracy plans against the Venezuelan government, he was sent to the Ramo Verde Military Prison, where he was tortured. Officers beat him, causing severe damage to his ears and fingers, and attempted to suffocate him by placing plastic bags over his head. Lawyers said he has since spent time locked in a small, pitch-black cell, a room known as the “madhouse” among military police. His case is ongoing, with hearings deferred multiple times.
RAFAEL ANTONIO VILLAFRANCA
A Bolivarian National Police lieutenant, Rafael Antonio Villafranca was arrested on April 30, 2019, for allegedly having accompanied the president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, during an uprising at La Carlota military base. The family was initially informed that he was being held by the Military Police; however, the Military Counterintelligence Directorate forces (DGCIM) announced that they only had Antonio Villafranca’s belongings at their facilities. The family learned of his whereabouts through the media, specifically due to a statement by President Nicolás Maduro in which he reported that there was a group of disappeared military members. It is unclear how many days he was a victim of forcible disappearance or how many days passed before he was brought before a competent authority.
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