By Alexander Olvera.
Denis Avila was arrested on August 20 when, after a week of waiting in line, a commission of police officers prevented her from filling up at a gas station in Tinaco, Cojedes state, located in Venezuelan Llanos.
She spent four days in jail. She was beaten and physically and psychologically abused before being introduced to the courts. Two months later, Avila does not forget the bitterness she suffered just for demanding gasoline.
Remembering the hell that she lived through for four nights has given her the strength to cry out the injustice, to make her case known, and to demand punishment by her aggressors. She confesses that she is afraid, but nothing compares to what happened in the hands of those who, theoretically, must protect citizens and guarantee their rights.
Shortage and abuse
Denis had been at the Bolivar service station in Tinaco for a week, waiting for her turn to get some fuel in her car. To pump gas in Venezuela is an odyssey: the country has experienced an acute shortage of gasoline since manufacturing stop in January, despite holding the largest oil reserves known and having six refineries in the country.
Drivers spend weeks waiting at service stations: they eat, sleep, and even do their physiological business while waiting to see if they are lucky enough to refuel because being in line does not guarantee they get the fuel.
The woman was the spokesperson for her group since they organized themselves to talk to the authorities and make sure that the dialogue was more fluid. At noon on Saturday, August 29, more than 500 vehicles were waiting in line for gasoline.
The dispatch is over for today! All the cars are already full, shouted one of the officers of Policojedes who was guarding the bomb. Quickly the murmur started among the drivers. “They got to be kidding. They have barely supplied 80 cars,” motorists shouted in anger and disbelief.
Although the group of Denis was far away from the station, minutes earlier, they had seen police officers maintaining a parallel line of cars. It rumored that they were the ones who paid in dollars, and that was why they had a preference, although their license plates did not allow them to supply subsidized gasoline that day, according to the schedule.
Trucks, vans, and private cars poured gasoline without restrictions coming from the second gas line, right in the face of those who had been waiting for days.
That is when things got to a head: The people in the group of Denis, about 100 displeased motorists, who were in line, went to the National Guard command in search of explanations as to why they suspended the sale of gasoline, but they couldn’t get at the gas station. In a second, they were ambushed by state police officers, who were joined by those from the PNB.
There was never any intention of closing the road or protesting, the woman says. “Put this one in jail!” shouted the female commander of the state police in Tinaco, Maria Padron, who was at the scene. The cops arrived, attacking everyone who demanded an explanation.
Denis says that cops tried to frame professor Carlos Tavares, who had bought a used tire, and was not protesting. The commander took the tire and threw it in the middle of the street, and when Tavares tried to recover it, the cops beat him and kicked him before arresting him. Burning tires are the most common way to start a street protest in Venezuela.
Then the cops turned on her. “A policeman from Policojedes, named Luis Miguel, grabbed me from behind and knocked me down,” Denis says. Her husband was there, and when he saw the attack, he tried to defend her. But he was also beaten and taken with his woman to the National Guard command in Tinaco.
Let’s see how tough you are
When night fell, the real nightmare began. Denis was in a small dungeon without a bathroom or drinking water and in the dark.
She thought about her daughter and to find a way to go out of the situation because she knew that she had not committed a crime.
Her apparent tranquility was disturbed by three policemen who arrived at the cell and shouted at her: “Guarimbera, Malandra” (a hoodlum). One of the officers was smoking and said: “Let’s see if you are tough.” Then, the police officer burned her arm with the cigarette. Denis struggled with them, and the officers beat her on different parts of her body. Denis had bruises on her arms, breasts, thighs, and scratches as well.
Because of the bruises and marks, Denis spent four days of waiting to be taken to court, but the traces of the torture did not disappear, so the police officers had no other option but to present her with bruises and injuries to the judge.
Denis thought that what happened to her only occurred in the movies. The cops abused her physically, mentally, and morally. They did not let her go to the bathroom to wash or urinate and kept her handcuffs. She was in a dungeon full of excrements and handcuffed in an uncomfortable position to the door lock of her cell. After four days, when the prosecutor was already aware of the case, she was carrying to the Scientific and Investigation Police (Cicpc in Spanish) and then to the court.
At the hearing, the Public Prosecutor charged them with the crimes of obstruction of the public thoroughfare, disturbance of the peace, and insult to a public official. Before the act finish, Denis had the right to speak. There, in the courtroom, she told the judge about the mistreatment she suffered during and after her arrest.
Dennis showed her buttocks, breasts, and arms with cigarette burns. The authorities observed the injuries that never appeared in the police report and were still visible. The judges and prosecutors found that the injuries got not recorded in the file.
Denis, her husband, and the teacher went from being accused of being prosecutors. Upon learning of the abuses they suffered, the judge granted them full freedom. The court referred the case to the Public Prosecutor Office, and an investigation into these events.
After the incident, one of the burns on her arm became infected. Not only that: She confesses that she is afraid because the officers involved in the abuses know that they were denounced and are now under investigation.
She tries to recover from fear. She wants her story to be known and the ordeal she went through only to demand her rights. Denis hopes that these crimes will not go unpunished.