Additional reporting by Carlos Camacho in Caracas.
FAES, the special police corps the UN recommended disbanded in 2019 for its alleged involvement in crimes against humanity, lived up to its bad reputation on January 22 in Tachira state, near the border to Colombia.
According to the victims, the FAES officers beating, threatening, throwing alcohol in the faces of the civilians there, and, at one point, placing a hand grenade next to the head of a female victim, promising to detonate it.
The action was led by Freddy Bernal, a lawmaker in the pro-Maduro National Assembly.
“A FAES officer threatened me with a grenade,” a female victim and local physician forced by the humanitarian crisis into working a street food stall, told El Pitazo.
A group of Tachira street vendors denounced that on the night of January 22, some officers of the Special Actions Forces (FAES) threatened them, beat them, and even put grenades in their faces.
Police were searching the area for alleged criminals when neighbors objected to their presence. An argument ensued, and uniformed officers approached the food stall, detaining a person, allegedly recording the incident.
“I want to denounce the FAES officers who entered the premises and began to snatch the cell phones of those of us who were there. A young man who objected got beaten. When I intervened and complained about this action, one of those guys took out a grenade and put it to my head, saying he was going to set it off,” Hurtado said.
The victim said that, besides the grenades, the FAES officers had long and short guns. Officials beat her as well as all those present. They also confiscated cell phones, and while shouting, they told them that they could not record anything.
“One of them grabbed me by the hair and hit me in the chest. And that guy grabbed me by the neck; he was choking me. Another one was recording. He was telling me all the amount of rude things you can imagine until someone grabbed him and took him away,” Hurtado stated.
Nicola Di Gioia, another of the affected, denounced that when he tried to intervene in the problem, the FAES officers beat him savagely. Again, grenades got featured prominently in the abuse.
“They took me prisoner and tortured me. They poured alcohol in my eyes, put a grenade in my chest, removed the safety catch, and put it back. They hit me with the butts of their guns. It was terrifying. Thank God it did not escalate, but they seemed to be under the influence of drugs and alcohol. They acted violently. The security guard had to be operated on because they made him jump from a second floor,” said Di Gioia.
The businessman filed a formal complaint with the Prosecutor Office, where he accused the alleged son of Freddy Bernal and the relative of a FAES chief. He indicated that since the incident, FAES officers have been going around to the business, and he fears that he will no longer be able to go to the food place where he is the owner and attends personally.
El Pitazo attempted to establish communication via Instagram with the person singled out by the denouncing. However, it was not possible to obtain a response by the time of writing this note. It was also not possible to contact Freddy Bernal.