By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- ‘Los Rusos”, the Russians. That’s what locals call the group of blocky, non-descript 15-story housing project located inside Fuerte Tiuna, the largest Army base in Venezuela and the compound the Defense Ministry calls home.
Nine men (including a minor) were shot and killed by a detail of 500 National Police there early Saturday September 9th, part of what local media is describing as a growing crime wave happening right there, inside an Army base in the nation’s capital city of Caracas.
And it all started when Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro after him started giving free apartments to “chavista” sympathizers in order to prop up the PSUV ruling party in power more than a decade ago.
One man was killed behind the wheel of the car he was driving. The rest, inside their apartments in what news site “Caraota Digital” dubbed “a manhunt”, adding: “they were all executed”.
According to the government, more than 2 million housing units have been given away, rent-free, to “chavista” militants, officials, law enforcement, military and sympathizers since 2002, when the “Mision Vivienda” program began in earnest.
The pace of construction has slowed down considerably recently according to newspaper “El Nacional”, from 100,000 new units every year at its height in 2013 to some 20,000 new houses a year after that. The self-imposed goal of 3 million units, however looks distant and, in crisis-wracked Venezuela, may never be accomplished.
And a reported construction cost of $50,000 per unit has raised eyebrows and prompted at least one investigation from the opposition-held National Assembly legislative.
The “Los Rusos” projects got its name because it was built by the Russians. Other sections were built together with China and Iran in what the local opposition has called the largest vote-buying effort in Venezuelan political history.
Besides Odebrecht-sized administrative corruption, other, more mundame forms of street crime, have managed to creep inside the fort and the housing section inside it, Ciudad Tiuna, also named after Cacique Tiuna, the native chieftain who fiercely opposed Spanish Colonial rule.
The National Police claim the nine men killed last Saturday were wanted criminals and that they also arrested 23 other individuals, while recovering an unspecified amount of drugs from the scene, as well as two stolen automobiles, 12 firearms, 4 “explosive devices” (most likely Army hand grenades, of which Venezuelan criminal gangs seem to have a murderous hyper-abundance of) and 217 bullets.
The FAES special forces of the National Police -- one of the units investigated for human rights abuses in Venezuela by the UN and the ICC -- used devices to jam cell-phone signals inside the compound and took victims’ relatives hostage during the action, news site “Efecto Cocuyo” reported.
All of this happened inside an Army base, blocks from the office of the Minister of Defense, Vladimir Padrino, an avid Maduro supporter.
No police officers were wounded or killed during Saturday’s actions.
Saturday’s was hardly the first major raid in the short but storied history of “Ciudad Tiuna”. In 2014 police visited several times, taking over as much as seven buildings at a time, looking for drug dealers, car thieves and, on one occasion, robbers who had taken a gun and two boxes of ammo from the Army’s logistics directorate, a nearby office.
“El Nacional” reported that Army officers are having their cars stolen from base parking with increasing frequency, and almost every time something like this happens, “Ciudad Tiuna” is raided by cops. Some 2,000 families already live inside the base, in the “Mision Vivienda” buildings.
In 2015, more than 1,000 soldiers and police raided “Ciudad Tiuna” and 102 individuals were arrested.
After providing some initial information, the National Police (or any other pólice agency) have not commented on the killings. The partial list of the dead, compiled by LAHT from different sources, includes: Iván Ramón Rojas Riera, 36; Jose Gregorio Pantoja, 49; Jhonny Heriberto Blanco Mecía, 36, father of nine and leaving a 2-month pregnant wife; Martín Alfonso Sulbarán Rengifo, no age available, aka “El Catire”; Eudomar Euclides Quijada Uga, no age. No identification documents were found on the minor or the other 5 corpses, according to news site “Run Runes”.
The figure for nine killed was provided by the National Guard hours after the event. The National Police reported only eight killed.