Justice Done, 25 Years After Venezuela’s Yumare Massacre of 1986
This past Friday, the Judiciary Circuit in Yaracuy state sentenced retired army general Alexis Ramón Sanchéz to 13 years house arrest due to his participation in the 1986 massacre in Yumare.
On the 8th of May 1986, during the presidency of Jaime Lusinchi, nine revolutionary leaders from the socio-political movement “The Historical Social Current” were tortured and executed by four undercover agents from the now disbanded “Intelligence and Prevention Services Agency” (Disip) under command of Henry Lopéz Sisco.
In an attempt to end impunity the Chávez administration re-opened the case of the Yumare massacre – as well as those of La Cantaura (1982) and El Amparo (1988) – and legal proceedings began in 2006. Charges were officially brought against Sanchéz and other ex-Disip personnel including; Oswaldo Ramos, Eugenio Creassola, Freddy Granger, William Prado, Raúl Fernández, Adán Quero and Hernán Vega in August 2009.
Sanchéz confessed to his role in the massacre, confirming that the killings were part of an ‘intentional’ and ‘planned’ operation, orchestrated by state security forces at the time. In addition, the ex-general collaborated with the Venezuelan authorities by providing the identities of other individuals responsible for the massacre. According to the lawyer acting on behalf of the victims, Adán Navas, Sanchéz asked the families of the eight men and one woman for forgiveness.
Navas highlighted the importance of the judgement, stating that “this proves that, for the first time in Venezuela, justice is being done with regards to this crime.”
Drawing a comparison with other South American countries, Navas stressed that “the fact that a general confessed and denounced (others who participated) sets a precedent in Latin America, since in other legal proceedings against the dictatorships of the Southern Cone (such as in Argentina and Uruguay) no military official has admitted to being guilty”.
Whereas trials against protagonists of human rights abuses committed during military dictatorships have taken place in Argentina, Uruguay and Guatemala, the significance of the Venezuelan case is that the massacres being investigated took place under democratic government.
Owing to his age and ill health, Sanchéz was granted permission to serve out his sentence at home, as well as being given a reduced sentence in view of his cooperation and confession.
The Offical Story
The Historical Social Current, which was formed by social movements, neighbourhood organisations, trade-unions and students in the 1980s, was dedicated to the dissemination of the Bolivarian message and the creation of a nationalist and socialist political project through autonomous community organisation.
According to one of the survivors of the massacre, Luis Machado, the group was infiltrated by Norberto and Alirio Rebanales, Argenis Beracierta and Antonio Rafael Rojas. Machado explains that “they had all been members of the Red Flag (revolutionary group) in 1979, but had been captured by Disip and had then begun to work for the organisation…nobody knew about this situation and they were accepted by the group.”
The group had organised a meeting in order to consolidate the movement’s plans for the 8th of May. Machado describes how the movement’s leaders began to make their way to the designated meeting place on the 7th of May, with the rest of the movement expected to arrive the following day.
“Alirio Rebanales and Antonio Rojas took us to a place in the area, they split us into two groups, one went up with them and the other group, which I was in, waited…There were 9 who went up and 6 of us who stayed…When all of a sudden we heard gun shots and we threw ourselves to the floor. We heard them calling us by our names, telling us to surrender, but what we did was to flee from the area.”
Machado describes how his group managed to escape, spending 16 nights in the mountains, whereas the group of 9 were tortured and then executed.
The bodies of Luis Rafael Guzmán Green, Carlos Silva Rodríguez, Dilia Rojas, Ronald José Morao Salgado, Nelson Martín Castellano, José Rosendo Silva Medina, Pedro Pablo Jiménez García, Rafael Ramón Quevedo Infante and José Romero Madrid were then dressed up as guerrillas by the four agents, who claimed that they had been ambushed by insurgents while patrolling and had acted in self defence – an account which was reaffirmed by Octavio Lepage, Minister of Internal Relations.
An investigation ordered by the Ministry of Defence confirmed this series of events – despite serious discrepancies between the official story and evidence discovered at the scene.
Although the agents claimed they had been ambushed in woodland area, photographs showed an area with few trees, inappropriate for a guerrilla ambush. The backpacks worn by the victims also showed no signs of perforation or damage, despite the fact that many of the bodies had gun-shot wounds in the dorsal region.
Further examination also confirmed that many of the victims had been tortured, several of whom also received an execution-style coup de grace to the head – inconsistent with the agents’ accounts that they acted defensively.
“Motivation” for the Costa Rican Government?
Despite the Bolivarian government’s commitment to ‘no more impunity’, several of the accused have fled the country, greatly hindering the justice process. One of the main figures wanted in connection with the massacre is Henry Lopez Sisco, who was head of Disip at the time.
Sisco has been living in Costa Rica since 2006 and is wanted by the Venezuelan government on various charges including; pre-meditated murder, false testimony, false imprisonment and the falsification of documents.
At the end of 2009 an official request for Sisco’s extradition to Venezuela was submitted to the Costa Rican government, who then released a warrant for his capture in April 2010 in order to ‘examine the request for expedition’.
In a statement to the television station VTV, Navas said that the judgement on Sanchéz would act as ‘motivation’ for the Costa Rican government to extradite Sisco – who is also wanted in connection with the massacres of El Amparo, La Cauntara, the Caracazo of 1989 and the siege of the Cuban embassy during the 2002 opposition-led coup.