The murder of a young Venezuelan lawmaker earlier this month roiled domestic politics as President Nicolas Maduro accused right-wing extremists of orchestrating the attack with the help of Colombian paramilitaries. Now Maduro has implicated another party in the attack: Venezuela’s police.
Maduro said during a press conference Monday that two members of Caracas’ police force took part in the killing of Robert Serra, a 27-year-old lawmaker of the ruling PSUV party who was found murdered Oct. 1. Investigations revealed a small contingent of officers “working for hire,” Maduro said, and he vowed an impending purge of Venezuela’s police forces.
“Venezuela needs a police revolution,” Maduro declared Monday, vowing to bring that revolution about “without delay, without excuses.” He then announced the creation of a special commission to “fix everything that is wrong” with Venezuela’s security forces.
The murder of Serra, a rising star within the ranks of the PSUV, shocked Venezuelans after the young lawmaker and his assistant, Maria Herrera, were found stabbed to death in Serra’s home. Despite the country’s dubious distinction as having the world’s second-highest murder rate, trailing only behind Honduras, political assassinations are uncommon. The incident inflamed political passions when Maduro accused a Colombian paramilitary group of conspiring with Venezuelan “right-wing extremists” in carrying out attacks to destabilize Venezuela’s socialist government. Following the deaths of Serra and Herrera, Maduro said further attacks were attempted against the minister of education and president of the national assembly.
As evidence, the government released a video purporting to show a man confessing to the murder, saying a Colombian had ordered him to eliminate Serra. Members of Venezuela’s opposition have remained skeptical of the video and Maduro’s claims, however, and some theorize that the murder may have resulted from a botched robbery attempt. The president said this week that nine people have been arrested in connection with the murder, out of 12 suspected to be involved.
But Venezuela’s police forces have come under additional scrutiny following a clash between an investigative police unit and a pro-government militia, known as a colectivo, that occurred just days after Serra’s murder. On Oct. 8, a police raid of a colectivo headquarters resulted in five deaths, including militia leader Jose Odreman, a close associate of Serra. Government officials say there was no connection between the raid and Serra’s death.
Miguel Rodriguez Torres, head of the Interior Ministry of Justice and Peace, was fired last week over the incident after militia members held protests calling for his dismissal. His replacement, Carmen Melendez, will be responsible for overseeing the new police commission.
But meanwhile, critics say the colectivos, which were established under late president Hugo Chavez and played a major role in fighting against opposition groups in street protests earlier this year, have become an uncontrollable force for Maduro as they’ve delved deeper into criminal activities. The Oct. 8 raid against the colectivos suggested “possible fractures within the official and unofficial security forces that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro will have to rely on to secure the stability of his government in the coming months and years,” said U.S. security think tank Stratfor earthanklier this month.