In late August, the illegitimate Nicolás Maduro regime surprised the international community by announcing so called 110 pardons and house arrests for political prisoners who until then had been illegally detained. However, the release of a few prisoners brought to light the harsh detention conditions that persist in cells of the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM, in Spanish) and the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN, in Spanish).
Venezuelan political analyst Nicmer Evans was detained for 51 days at the DGCIM headquarters in Caracas before his September 1 release. There, he was assigned to three different cell areas. According to Evans, a cell in one sector was intended to punish detainees.
“In that cell, number four, there are five people locked up, dressed in overalls [prison uniforms], who were let out just once every 15 days. They received insufficient food rations. Those of us who were in the same section took from our rations to share with them,” he said. Evans added that the lights in the DGCIM basements are left on for days and then turned off for similar periods, so that inmates would lose the sense of time.
Evans also witnessed when jailers sent Bolivarian National Guard (GNB, in Spanish) Colonel (ret.) Oswaldo García Palomo to isolation. The former officer was arrested in January 2019, due to his alleged participation in a plot to depose Maduro.
“[They] called the Colonel and told him to bring a container with 5 liters of water and an empty one. Then, they took him to […] a very narrow cell, without light, that’s between two corridors. [Jailers] told García Palomo that the water was for him to drink, and the empty pot for him to urinate,” he said.
On September 12, a delegation of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet was able to visit some detainees at the headquarters of DGCIM and SEBIN. Following the meeting, Bolivarian Navy Captain Luis de la Sotta, who has been detained for 28 months, told his sister Molly de la Sotta that they were punished with prolonged confinement and were deprived of medicine.
For example, GNB Brigadier General Héctor Hernández Da Costa, who has been incarcerated since August 2018 for his supposed participation in an alleged attack against Maduro and who also spoke with U.N. envoys, suffers from diabetic necrosis on his foot, his attorney Zoraida Castillo said. She said that although he is taken to the military hospital, no tests are done. Doctors stand by him “and take a photo, I think with the intention of showing it later to the U.N.”
According to Venezuelan human rights organization Foro Penal, in mid-September, 333 people are believed to remain incarcerated as prisoners of conscience throughout the country.
Alonso Medina, a Venezuelan lawyer specializing in military jurisdiction, said that there have been few verified modifications in the treatment of prisoners of conscience following Bachelet’s 2019 and 2020 reports.
“A group of prisoners was allowed to make phone calls, which they couldn’t do before. Others were taken out to get some sun. But there is no criterion as to who can make calls or sunbathe […]. Generally, prisoners remain incommunicado,” he said.
On September 15, the Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, a group created by the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate arbitrary detentions, torture, and other cruel treatment, submitted a report documenting 77 cases of torture. According to the document, these tortures happened at the DGCIM headquarters and other locations in the city. Despite limitations, such as restricted access to Venezuela for the mission’s team and the COVID-19 outbreak, the report establishes that the regime has committed “violations of international human rights law and international criminal law.”
Evans recalled seeing scars on service members and civilians who were tortured and remain detained at the DGCIM. An inmate spent so much time hanging from handcuffs that “his left arm is dislocated,” he said. Others have marks on their skin because of the electric shocks they received, the political analyst said.
All this happens while the courts are on a standstill due to the pandemic. “All we have left is the Office of the Ombudsman and the [Defense] Ministry. But we already know what will happen there,” Molly de la Sotta concluded.