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UNDER SIEGE
THOMAS LAKE
February 06, 2012
IN CRIME-RIDDEN VENEZUELA, EVERY CELEBRITY IS A POTENTIAL TARGET AND BASEBALL STARS HAVE BECOME AN INVITING MARK. NATIONALS CATCHER WILSON RAMOS IS ONE OF THE LUCKY ONES—HE SURVIVED HIS KIDNAPPING. BUT HE KNOWS THAT ESCAPING POVERTY AND FULFILLING MAJOR LEAGUE DREAMS CAN LAND YOU IN A DIFFERENT KIND OF PRISON
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February 06, 2012

Under Siege

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"Here they have the wrong man, a 77-year-old man, and there they go looking for a sick young man. Who is also innocent.

"Look, I'm not sure I've told you about the torture me, my wife and my son experienced and in front of two children. They have no compassion, is what I'm trying to say. One of those kids was six years old and the other, younger. The grandkids. They were screaming when they were torturing [Lesbia] inside.

"They grabbed her by the neck. They yanked her hair. They hit her in the head. That woman was tortured. So was I. Those things happen in life.

"In this country, human rights don't exist."

This is the word of just one man, but the notion of police brutality is a plausible one. In a December 2009 report on Venezuela, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said torture is a common practice within the state's security forces. Suspects are beaten, kicked, thrown down stairs and against walls, shocked with electricity, asphyxiated with plastic bags. The report named the CICPC—the lead investigating agency in the Ramos case—as the most frequent offender.

Barreto said goodbye to his client, got back in the Land Cruiser and whistled a merry tune as he careered up a winding mountain road through rich, green jungle. He had sampled some local moonshine back at the house, and he seemed to accelerate on the curves. He parked the Land Cruiser on the shoulder and walked up a narrow dirt trail to a boxy concrete house on a small plateau. This is where a 22-year-old farmer named Anyuli Tarazona lived before he was taken.

"They arrived about midnight," said Tarazona's sister, Jenideth, a 24-year-old law student. "We were all here sleeping, my mom, my brother, my son. Then they came, they busted through the door and came in and took four of my brothers. I asked them to show me an order to enter the house and make the arrests. One of them said, 'No, the order issued by Chávez.' Then I told him, 'It's my understanding that Chávez issued an order to rescue the ballplayer, not to arrest people like that.' Then one of them yells, 'Shut up!'

"I told him again, 'Show me the search warrant.' Then he responded by yelling, 'Shut up,' and hit me in the face. I had my baby in my arms. I fell down over my baby."

(Asked about the Sánchez and Tarazona allegations later, Roger Méndez, the CICPC station chief in Valencia, said, "The delinquents always say that. I'd have to investigate, but at this point I say that's false. We treat everyone with respect.")

One of the arrested brothers, Adian Tarazona, age 32, says the CICPC officers took them to a police station: "When we got there, I overheard one of the police say, 'There are so many, so many. Why did you bring too many? There are a lot.'" Three of the four brothers were eventually released without explanation or charges, although Adian says that when the police gave him back his wallet, it no longer contained the cash he'd earned from a week of painting. The fourth brother was Anyuli Tarazona, born with a defect in his voice box and unable to speak clearly. He was charged with aggravated kidnapping. His relatives say there is no way he could have been involved. They keep a picture of Jesus on the wall in the living room, and they pray every night that Anyuli will come home.

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