One of «La Vega Five» dies
TRIBUNA POPULAR.- José Félix Maiz, who had been unjustly detained for more than a year and a half at the San Agustín del Sur Police Detention Center in Caracas, died on January 31.
Maiz was arrested on June 12, 2021, during a massive police operation in the La Vega parish of the capital city, when he was on his way to buy a kilo of rice for his children with a dollar he had earned for helping families in his community to carry water. In the same operation, numerous other neighbors of the sector were arrested, including the «La Vega Five», five young men who refused to admit under police pressure their guilt in acts in which they were never involved, and who consequently have been illegally detained ever since.
The Committee for the Rights of the People of La Vega reported that the officers who detained Maiz demanded money to release him. The young man refused to pay and was brought before a court, accused of pointing firearms at a police commission. In November 2021 he was sentenced to six years in prison for lesser crimes than those initially charged. This unjust decision was overturned in May of last year due to the lack of evidence to prove the crime for which he was convicted, and a new trial began in August.
The last hearing that could have led to Maiz’s release did not take place in January when it was scheduled, and in the meantime, the young man’s health deteriorated. According to the medical report released by the Surgentes collective, Maiz was diagnosed with sepsis, pancytopenia, pharyngo-oesophageal candidiasis, organic wasting syndrome and tuberculosis.
«He was killed by the system».
Maiz was held in inhumane conditions; he slept under a bag of excrement of all the people with whom he remained crowded in the cell. «José Felix did not die a natural death, as some officials would have us believe. José Félix was killed by the system, by the decisions of flesh and blood public officials, and by the police officers who arrested him more than a year and a half ago and falsely accused him of possessing a rifle,» said human rights activist Antonio González Plessmann.
González Plessmann added that the prosecutor in the case admitted that in the operations carried out in La Vega, the police committed irregularities because of the «pressure to respond» and «present numbers» to public opinion. The activist also pointed out the responsibility of the judge who «condemned him without evidence», and recalled that thanks to the Committee for the Rights of the People of La Vega that sentence was reversed. However, the new trial was not completed and the young man died.
He also recounted that the committee should have revoked the first public defender assigned to the case, because he «acted negligently.» «His omission also killed José Félix, because in that first trial they should have proved that he was innocent,» he added.
The 2021 police operation called Gran Cacique «Guaicaipuro» involved the deployment of hundreds of officers weeks before the regional and municipal elections held that year. «We have a political power that gained prestige and relevance organizing the operation against the gangs», pointed out González Plessmann in that sense, to then point out that «nobody here is defending criminal gangs, but it is necessary to denounce that the police had to fulfill a quota, and the more prisoners they took, the more merits they earned».
The committee also questions the role played by the public media in this and similar cases: «Why is it that in the [state-run] VTV signal the poor, Chavista and leftist people who are claiming their human rights do not appear? asks González Plessmann.
«José Felix died in horrible detention conditions. The police detention centers are hell, but they produce money: little for some and a lot for others», assured the activist, while recalling that there are still four other young people, of the original five in detention in the same conditions that led to Maiz’s death: «for them we are asking for justice, but also for the people who are still dying right now in the police detention centers».
Finally, González Plessmann warned that in the San Agustín del Sur detention center there is an epidemic of tuberculosis, and urged the Director of the Bolivarian National Police and the Minister of Interior, Justice and Peace to take action on the matter: «save those lives!» he concluded.