Standoff in El Junquito
Were Óscar Pérez and his companions victims of extrajudicial killings?
15 January 2018
In collaboration with Bellingcat, Aliaume Leroy, and Giancarlo Fiorella
On Monday 15 January 2018, Venezuelan security forces raided a house on the outskirts of El Junquito, 20 kilometers west of Caracas. The target of what came to be known as “Operation Gideon” was Óscar Pérez, the leader of a small rebel group acting against the government of President Nicolás Maduro.
Nine people were killed, including Óscar Pérez and six other members of his group. All but one were found to have injuries consistent with being shot in the head. Two members of the Venezuelan armed forces were also killed — Nelson Antonio Chirinos La Cruz and Heiker Vasquez.
In order to understand the events that took place that day, Forensic Architecture and Bellingcat have collected, timed, and located nearly 70 pieces of related evidence. These include videos and photographs recorded by citizens, security forces, and by Óscar Pérez himself, as well as leaked audio of police radio communications and official statements. Each piece of evidence has been placed in an interactive, navigable, 3D model of the area for the benefit of the journalists, researchers, and the larger public who are interested in further exploring the case and assisting in filling in the gaps.
The attack on Óscar Pérez and his group can be divided into three distinct stages, which have been plotted within the platform: the negotiations; the fire fight and raid of the safe house; and the aftermath. In analysing all the material, we believe that Óscar Pérez and his group were killed during the raid between 11:15 am and 12:00 pm.
This account of the killing raises concerns about whether the actions taken by the security forces were legal and proportional. The Venezuelan security forces mobilised large numbers of personnel and multiple agencies in order to carry out the raid, using military grade hardware, which led to a chaotic operation with various forces accidentally targeting one another. It became known after the attack that Heiker Vasquez, one of the security personnel killed in the operation, was also a prominent leader of the ‘colectivo’ Tres Raices — one of many pro-government paramilitary groups that have arisen in Venezuela over the last few years. This raises questions regarding whether such paramilitary groups were also involved in the operation with the knowledge and approval of the security forces.
More material is required, particularly videos recorded between 11:15 am and 12:00 pm, in order to investigate this case further.
If you have any information that may help us paint a fuller picture of what happened to Óscar Pérez and his companions in El Junquito on 15 January 2018, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or +447835333851 via WhatsApp or Signal.
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Forensic Architecture Team
Was Óscar Pérez Murdered? You could help us find out | New York Times, 13 May 2018
¿Óscar Pérez fue asesinado? Tú podrías ayudarnos a averiguarlo | New York Times, 13 May 2018
¡Nos vamos a entregar! ¡No sigan disparando! | El Pitazo, 13 May 2018