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Authorities have taken steps to punish over a dozen national guard and other officers for illegal behavior.
Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez has reiterated that incidents of police brutality at the hands of security forces responding to opposition protests, which have increasingly spilled over into violence, will not be tolerated, ensuring that officers who use excessive force will be punished.
"I do not want to see one more national guard committing an atrocity in the street," said Padrino in a speech to cadets at Fort Tiuna in Caracas Tuesday that was also broadcast on state television.
“Anyone who departs from the state line, from the pre-eminence of respect for human rights and does not act as a professional, has to assume responsibility,” he continued.
General Padrino told EFE reporters Wednesday that incidents of excessive violence at the hands of the National Guard have been “isolated” and will be dealt with through “normal administrative and criminal sanctions.”
Padrino has denied accusations from anti-government groups that military forces have used “deadly weapons” during demonstrations. The right-wing opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition, known as the MUD, filed a complaint to the public prosecutor's office Tuesday alleging that police used ammunition to control crowds.
Padrino wrote on his Twitter account Wednesday that he "confirms all his solidarity with the National Guard" as a member of the force, Herber Negrete Portillo, was hospitalized after suffering a gunshot wound in his collarbone while he worked to remove a street barricade in the El Paraiso area of Caracas.
National Guard Commander Antonio Benavides Torres condemned the violence on his Twitter account, writing, "We will deal with those responsible for this or any other terrorist act against our troops."
In an earlier tweet, Benavides defended the soldiers, writing “Our (National Guard) is law and order. We remain committed to humanist principles, rejecting any vandalism or terrorist act on the nation."
Since the beginning two months ago of the latest wave of protests aimed at toppling President Nicolas Maduro's government, at least 65 people have died and at least 1,276 have been injured in incidents linked to the demonstrations, which have often turned violent.
Although the dozens of people killed amid protests have died from a range of different causes — including at least 18 shot by assailants during protests, 13 killed during looting, eight killed at violent barricades, and five killed by police — right-wing leaders have painted the death toll as the result of a violent crackdown on the opposition marches by government forces.
On Saturday, a Black youth who had been beaten, stabbed and set on fire two weeks ago by violent right-wing protesters who targeted him for being a suspected government supporter died from his severe injuries. The previous week, a former member of the National Guard was beaten and shot Saturday in the state of Lara in what Maduro condemned as a “hate crime … by a group of criminals, murderers, violent protesters.”
Opposition leaders and supporters have accused members of the the National Guard and police forces of assault, theft, threats and other abuses. The state’s attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz, has reported that 19 state security agents have been charged with crimes against human rights. Fourteen of these were members of the National Guard.
Padrino assured that instances of human rights abuses by state forces will continue to be taken seriously. Meanwhile, opposition leaders have repeatedly refused to condemn violent acts by anti-government protesters, leading the government to accuse the right-wing figures of being complicit in violence.
Head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly Julio Borges has accused Interior Minister Nestor Reverol of giving orders to “repress demonstrators." Reverol did not attend a meeting Tuesday to discuss the accusations of excessive use of force that had been called by the National Assembly, which has been declared in contempt due to irregularities.