FAES – the special operation forces – has earned notoriety since the uprising against Nicolas Maduro began last month in Venezuela. Graffiti artists have daubed Caracas’ walls with messages denouncing its operatives as “murderers of the people”. Activists who are protesting against government suspect Nicolás Maduro has tasked FAES (Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales) with pacifying the city’s barrios in order to snuff out the protest in areas once considered the cradle of Chavismo.
But little is known so far about the elite special operation forces inner workings or even who exactly commands the unit. In a recent report, the Venezuelan human rights group Provea said FAES unit was created by Nicolas Maduro in 2017 to fight “organized crime and terrorism” and was part of Venezuela’s national police force, although some stories in state-run media outlets describe it as being directly under the command of the Venezuelan military. By last year it boasted almost 1,300 operators.
In a recent post on its official Instagram account, the unit said its role was to “guarantee security, tranquility and peace” for all Venezuelans. But activists claim it has taken on an explicitly political role since the most severe challenge to Nicolas Maduro’s rule erupted last month.
In one Instagram video, a FAES commander with his face hidden by balaclava urges troops to show “absolute loyalty to Maduro” given the “extremely difficult moments” his administration was facing. “As soldiers who are faithful to the revolution, let’s go for it, let’s really go for it – without hesitation,” he says.
Provea’s coordinator, Rafael Uzcátegui, said: “What the government is trying to do is contain the discontent, to contain the anger – not by addressing the citizens’ concerns but by instilling terror and fear.”
Uzcátegui said his group had counted 43 killings linked to the protests. It had not been possible to identify the perpetrators of each death but he believed Faes was the number one culprit, followed by the pro-government paramilitary groups known as ‘colectivos’. FAES’ role appeared to be “neutralizing the greatest possible number of people”, not bringing criminals to justice.
Asked about alleged FAES killings on Venezuelan television last week, the attorney general, Tarek William Saab, said the criminal responsibility for such acts was “individual. Those who commit violations … will be prosecuted, whichever part of the police they are from.”
However, FAES continues to operate and execute various mission even after those allegations.