Intervention in Tocorón overshadows allegations of crimes against humanity in Venezuela

Intervention in Tocorón overshadows allegations of crimes against humanity in Venezuela

Published on 22 Sep 2023

Police operation hides allegations of human rights violations

On Wednesday, September 20, Venezuela watched with surprise (and suspicion) as a mega-intervention took place in the Aragua Penitentiary Center, better known as the Tocorón prison; cradle and base of operations of the criminal gang “El Tren de Aragua”, which has been operating for years with total impunity from that prison and whose range of criminal action already crosses the borders of the country.

At the same time, that same day, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela presented its fourth report on the human rights situation in the country, in which it denounced the intensification of attacks on the civic and democratic space through state policies that seek to silence opposition or dissidence to Nicolás Maduro.

Although both events were reported in social networks, the government, particularly from the Ministry of Communication and Information (MIPPCI), had a great deployment promoting and amplifying the conversation around the alleged “success” of the regime in the dismantling of the headquarters of El Tren de Aragua. In an analysis of both topics with the same social media listening tool, under the same conditions and the same time range, 274% more mentions related to Tocorón were found, compared to the conversation around the violation of rights in Venezuela.

The regime’s version of Tocorón, told through the MIPPCI

The MIPPCI’s communication deployment around the Cacique Guaicaipuro operation exceeded its own parameters. On Wednesday, September 20, the Ministry promoted three trends about the ongoing operation: #LiberaciónDeTocorón (Liberation of Tocorón), #CaciqueGuaicaipuroEnAcción (Cacique Guaicaipuro in action) and #SeAcabóTocorón (Tocorón is over). When he usually promotes one a day and, in exceptional cases, two; adding that on Thursday he promoted the topic again with another hashtag (#GuaicaipuroConManoDura, meaning Guaicaipuro strong hand).

The four trends promoted by the governmental entity between Wednesday and Thursday accumulated more than 67,316 tweets. When analyzing a sample of 1,000 tweets of #LiberaciónDeTocorón, we detected that close to 20% of the tweets using the hashtag were generated inauthentically. In the analysis through the BrandMentions tool of the 4 hashtags, it was determined that 48% of the mentions were generated in the social network X, 44% in Instagram and 8% in Facebook.

Within this sample, mainly X users stand out as the biggest promoters of these narratives due to the reach of their accounts in the positioning of messages. Among them, the reach is led by the account of the State television channel VTV Canal 8, with the coverage of the operation using the MIPPCI hashtags. In second place is the account of the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela, PSUV) and then the Fundación Venezolana de Investigaciones Sismológicas (Venezuelan Foundation for Seismological Research, FUNVISIS) together with the Carnet de la Patria account and the Instituto Nacional de Meteorología e Hidrología (National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology, INAMEH).

Proving, once again, how the Venezuelan regime uses the accounts of government entities and state institutions in its propaganda and digital influence operations. Being led by the narrative promoted from the MIPPCI under the “hashtag of the day”, flooding the digital conversation with content that has no direct link to the promoted hashtag; in this case, the operation carried out in the penitentiary center.

Intervention at Tocorón prison: what happened and what didn’t happen

A press release on X published by the Strategic Operational Commander of the FANB, Domingo Hernández Lárez, was one of the first information available on the operation “Cacique Guaicaipuro”, in which it was stated that the operation was aimed at “dismantling and putting an end to organized crime gangs and other criminal networks operating from the Tocorón Penitentiary Center”, with a deployment of 11,000 troops.

Hours later, Nicolás Maduro showed from his X account photos of the inmates sitting in the prison yard in what appeared to be a calm shot of the checkpoint.

However, according to El Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones (The Venezuelan Prison Observatory), the takeover of the prison where one of Venezuela’s biggest organized crime gangs operated may have been arranged in advance. Sources close to the military operation, neighbors of the prison, inmates and their families said that prison leaders negotiated with the government to hand over the facilities.

According to this information, the hand over was negotiated with Hector Guerrero Flores, widely known as “Niño Guerrero,” identified as the top leader not only of Tocoron but also of “El Tren de Aragua,” the criminal gang that controlled the prison and that, with the recent diaspora, established itself in several countries in South and Central America, according to reports by the organization Insight Crime; the OVP assures that it operates in 13 Venezuelan states and 7 countries.

The information handled by the OVP is that Guerrero Flores, together with his closest collaborators, left the facilities days before the arrival of the state security forces, while many of the inmates would have left through tunnels built in the prisons.

UN raises its voice on crimes against humanity

While the Chavismo’s communication deployment was focused on showing the seizure of the Tocorón Penitentiary Center, the most recent findings of the UN International Independent Fact-Finding Mission on the case of Venezuela were reported from Geneva.

During the last year it has been investigating allegations of human rights violations reported in the country between January 2020 and August 2023, concluding that it had reasonable grounds to believe that at least 5 arbitrary deprivations of life, 14 enforced disappearances of short duration and 58 arbitrary detentions were committed during this time. It also documented 28 cases of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees, including 19 cases of the use of sexual and gender-based violence against men and women in the same period.

“Serious human rights violations continue to be committed in Venezuela. Recently, these incidents have been carried out in a more selective manner against certain individuals from civil society, such as union leaders, journalists and human rights defenders,” said Marta Valiñas, president of the Mission.

In the report, the Mission assures that the repressive structure of the State has not been dismantled, and that the Government has recently intensified its efforts to reduce civic and democratic space, restricting individual and collective liberties; extending its control over the work of human rights defenders, civil society organizations, unions, media and political parties.

“The mechanisms of repression continue to exist, which makes international vigilance of human rights more crucial than ever in Venezuela”, states the President of the Mission.

How was the report viewed on social media?

A search with keywords such as #LaONUDetermina, Victims of torture in Venezuela, Human rights violations in Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro’s regime, UN on Venezuela and Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela, etc. revealed that the main actors promoting the conversation on X was the media outlet El Nacional and the personal account of opposition leader Leopoldo López. In the case of Facebook, the most influential pages were those of CNN, El Tiempo and the United Nations.

For the analysis carried out with the BrandMentions tool, 4 keywords were used to search for Tocorón and 6 keywords were used to monitor the conversation about the report presented by the UN Mission, in the same time range. Despite the fact that more words were used for the UN search, 274% more mentions were found in the search for Tocorón compared to the conversation around the violation of rights in Venezuela.

According to the results obtained in the analyzed sample, it is evident that, despite the importance of the UN Mission’s report, the pro-government conversation around the intervention of the Tocorón penitentiary center had a greater impact on networks than the report presented on the violation of human rights in the country.

From ProBox we sense that the use of State institutions in the promotion of pro-State narratives also served to divert the focus of the presentation of the report. Despite this, an analysis of a sample of at least 1,000 tweets with the hashtag #LaONUDetermina revealed that at least 92.6% of the messages around this hashtag were generated by real users.

For more information on socio-political manipulation online you can follow us on all social networks as @ProBoxVE

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