Not even the police are safe in Venezuela. In a country which saw 24,000 murders recorded in 2013 and whose capital city Caracas was runner-up for murder capital of the world, 252 security officers have been killed in the country from January until October this year, in most cases simply because they were carrying something valuable – a gun.
Pulvio Lisandro Toledo, 43, was one of them. On 1 September, after 18 years in the force, Toledo was on his police issue motorbike heading home when two individuals riding another motorcycle shot him. As he fell to the ground wounded, they searched his pockets; not finding his mandatory police weapon, they proceeded to shoot him fatally several more times. He left two young children behind.
In any other country Toledo’s case would have stood out, as he was not killed in the line of duty, but on his way home. Not in Venezuela, where he was just one of 252. “Before 2005, most police officers died in the line of duty. But nowadays, 65% of crimes against officers are motorcycle and weapon theft,” explains Jackeline Sandoval, head of Fundación Debido Proceso, an NGO that promotes the rule of law and human rights across Latin America.
When President Maduro launched a disarmament plan in 2014, and security forces were also ordered to destroy weapons seized during the police operations, the government’s intention was to reduce violence by making it harder for people to obtain guns. His predecessor had already made private gun ownership illegal in 2012.