On December 13, 2004, unknown persons captured Rodrigo Granda, international spokesperson for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Venezuela. They took him to Colombia, where he was arrested by the authorities and subsequently imprisoned. The capture of Granda led to a diplomatic crisis between Venezuela and neighboring Colombia. Venezuelas president, Hugo Chávez, claimed that national sovereignty had been violated.
On the morning of January 12, 2005, Venezuelan National Guard Lieutenant Colonel and Commander of the Anti-Extortion and Kidnapping Unit in the State of Táchira, José Humberto Quintero Aguilar, was arrested without a judicial warrant. He was taken to the headquarters of the Military Intelligence Division (DIM), where he remained incommunicado for 7 days was denied access to legal counsel.
Quintero has told HRF that on his first night at DIM he was handcuffed, blindfolded, and taken by car to an undisclosed location. There he was beaten and tortured until he agreed to provide a video confession stating that he was responsible for Rodrigo Grandas capture.
Quintero maintains that between asphyxiations he was told to say that United States and Colombian intelligence agencies were involved in the capture of Granda. He was told to say that he had received a cash bribe to kidnap Granda and deliver him to the Colombian authorities. Quintero denies that he captured Granda, but the torture he suffered made him give the unknown officials the answers they wanted. His confession was videotaped and only after its completion was he returned to a cell in DIM headquarters.
His torture continued upon his return to DIM. He was kept in a 7 x 8 foot cell in the basement of the building for seven days. His cell had no illumination except for a one-foot window facing the hallway. Quintero was stripped of all of his clothing except for shorts and sandals and was not allowed to have a watch or to know the time. His meals were provided at random intervals, and DIM agents routinely interrupted his sleep and subjected him to hours of interrogation. On January 19, 2005, he was transferred to Ramo Verde military prison to await trial for abuse of power, high treason, violation of military decorum, and illegitimate deprivation of liberty. In November of 2007, Quintero was convicted to 3 years and 8 months in prison. An appeals court annulled this decision on due process grounds: the court lacked jurisdiction and provided insufficient reasoning for its decision. Quintero remains at Ramo Verde, now undergoing a new trial for the same charges.
Quinteros torture has resulted in lasting repercussions to his health. He was denied medical care for three weeks after the torture took place and, four months after his arrest, he sustained an internal hematoma (a blood clot in an organ resulting from a broken blood vessel). At least one year after the incident, he was still plagued by severe back pain that prevented him from sleeping. Lumbar and pulmonary resonance tests reveal that Quintero had severe injuries in his thorax.
According to Quintero, DIM agents have threatened to kidnap his family members and hand them over to the FARC.
HRF has verified the damage done to Quinteros thorax. The Venezuelan government has not disproved these claims, choosing instead to ignore various formal complaints and requests for investigations filed by his attorney, even when Quintero has said that he is willing and able to identify two of the men who tortured him.
Quinteros allegations of torture merit an inquiry by Venezuelan authorities. HRF takes no position on whether Quintero is guilty or innocent of the charges for which he remains incarcerated. However, evidence points to unmistakable violations of human rights, specifically the rights to due process under the law and to legal counsel, as well as the rights to be free from arbitrary detainment and torture.
Open Letter from Humberto Quintero [Spanish]: http://www.urru.org/papers/DDHH/PresosPoliticos/2005_PP_varios/20050702_Oajala_HQ.htm
Supreme Tribunal decision on Habeas Corpus [Spanish]: http://falcon.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/2007/marzo/345-7-CJPM-CM-025-07-CJPM-CM-025-07.html