(left to right) Freddy Bernal, Gloria La Riva, and Tamanaco de la Torre, political advisor to Bernal
Freddy Bernal is a Venezuelan revolutionary who first rose up against the dictatorship of Carlos Andres Pérez, when he led a police uprising on Nov. 27, 1992, after Hugo Chávez’s military uprising against the same dictator on Feb. 4, 1992. Soon Bernal’s movement joined Chávez’s revolutionary movement. The Bolivarian Revolution was soon underway when Chávez first took office as president in 1999. Bernal was elected to two terms as mayor of Libertador municipality of Caracas, 2000-2008. Today, Bernal is a leader in the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), a leading police official and a member of the National Assembly.
Gloria La Riva of Liberation had an exclusive interview with Bernal on Dec. 14 of this year. He spoke about two principal themes, his current role as major police official in leading a major restructuring to further revolutionize the Bolivarian police forces, and the creation of a new people’s organism in Venezuela, the Venezuelan Institute of Solidarity with the Peoples of the World.
Liberation: Can you explain the current situation with police forces in Venezuela, their relation to the people and the restructuring of those same forces that is in the news?
Bernal: When we rose up on Nov. 27, 1992, we rebelled for various causes. One was to tell the country that not every man in uniform was a delinquent or a violator of human rights. That was the fundamental motivation for a police rebellion, and our joining with the movement that Comandante Hugo Chavez was leading, who at that moment was in jail.
After joining the revolutionary movement, we had the opportunity to be members of the Constituent National Assembly [in 1999, after Chávez’s presidency began]. And in that Constituent Assembly, I had the honor of co-authoring the two articles that pertain to citizens’ security, articles 55 and 332. That is where we first stated that citizens’ security is a co-responsibility of the citizenry, together with the state, not just the state itself.
Article 332 laid out the current police system, of all the bodies, national police, a criminal investigation corps, a firefighter force, and one of disaster administration. These are called the organs of citizens’ security.
In Venezuela, we have advanced significantly in terms of the police in recent years. We created the Experimental University of Security Sciences, and in that university, the Bolivarian National Police is being formed. It is in a process of creation and growth.
Nevertheless, in the same way that a revolution must continually renovate, Comandante Hugo Chávez left us advice in his legacy, which is three “R’s: Review, Rectification and Renewal. President Nicolas Maduro has ordered the application of what we call the three “R’s” to the police. He has ordered a revolution in terms of the police. Just one month ago, he gave me the honor, together with a team, to carry out the transformation of the police forces, to end up with police forces that do what the Revolution deserves, what the people deserve.
What is a police force? A police that is effective and efficient in the struggle against crime.
A police should principally be a guarantor of human rights. A police should be a police that generates confidence, respect and affection for the citizen. A police must not generate fear, it must generate respect and exercise authority. That is the task we have been given, and we will make the greatest effort to see that it is done.
Although we have had 15 years in the government, there are still elements of human rights violation in some police forces. Although we have 15 years of Revolution there are still corrupted police groups involved with narco-trafficking of organized crime, with paramilitarism, with some mafia operations in the peasantry and in the unions. These are bad elements we have not been able to correct 100 percent. But the important thing is that in Venezuela, there is political will by the President of the Republic and that is fundamental for the transformation.
I am a general commissioner of police, a graduate of a police academy with a degree in security sciences. And I have always had the dream of being able to participate in a police force that we deserve as a country.
As I tell President Nicolas Maduro, now is the opportunity to make that dream a reality. We have already begun the process of transformation. We have intervened in 10 municipal police forces, we are going to intervene in three state police forces, and we will intervene in the Bolivarian National Police and the Corps of Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations. We have just begun to take those steps.
We have six months for this task.
This means there must be a reform of certain laws, a repeal of other laws and the creation of new laws.
For example, it is also fundamentally important that our police officers feel protected by the state regarding their social security, that they know as soon as they enter the force that their retirement is guaranteed, their old-age pension, their protection at the moment they are injured or murdered by criminals. There is still a shortcoming in this, and we will attempt in this commission to create a law of social security for the police.
At the same time, we will be relentless in the struggle against crime. I have said this: either you are a police officer or you are a criminal, but you can’t be both.
It is incompatible with the profession of police to use the uniform for one’s personal benefit, to be at the service of the mafia, or at the service of a particular entity. The police officer is a man or woman of ethics, of morality, of principles, of decency, who should be at the service of the people, to protect the people, to respect the rights of others, not to trample on them, or abuse or beat them or murder them, as we unfortunately see in many police forces in the world and in particular at this time, in the police of which it is said is the “best democracy in the world.” The government of the United States, which wants to give us morality classes, tries to tell us how to form our forces of public order.
Yet, facing the smallest demonstration, the most minimal protest for human rights, for one’s needs, it ferociously represses its citizens. It persecutes them for being Latino, for being Black, for being Asian, a country that claims to be the guarantor of human rights, permanently tramples on the human rights of its people.
We have seen this on television, the hundreds of protests that have occurred in the United States for the assassination of people whose only crime was being a person of color. Until the United States corrects this, how can they continue to try lecturing the rest of Latin America?
The United States, in its Congress, dares to claim that Venezuela violates human rights, it dares to draw up a list of political and military leaders that it claims violates human rights.
And I say the following: Isn’t what is taking place right now in the United States a systematic violation of the fundamental rights of men and women who live in that land of George Washington?
It is the double standard that we have always pointed out to the government of the United States. We in Venezuela, conscious of our gains but conscious of our deficiencies as well, have taken up the problem of the transformation of the police forces. And although we recognize there are shortages and negative practices, we assume the responsibility, we accept it, and we are going to correct it.
As president of the commission, impunity will not be tolerated.
Any police officer who commits violations of ethics, of morality, of human rights, will be severely punished. Impunity is finished in Venezuela for the individual who uses the uniform to violate the rules that exist to serve the citizens.
It will be a good example for the United States to follow, for President Obama, for the state governors, and for the mayors of cities, who without a doubt have fascist police forces, totally repressive, who abuse and torture with rubber bullets and jail against men and women who are only raising the banner of freedom.
Citizens’ control of the police
To move ahead in the task of transformation, we are going to reform the law regarding police, and incorporate an extremely important element called the “Citizens’ Committees of Police Control.”
What are the Citizens’ Committees of Police Control? In each municipality, a group of persons will be elected from among the social and community leaders of each community, to whom the police will have to render accounts of their work on a permanent basis.
And the people will maintain vigilance and control of their actions. The observations of the citizens’ control committees will have enforcement power to correct the police forces.
What does this mean from a revolutionary point of view? Only the people can do for the people. The best way to control the police forces is that you, I, the citizen on the ground of the community, have a way in the control and supervision of police action.
To that end, we will implement a law reform in the National Assembly come January 2015.
The other element that we’ll introduce is the preventive police. In the municipal and state police, the formation of communal police will be required. The communal police is a police force that will work hand in hand with People’s Power, that will be permanently with the citizenry taking care of diverse problems of the community.
It will be a police that is a friend of that community, not one that goes to the community when a crime is committed.
It will not be a police that goes to the community to repress. It is a police that will work on issues such as abandoned babies, school truancy, to help prevent teenage pregnancy, that works with dysfunctional families, with children starting to go to school, it is what we call police close-at-hand.
It is a police that coexists with the people in a permanent manner. As we call it here, the peace of justice. These are two very important concepts.
The communal police that finds, together with the people, the solution to problems.
With the second element, the Citizens’ Committees of Police Control, the people will have a mechanism of permanent control over police actions.
That is fundamental to guarantee the Constitution and permanent respect for human rights. While this process is in transformation, we will be very severe regarding any complaints regarding police actions. We will apply sanctions. I have said the following: Those police who commit a violation, whether minor or grave, they will not only be removed, they will be referred to the relevant courts.
This is in order to eliminate impunity and so that other police officers do not repeat those negative deeds that besmirch the immense majority who are good. This must be said: The immense majority are decent men and women, workers, selfless, who give their lives to protect the citizens. But there are small groups that fester within the police force and give a bad image. They corrupt it, and the first actions towards those groups will be to purge the bad police and strengthen the good ones, who are the majority.
Liberation: Did you see the video of the African American man in New York, Eric Garner, who died by chokehold?
Bernal: Without a doubt, what happened there was a strangulation by the police force. Here, in our very new Bolivarian police, what we employ is the progressive use of force. It means first, when there is a problem with a citizen, we first try to convince him or her with arguments. In a violent situation, we get them to submit, but without causing injuries to
them. The police must be properly trained to deal with the citizen who is breaking the rules, and get them to comply in a way that the police does not harm the physical stability of the citizen.
Sadly, what happened in New York, which everyone could see, was a vile murder in cold blood.
But the biggest shame for the United States is not only that they murdered a citizen in such a vile manner, but that there was no justice, there has been no trial, they violated the rights of that person.
We are talking about a regime that tramples the Constitution, that tramples the Fourth Amendment, that mocks the people and does not respect the feelings of the majority.
Liberation: There is a development underway in Venezuela regarding solidarity between the people of Venezuela and the world. Can you explain that?
Bernal: Besides heading up the complex task of the police forces, I along with a group of men and women of the Bolivarian Revolution have been given the task of heading up the Venezuelan Institute of Solidarity with the Peoples of the World. And in that sense I want to make a special appeal to the solidarity groups that raise their banner for Venezuela in the world, and in particular in the United States.
Those who raise the flag of the legacy of Chávez, those who raise the banner of freedom, those who raise the banner of socialism and for socialism in the streets of the United States, to those people, we express our appreciation from Venezuela, our affection and our immense commitment of love for freedom-loving men and women in the world.
Comrades, we want not only to extend our hand but ask that you extend your hand to us, because Venezuela is being besieged by the United States government.
We have faced already 15 years of a profound economic war, and who is behind this war is the U.S. State Department and U.S. intelligence agencies. They want for the fascist opposition in Venezuela to obtain through violence what they could not get by the vote. Behind that operation is the U.S. government.
I’ll give you an example. In the beginning of this year we lived through violent actions we call guarimbas, which were destabilizing actions of assaults against government ministries, the burning of public and private institutions, the burning of universities, of public buses, attacks on the Metro stations, attacks on child nurseries that had very small babies, assaults with weapons, with tear gases and Molotov cocktails.
These terrorist actions resulted in 43 people killed in the streets, among them almost 20 police officers of the Bolivarian National Police and of the National Armed Forces.
So crazed were the fascists that they stretched metal wire in the streets to kill motorcyclists, and several people on motorcycles were decapitated. They were murdered by fascist bands whose intention was to overthrow the legitimate government of Nicoleas Maduro.
The National Bolivarian Police’s and National Guard’s duty was to go confront the terrorism and vandalism, to stop the murder of innocent persons, the destruction of complete avenues, the destruction of public services.
Do you know what the answer of the United States was?
The U.S. government today—against those men who confronted the destabilization and the terrorism—has just labeled them human rights violators. And the U.S. Senate just approved sanctions against Venezuelan citizens whose only act was, with Constitution in hand, stopping the terrorists.
That is your government. That is the government that today leads the United States. It has the Venezuelan government in its sights, and it has President Nicoleas Maduro in its sights, for the simple reason that we will not bow our head to anyone, we will not submit, we have not nor will we ever be a colony of the United States nor of any power in the world.
We are a free, sovereign and constitutional people. And the only thing that we ask of the U.S. government is that it respect us as a government, the way we respect it. We know that in 2015, which is an election year in Venezuela, behind the Venezuelan opposition will be the U.S. government with all its economic resources, its intelligence agencies, with its contacts with seditious groups in Venezuela. And they will try to ignite the country. I’m warning this today in December 2014.
You will see that next year on CNN in Spanish, the protests that will take place in Venezuela, the violent actions in 2015. It’s not that I’m clairvoyant, no. We have learned from experience how the U.S. government acts, and how the seditious groups in Venezuela behave. When this does happen, we ask your support, friends of Venezuela.
When the violent groups try to besiege the Venezuelan government, we will need your hand of friendship. When opposition groups backed by the CIA and other U.S. intelligence organisms, attack the police, the National Guard, and other politicians, we need your help in the United States. When the U.S. Senate begins to approve actions against Venezuela, we need your hand of solidarity, friends in the United States.
We will carry on here. We will not surrender the government, we will not negotiate the legacy of Chávez, we will not kneel to any government. But we know we are facing the most powerful country on planet Earth, which has sufficient resources to threaten, to smash, to invade, to transform truths into lies, and lies into truths. It has the control of all the
big media conglomerates. We’ve seen how they do it Hollywood-style.
It is a show, to convey things to the world that are not happening. That is what they did with the Green Square in Libya, with the Square in Egypt. We hope that the Hollywood show is not mounted here with a Square in Venezuela, a theatrical act to justify an invasion or an action against the Venezuelan government.
Here in Venezuela is a free and democratic people, a peaceful people, a people that decided to build our own destiny, respecting the Constitution, respecting human rights, respecting men and women regardless of their political ideology, race, social condition or religion. Here in Venezuela we don’t discriminate against anybody. Absolutely nobody.
To men and women who have solidarity groups in the United States, support groups, socialist groups, groups that love this beautiful process of transformation that President Hugo Chávez began, to you all, we extend our affection, our love and our commitment always.