Surviving Venezuela’s Torture Chamber with Victor Navarro

Victor Navarro, Venezuelan journalist and human rights defender, addresses the 16th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy –  see below for his remarks.

*Vídeo y transcripción en español abajo


Full Remarks:

In 2013 my life changed, specifically the day they killed my father. At that time Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, was one of the most dangerous cities in the world while Hugo Chávez ruled. And at that time, Caracas was very dangerous indeed. After my father died, I had two options: The first was to be able to take vengeance on the person who ended my father’s life, and the second was to study so that I did not become what the murderers of my father were.

Thanks to my mother’s support, I decided on the second pathway, and for years, I studied and I started to do Model United Nations simulations. And then, I started to see that there was another world, I started to see the world in a different way. And I didn’t imagine that having spoken about child labor, drug trafficking, and the situation in Syria, that I would be here at the UN, here in Geneva, telling you about torture as state policy. 

Thanks to this organization, I have studied and I got a grant to go to university in 2014 – that was when protests began in the country. People were going onto the streets for many reasons, but one of the main reasons was because of the lack of safety. In fact, I decided I would go to the street as well since insecurity was the cause of my father’s murder.

That day I went out into the street, February 12, 2014 – that was the first time I had been to demonstrate. On that day, the Venezuelan political police murdered the young Bassil Da Costa, a student like me! That was the day of youth in my country, we were celebrating youth, and that was the day they killed him. From then on, after 2014, torture, murder, persecution had started to be systematic within the country. In fact, from that year to today, around 16,000 arbitrary arrests for political reasons have been recorded.

I have a great friend who says that in Venezuela we all have a number. After you go to the protests, after you go and demonstrate against the government – well, on January 24, 2018, I got a number. It was assigned to me. I was in El Helicoide jail for five months – this is the torture center, the largest torture center in Latin America. And it was there I couldn’t see the sun, never had any visits, didn’t have a lawyer. It was there that I was forcibly disappeared while telling my mother that she could go and look for me in the mortuary. 

There are moments when I still wonder why this happened, because I had only set up a social group? At what moment did the political police decide that they should give me a number, know me by a number. Why, after having been forcibly disappeared for 4 days, did Diosdado Cabello stage a photo on national television saying that I was a terrorist? I never imagined that doing social work could be considered a crime.

For my mother I was the son who despite the circumstances had moved forward and was going to graduate from university, for my friends I was the soul of the parties because of how much I like to dance, for my brothers and sisters I was a role model. But for the political police in my country, I was the number 25510806. The state identified me as a terrorist, and that’s what they called me in the torture center where I was detained: 25510806.

I was in a cell meant for four people, and there were 16 of us in that cell. We were pushed into the cell. In that place, the cleanliness… well, it was disgusting, quite frankly. There were minors there. There was Dylan, who was 16 years old, and there was Mr. Luis, who was 63 and had high blood pressure. There were others. Edgar liked the theater and Gilbert had never read a book, didn’t like reading; Anderson liked music and Diego liked reading; Charlie had never spent one day in school, while I was dying to go to university. We were all very different people pushed together in the same cell, but what we had in common was that the state was violating our human rights. And it was doing this through systematic torture. 

Many times a liter and a half of water accumulated in a soda container was the only thing we had to bathe. In another container we had another liter and a half for our needs. The constant dilemma was defecating or bathing. It was humiliating to smell feces because there was not enough water. It was humiliating to defecate in food containers. It was also humiliating to listen to the detectives talking about our smell, when they themselves were the ones who denied us water, and even stole what our relatives left behind. In this way, lack of sanitation was another method of torture to break the rest of our humanity.

Now, I thought they would kill me – there were really times when I thought they would come. And the police officers would come in, and they would force me to my knees, put a pistol in my mouth, and force me to tell them I was frightened. And they put a bullet in, they took off the safety, and they put it in my mouth. And I couldn’t move my head a bit. But that wasn’t the worst of it. They worst is when they hit me, when they tortured me, when they beat me. And the other thing was to hear the torture of others, as well. Imagine. You would hear the screams of a woman being raped by two or three police officers. Or a man who is asking for help because he does not want any more electric shocks to his body. 

In Venezuela, torture is state policy. In Venezuela, you can’t get justice. In Venezuela, the government does not want justice and it needs torture so it can stay in power. Today, there is still political persecution in my country, and we see forced disappearances – this has happened to many people. Because of this persecution, there are six people in the embassy in Argentina in the capital of my country. They can’t leave because they were part of the Corina Machado party, an opposition party. There are other people who haven’t been able to see their families for 50 days now. This is still happening. They thought differently, and because they thought differently, the state goes after them. 

The intelligence service tortured me. And last week, just a few days ago, the last political prisoner was at a peaceful demonstration, and was arrested for doing just that. And Maduro doesn’t care. He doesn’t care if he continues committing these crimes. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), the United Nations with their ambitions, the OAS Panel of Experts – they might denounce it, they might report it, and they give their opinion. But Maduro still tortures. Now the International Criminal Court (ICC) has got an office in Caracas, the capital of my country. And Maduro opened a new torture center in the same city; whose name is Rodeo I. In fact, he expelled the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from Venezuela for showing concern about the forced disappearance of one of the main human rights defenders in Venezuela: Rocio San Miguel, who today is still detained after 3 months in the largest torture center in Latin America: El Helicoide.

We are denouncing that Emirlendris Benitez, as a result of torture, was forced to have an abortion and was denied the medical attention she requires. Wilder Vasquez has been released from prison for 6 months and is still in El Helicoide. That there are still at least 17 clandestine torture houses in the city of Caracas.

We are denouncing that Nicolas Maduro, Cilia Flores, Diosdado Cabello, Delcy Rodriguez, Tareck Willian Saab, Ivan Hernandez Dalla, Granko Arteaga, Vladimir Padrino Lopez, and Celsa Bautista Ontivero, are the main responsible for crimes against humanity in Venezuela.

We refuse to see torture as normal. I invite you to see the virtual reality experience we have outside, where you can put on a helmet and see what it is like to be a political prisoner – it’s very striking. You can do something for the political prisoners of Venezuela because torture is something that dehumanizes – but it is also something that can be stopped! There might not be any words which suffice, but we do have words not to describe it, but we can use words to be against it, to stop it. It must be done for humanity, because the crimes that Nicolás Maduro commits are not only against Venezuelans, they are crimes against humanity. Decisions are being taken, and therefore it is very important that the torture centers be closed and all political prisoners be released. 

Thank you.


Discurso Preparado:

En el año 2013 cambió mi vida, específicamente el día que asesinaron a mi papá. En ese momento Caracas, la capital de Venezuela,  era una de las ciudades más peligrosas del mundo  mientras gobernaba Hugo Chávez. A raíz de la muerte de mi padre la vida me presentó 2 caminos: El primero era poder vengarme de quien acabó con la vida de mi papá, y el segundo, entrar a una organización social, seguir estudiando y hacer simulación o Modelo de Naciones Unidas . 

Gracias al apoyo de mi mamá, decidí la segunda opción y durante años hice competencias de Naciones Unidas debido a una organización que me cambió la vida. Nunca me imaginé  que después de debatir sobre Siria, el trafico de drogas o trabajo forzoso infantil, estaría en las Naciones Unidas denunciando que en Venezuela la Tortura es una política de Estado.

Gracias a esta ONG mejoré mi rendimiento académico y me gané una beca para ir a la universidad, recién entré, comenzaron las protestas en las que miles de venezolanos exigían un cambio político en el país. Eran muchas las razones por las que la gente salía a la calle a protestar, pero para el año 2014, una de las principales razones era la inseguridad. Ya que la inseguridad era la causa del asesinato de mi padre, yo decidí ir a la calle con los miles de jóvenes que querían un cambio para Venezuela. 

Ese día que salí a la calle,un 12 de febrero, el día que se conmemora a la juventud en Venezuela,  la policía política venezolana asesinó al joven  Bassil Da Costa, ¡un estudiante como yo! Me pudieron haber matado a mi también.  Luego de ello, siguieron los asesinatos y las detenciones arbitrarias. En ese momento la tortura paso a ser sistemática en Venezuela. De hecho, desde ese año hasta la fecha de hoy se registran alrededor de 16.000 detenciones arbitrarias por motivos políticos.

Tengo un gran amigo que dice que en Venezuela todos tenemos un número. A mí el 24 de enero de 2018 me tocó mi número, hay momentos en los que todavía me pregunto ¿por qué me detuvieron? ¿Por qué si tenía una ong para jóvenes que después de las protestas habían quedado en situación de calle me detuvieron? ¿Por qué después de haber pasado 4 días desaparecido forzadamente, Diosdado Cabello montó una foto en televisión nacional diciendo que yo era un terrorista? Nunca imaginé que hacer trabajo social podría ser considerado un crimen. 

Para mi mamá yo era el hijo que a pesar de las circunstancias había salido adelante y se iba a graduar de la universidad, para mis amigos era el alma de las fiestas por lo mucho que me gusta bailar, para mis hermanos era lun ejemplo a seguir. Pero para la policía política era un terrorista identificado con el número 25510806. Así me llamaban en el Centro de Torturas en el que estuve detenido: 25510806.

Me detuvieron durante 5 meses en El Helicoide; el Centro de Torturas más grande de América Latina, allí nunca tuve una visita, nunca me permitieron un abogado, nunca pude ver al sol. Me desaparecieron durante días mientras le decían a mi mamá que me buscara en la morgue. Estuve en preventiva 1 una celda diseñada para 4 personas, pero estábamos 16 personas hacinadas. Dylan tenía 16 años y el señor Luis, 63; mientras que a Edgar le gustaba el teatro y Gilbert nunca había visto una novela; a Anderson le gustaba la música y a Diego, la lectura; Charlie nunca había pisado la escuela y yo esperaba graduarme de la universidad como periodista. Lo único que teníamos en común era que el Estado estaba violando nuestros DDHH.

Muchas veces un litro y medio de agua acumulado en un envase de gaseosa era lo único que teníamos para bañarnos. En otro envase teníamos otro litro y medio para nuestras necesidades. La constante disyuntiva era defecar o bañarnos. Era humillante oler a heces fecales porque no alcanzaba el agua. Era humillante defecar en los envases de comida. También era humillante escuchar a los detectives hablando de nuestro olor, cuando ellos mismos eran quienes nos negaban el agua, e incluso robaban lo que dejaban nuestros familiares. De esta forma, la falta de salubridad era otro método de tortura para quebrar lo restante de nuestra humanidad.

En un momento de la detención pensé que me iban a matar, recuerdo que un oficial de la policía política cargó una pistola, la desbloqueó, me la puso en la boca y me puso de rodillas mientras me obligaba a decir que tenía miedo. Y aunque pensé que me iban a matar era más fuerte aun presenciar la tortura de los otros, escuchar como 2 o 3 oficiales violaban a una mujer, o escuchar a hombres pidiendo auxilio de las golpizas y las descargas eléctricas en su cuerpo. 

Y por muy duro que suene todo esto, lo más duro es decir que sigue pasando, que en estos momentos se ha exacerbado la persecución y las detenciones, que, aunque las Naciones Unidas, la CIDH y el Panel de expertos de la OEA, documenten, se pronuncian y muestran informes, a Maduro no le importa seguir cometiendo estos crímenes. Aunque la CPI haya abierto una investigación y una oficina en Caracas, Maduro abrió un nuevo centro de torturas en la misma ciudad; cuyo nombre es el Rodeo I.  De hecho expulsó a la oficina del Alto Comisionado de los Derechos Humanos de Naciones Unidas de Venezuela por mostrar preocupación por la desaparición forzada de una de las principales defensoras de derechos humanos en Venezuela: Rocio San Miguel, quien hoy sigue detenida después de 3 meses en el Centro de torturas más grande de América Latina: El Helicoide.

En Venezuela no hay avances para obtener justicia. Hoy hay alrededor de 280 presos políticos. Sigue la desaparición forzada de Dignora Hernández y Henry Alviarez. ¡No se sabe nada de ellos luego de ser secuestrados por Maduro! Sigue la persecución contra Pedro Urruchurtu, Claudia Macero, Magalli Meda y tres personas más que están encerradas en una embajada en Caracas. El 22 de marzo, Joe Villamizar fue torturado por el SEBIN, y hace una semana detuvieron al último preso político por participar en una manifestación pacífica.

Hoy estamos aquí porque no nos vamos a callar, porque en Venezuela hay una autocracia que busca silenciarte a través del miedo, pero mientras haya un Centro de Torturas y un preso político la lucha tiene que seguir. Estamos aquí porque la señora Olga Gonzalez no ha obtenido justicia por parte del Estado luego del asesinato de su esposo en las protestas, así como la familia Pernalette no la ha tenido por el asesinato de su hijo Juan Pablo. Estamos para denunciar que los torturadores de Nixon Leal, el capitán Luis de la Sotta, Demostenes Quijada y Jesús Alemán han sido ascendidos de cargos por Nicolás Maduro. En Venezuela, si torturas, el Estado te premia. 

Estamos denunciando que Nicolas Maduro, Cilia Flores, Diosdado Cabello, Delcy Rodriguez, Tareck Willian Saab, Ivan  Hernandez Dalla, Granko Arteaga, Vladimir Padrino Lopez, y  Celsa Bautista Ontivero, son los principales responsables de los crímenes de lesa humanidad en Venezuela.

Denunciando que a Emirlendris Benitez, producto de las torturas la hicieron abortar y le niegan la atención médica que requiere. Wilder Vasquez tiene boleta de excarcelación desde hace 6 meses y sigue en El Helicoide. Que siguen habiendo al menos 17 casas clandestinas de tortura en la ciudad de Caracas. 

Estamos aquí porque no se puede normalizar la tortura y porque a pesar del miedo cada vez somos más los que rompemos el silencio ante las atrocidades que se cometen en Venezuela. Hoy trajimos una experiencia en realidad virtual para mostrar cómo vive un preso político en el pais. La hicimos inspirados en la experiencia de Ana Frank y los invito a que la vean. La primera vez que vi la experiencia de Ana Frank me di cuenta que no podía hacer nada por ella, porque eso ya había pasado. Hoy cuando ustedes vean la experiencia de El Helicoide si pueden hacer algo por los presos políticos en Venezuela porque sigue pasando ahora, justo en este momento.

La deshumanización que hay en la tortura es imposible de explicar en una palabra, pero si existen palabras para repudiar la tortura, existen acciones para abolirla. Este es nuestro deber. Hoy en las Naciones Unidas, la real, dónde no se simula sino en la que se toman decisiones, debemos repudiar y sancionar la hay que hacerlo por la humanidad, porque los crímenes que comete Nicolás Maduro no son solo contra los venezolanos, son crímenes contra la humanidad. 

Aquí seguiremos hasta que liberen a todos los presos políticos y se cierren todos los Centros de Tortura. 

Muchas gracias. 


16th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, U.N. Opening, Tuesday, May 14, 2024


I have a great friend that says that in Venezuela we all have a number. On January 24, 2018 my number came up when I was unlawfully and arbitrarily detainend in a torture center in Venezuela. For the political police of my country I was a terrorist identified with the number 25510806. 

 I was detained for 5 months at the Helicoide, the largest torture center in Latin America. There I never had a visit, I was never allowed to have a lawyer, I could never see the sun. There, I was disappeared while my mother was told that she should find me in the morgue. 

 There, the Venezuelan State violated my human rights, I was tortured physically and psychologically. At one moment I thought I would be killed, when an officer of the political police took a gun, put it in my mouth and made me kneel while he forced me to say that I was afraid and sorry. But that wasn’t the worst. Sometimes the worst is hearing the torture of others, hearing how two or three officers raped a women, or hearing desperate men screaming due to the electric shocks on their bodies.

 The hardest thing is to say that this is still happening in Venezuela. And that even when the United Nations, the IACHR, and the OAS panel of experts document and release reports, Maduro doesn’t mind continuing perpetrating these crimes. While the ICC opened an office in Caracas and an investigations into crimes against humanity, Maduro opened a new torture center in Caracas as well, named Rodeo 1. Maduro expelled the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from Venezuela for expressing their concern for the enforced disappearance of one of the leading human rights defenders in Venezuela: Rocío San Miguel.

 In Venezuela there’s no progress to obtain justice. In Venezuela, Dinorah Figuera and Henry Alviarez are still disappeared. In Venezuela, the persecution continues. There are six people trapped in an embassy for being part of the team of the political leader Maria Corina Machado. Henry Alviarez, Claudia Macero, Pedro Urruchurtu Magali Meda, and three others are locked in an embassy just for being part of the team of Maria Corina Machado. Joe Villamizar was tortured on March 22, the national intelligence service, the political police, last week they jailed the latest political prisoner just for attending a peaceful protest. 

 Today we are here because we won’t stay silent, we’re here because in Venezuela there’s an autocracy that has made fear and torture its state policy to keep us quite. We are here denouncing that Nicolas Maduro, Cilia Flores, Tarek William Saab, Diosdado Cabello, Ivan Hernandez Dala are responsible for the crimes against humanity committed in Venezuela. We are here to denounce that Emilendis Benitez, after being tortured, she was forced to abort her baby and now they don’t want to give her the medication she requires. To denounce that Wilder Vazquez completed his unfair sentence seven months ago and still remains at the Helicoide. A torture center. To denounce that in the capital of my country, there are at least 17 clandestine torture centers, documented by the UN. 

 We are here because the dehumanization that exists in torture is impossible to put into words, but words do exist to condemn torture, actions exist to abolish torture. That is our duty and that’s why we’re here. We are here because in Venezuela there are around 280 political prisoners. They must be released, because the crimes that Maduro commits aren’t only against Venezuelans, they are crimes against humanity.

 We are here because we won’t stop fighting until they release all the political prisoners, and they close all torture centers.

 Thank you.

16ª Cumbre Anual de Ginebra para los Derechos Humanos y la Democracia, inauguración de la ONU, martes 14 de mayo de 2024

Speakers and Participants

Victor Navarro

Exiled Venezuelan human rights activist and former political prisoner


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