Venezuelan police sentenced for 2002 violence

A Venezuelan court on Friday sentenced nine former police officers to as long as 30 years in prison.

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) âÄî A Venezuelan court on Friday sentenced nine former police officers to as long as 30 years in prison for the killings of demonstrators during street protests before the failed 2002 coup against President Hugo Chavez, lawyers said. High-ranking police officials Henry Vivas, Lazaro Forero and Ivan Simonovis were sentenced to 30 years for “complicity” in the deaths, said Antonio Molina, a lawyer for some of the victims of the violence. Six other officers got terms between 17 and 30 years for homicide and complicity. Both allies and adversaries of Chavez were among 19 killed on April 11, 2002, as an opposition march led by police approached a pro-Chavez demonstration in Caracas. The violence preceded a short-lived coup in which Chavez was ousted by dissident military officers. He returned to power two days later with the help of loyalist generals and massive street protests by supporters. Government foes blame the violence on National Guard troops and “Chavistas” who were filmed shooting from a bridge. Chavez backers say the police were responsible. Relatives of the ex-policemen âÄî some teary-eyed and angry âÄî condemned the decision outside the courthouse in north-central Aragua state. Some accused Chavez’s government of using the legal system to frame opponents. The Caracas city government and police force were led by Chavez opponents at the time of the coup. “This is a political trial,” Nuvia Vivas, a sister of Vivas, told reporters. Defense lawyer Jose Luis Tamayo said, “The sentence is a trophy for President Chavez.” But Molina, who represents some of the pro-Chavez victims of the violence, said, “This isn’t political vengeance as they’ve wanted to sell it.” He said the police had been acting as the “armed wing” of government opponents who tried to topple Chavez. The court that handed down the sentences did not immediately release information about the decisions.