Death of consul's daughter spurs Venezuela outcry
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The killing of a Chilean diplomat's teenage daughter by police is reigniting concerns among Venezuelans about excessive force by officers and their alleged involvement in rampant violent crime.
Nineteen-year-old Karen Berendique was riding in a vehicle with her older brother and another young man when police at a checkpoint opened fire early Saturday in the western city of Maracaibo, said her father Fernando Berendique, Chile's honorary consul in the city.
He said they ignored a police command to stop, fearing the officers might be robbers.
Twelve police officers were detained in the case and are under investigation, the Justice Ministry said.
Radio program host Beatriz Navas said on Sunday that many Venezuelans are concerned about police abuse and officers' involvement in violent crime.
"I wouldn't have stopped and they would have killed me, too," Navas said. She also criticized the widespread police practice in Venezuela of setting up such checkpoints, saying police should instead be investigating crimes.
President Hugo Chavez's government expressed condolences to the family as well as to the Chilean government, and pledged that those responsible will face justice.
"We reject and repudiate this type of bad police practice," judicial police chief Jose Humberto Ramirez said.
He said the officers had been in the area to investigate car thefts and hadn't set up cones as police typically do for checkpoints. Ramirez called the shooting inexplicable.
"They'll have to respond in criminal court," Ramirez said.
Opposition politicians also joined in the criticism.
"They shoot first and aim later," Ricardo Sanchez, an opposition lawmaker, said at a news conference Sunday.
Berendique's father told reporters on Saturday that his daughter had been on the way to see some friends when she was shot.
"They left and four blocks from my house they intercepted them," Berendique said. "They told them to stop. The kids got nervous because it was night. The least that could have been expected is that the police would have turned on the lights (of their patrol cars). They didn't do it and they fired."
"The first impact was in the windshield, while my son was desperately backing up," Berendique added. "Seeing that Karen was unconscious and wounded, he stopped. The officers identified themselves and said they fired because they didn't stop the car."
Police said the university student suffered three bullet wounds, including one to the head.
Berendique suggested that his daughter's killing is symptomatic of bigger problems in the country.
"Crime is killing us," Berendique said. "I don't think Venezuela deserves this."
Violent crime is widespread in the country, which has one of the highest murder rates in Latin America.
Venezuelans have long been distrustful of the police. The government began building a new national police force in 2009, saying it was part of an effort to professionalize the police.
Justice Ministry Tareck El Aissami said at the time in 2009 that the authorities believed police were involved in 15 to 20 percent of all crimes, particularly kidnapping and murder.
The Justice Ministry said in a statement on Saturday that the government will "continue promoting the radical transformation of police forces, deepening the implementation of the new police model: human and professional."
Associated Press writer Jorge Rueda contributed to this report.
Ian James on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ianjamesap