Clashes between police and a gang in northwestern Caracas this week have left at least 26 dead, including four officers, and 38 people injured, Venezuelan Interior Minister Carmen Melendez said on Saturday.
The casualty count comes after several days of heavy gunfire left some capital residents fleeing their homes and snarled traffic in several neighborhoods, as authorities in the crime-stricken city push back on what analysts describe as a gang’s effort to expand its territory beyond the Cota 905 barrio.
Melendez said 10 officers were injured in the clashes and that 22 “criminals” died. She said some 28 “civilians” – a reference to residents not suspected to be gang members – were injured and that some civilians died, though she did not specify how many and did not provide further details.
Human rights activists said this week that four people were killed by stray bullets during the clashes. Activists and the political opposition have for years accused President Nicolas Maduro’s government of disregarding and covering up civilian casualties in anti-crime raids.
They have also criticized pacts the socialist government signed with some gangs to create no-go areas for police in certain neighborhoods in a bid to lower violence, arguing the so-called “peace zones” allowed gangs to consolidate power and resources.
“While civilians and police were murdered, western Caracas lived in fear for two days, and Venezuelans are fleeing the conflict, the dictatorship put on a show,” opposition leader Juan Guaido said.
Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, speaking alongside Melendez on state television, alleged the gang that controls Cota 905 was linked to some opposition politicians, without providing evidence. She added that three alleged members of “Colombian paramilitary” groups were detained in connection to the raids.