CHABASQUEN, Venezuela — The gunshots woke them at 2 in the morning, but no one dared venture out until dawn.
"My kids saw them first, on the way to school," said Francelisa Perez, whose one-story house is 150 yards from the gruesome discovery. "Their hands were tied."
Six bodies -- all with multiple bullet wounds, some with signs of torture -- were recovered from the river bank at Agua Clara, a popular spot just outside this small town in the foothills of the Venezuelan Andes.
The dead included two 16-year-old girls, who had been raped, and two boys of 15. Three more teens, though shot, managed to escape. All had been taken in police cars, hours earlier, from homes in Sanare in the neighboring state of Lara.
With Venezuela's murder rate spiraling ever further out of control, and the police responsible for a large share of the killings, the country's leftist government is launching a National Police force that — in the words of Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami — will "mark a break with the repressive model" of the past.
But some human rights activists believe it may do just the opposite.
"We have to give them the benefit of the doubt," said Rocio San Miguel of the defense and human rights group Citizens' Control. "But the ideological element in the launch [of the National Police] is a very bad sign. And there is no mechanism for democratic supervision."
The Chabasquén massacre, on Oct. 23, 2008, was one of at least a half-dozen involving police and other security forces in Lara in the past two years, according to the state's Victims' Committee Against Impunity, a nongovernmental organization.
"Never -- not even in the days of the guerrilla war in Venezuela -- have there been so many killings by the security forces," said Committee activist Pablo Hernández. "In the past two years, there have been seven massacres in Lara."
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