Valentina Oropeza


Justice to the fallen

Justice to the fallen was published by Contrapunto between July 2014 and March 2015. The original version is not available on that webpage.

Image by Manaure Quintero

Justice to the fallen shows that almost all the judicial cases that were opened after the death of 43 people, in protests against Nicolás Maduro in 2014, went unpunished.

The team that developed Justice for the Fallen was made up of journalists Airam Fernández, Indira Rojas, Vanessa Moreno and Carjuan Cruz. The design was in charge of John Fuentes.

In the first feature, we found that six months after the protests began, only one out of 43 cases had reached a sentence and the only one convicted was a minor. We built an infographic that showed the status of the criminal proceedings in each of the files, according to information collected from prosecutors, lawyers and relatives of the victims. This instrument was updated to illustrate the progress or stagnation of cases.

In the second story, we demonstrated that the list of victims of the protests according to the Venezuelan Public Ministry (in charge of the criminal investigation) did not coincide with that of the Ombudsman’s Office (in charge of ensuring the protection of human rights) nor with that of two civil society organizations that monitored the investigations of the criminal investigations.

The third report showed that both the relatives of victims who identified with the ruling party and with the opposition agreed to demand justice, despite the polarization and political use that both sides tried to make of the deaths in the demonstrations.

The fourth report revealed that the commissioner of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin) accused of the murder of Bassil Da Costa, the first victim who fell in the riots, pleaded not guilty before the court despite the fact that videos and photos showed him along with other uniformed men and civilians when they were shooting at the protesters.

In the last report we analyzed the only document released by the Venezuelan Prosecutor’s Office, which revealed the status of each case. The report showed inconsistencies with previous versions given by the Public Ministry itself, relatives of the victims and witnesses to the deaths.

The Venezuelan Organic Code of Criminal Procedure divides the criminal investigation process into three phases (preparatory, intermediate and trial). We set out to locate the stage of each of the 43 cases investigated by the Prosecutor’s Office, throughout the time in which these reports were published. A color was assigned to each phase (red and orange for preparatory, yellow for intermediate, green and blue for trial and sentence), and a file was assembled for each case with the same data for all victims. First an infographic was put together in HTML5 (Adobe Dreamweaver) and then we used Adobe Muse. When a case moved out of phase, it changed color and place in the design.

To guarantee that all the files had the same information, an Excel database was built that replicated the same categories for all cases: name and surname of the victim, age, cause of death, city and area where the death occurred, profile of the deceased (civilian, police, military, student, etc.), access of their relatives to the file, and the information disclosed by the Public Ministry. This infographic was inserted in texts that developed the most news angle according to the findings obtained.

The information was collected through the compilation of documents from the Venezuelan Prosecutor’s Office (press releases and files of judicial investigations in cases in which there was access), reports from Venezuelan media of national and regional scope, and interviews with relatives of the victims and their lawyers.

The documentary investigation and consultation of live sources began in April 2014, when three reporters began the systematic monitoring of an average of 14 cases each, while I was in charge of identifying trends in the findings (links between the number of civilians killed by uniformed men, other civilians or in confusing circumstances, for example), and the Design and Infographic coordinator proposed a graphic proposal that allowed to present this volume of information in a clear way for readers, and functional for reporters in terms of updating the data.

This was the only multimedia special that offered a systematic and updated follow-up of all the cases of the 43 killed in protests simultaneously, beyond the news published by the media every time the Public Ministry or the victims’ relatives disclosed news about each file.