A total of 155,788 murders in Venezuela since 1999
Iraq War has claimed the life of 162,000 since 2003; Venezuela recorded 76% of those casualties during the same period of time. In spite of having implemented at least 20 security plans, homicides rose at 223% in the last 14 years. Fermín Mármol García, a specialist in crime prevention, warns that there is more to it than just assigning military men in certain strategic spots
Since 1999, the homicide rate has trebled. That very year, when President Hugo Chávez just took office at Miraflores; the Government gave the National Guard a mission concerning a succession of at least 20 security plans. In the interim, 155,788 murders have taken place.
Those officials from the National Guard taking on patrolling and police tasks is one of the aspects that Director of NGO Cofavic, Liliana Ortega finds inappropriate when it comes to making a balance over the Government's performance with regard to security. "The control for public order may not be in the hands of military officers," she claims. "This an international standart still not applied in Venezuela."
In 1999, 5,968 homicides were recorded and. 13 years later, 2011 ended at 19,336 murders. According to the numbers confirmed by NGO Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, murders have risen tremendously by 223% under the current government.
Last Minister of Internal Affairs under the government of President Rafael Caldera, Hilarión Cardozo, delivered the baton with a number of 4,550 murders. In order to stop the violence rates which were already a scandal and even an election flag, Luis Miquilena debuted in the government with a policy that dumped all responsibility of the task coordination against the underworld to the National Guard.
As a response to the media and a country that craved for changes, the new minister of Interior questioned on March 26, 1999- the previous governments, for considering that they had developed "epileptic policies" and lacked a well-established program that teamed up all the security organizations.
As in Venezuelan morgues, Miquilena promised to pick up the dead body and for that, he announced the deployment of 200,000 police officers throughout the national territory under a Citizen Security Plan intended to deport the illegal immigrants; disarm people; get rid of ad honorem cards and credentials; prevent minors from staying in night clubs and public spaces late at night, and discourage crime with the help of the National Guard.
Miquilena, nevertheless, did not do what he was required to. He did not even last longer than a year in the ministry: he left in August 1999 on his way to the National Constituent Assembly. Ignacio Arcaya stood in for him, who a bit longer than six months followed the same path that Miquelena took.
Then it was Luis Alfonso Dávila's turn, the third of the 11 pieces President Chávez has used in his game relative to the Ministry of Interior and Justice. From there, the new minister launched again the security plans carried out by security committees which intended to get the communities involved.
This year, however, the highest inter-annual murder rate ever seen in any country: the rate of 5,968 murders that 1999 left, rose by 34% in 2000, reaching up to 8,022 murders. Miquilena then came back and in his first statement again occupying the Ministry of Interior and Justice announced a crackdown on the underworld.
"Our country may face a very dramatic situation if we fail to address the rebellion of the underworld," he said on February 4, 2001 minutes after his appointment. Since then, he launched the so called Plan Trust (Plan Confianza), again with the support of the National Guard on police operations as well as a process that paved the way for the first reform of the Organic Code of Criminal Procedure, which now President Hugo Chávez intends to amend once again.
Like a blind boxer
We are just stumbling. That is what director of Research Institute of Citizen Security and Coexistence (INCOSEC), Pedro Rangel, states. In the fight against robbery, kidnappings and murders, he pictures Venezuela as a boxer that gets in the ring and blindfolded.
"We are attacking the effects but not the causes," he says. "We are indeed not certain how we should address the issue; insecurity is a multicause phenomenon in which aspects ranging from domestic violence to social-urban ambits are involved; and these security plans developed by the government may be based on good intentions but rather than plans, they are a bunch of operations whose results are yet to be seen."
Director of the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, Roberto Briceño-León, adds by addressing the same topic that the government measures to tackle the issue with the underworld have consisted of plans which look for immediate political effects: "It is about partial programs intended to kill a pain through short-term measures."
He adds that the government is lost in an ideological discussion about a situation in which whether you belong to the right or left party is quite irrelevant. "They claim that they are not going to implement a repressive policy such as those of the rightwing, but they do not know that any security program must count on prevention measures to attack social inequality and repression operations that of course- respect human rights."
Venezuela: Almost Iraq-like
According to the non-governmental organization Iraq Body Count, in Iraq, 162,000 people were killed between 2003 and 2011. Although the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has never been invaded, NGO Venezuelan Observatory of Violence was able to confirm 124,221 murders occurred in the country during the same period of time. That is to say, with no bombs or tanks, just right here in front of us, 76% out of the casualties occurred after Saddam Hussein's fall in Bagdad and other Iraqi cities were recorded.
"Not even a country facing a war has a murder rate like Venezuela does," asserted Omar Ávila, the secretary-general of Visión Venezuela Party, where they have been tracking the security plans implemented by the National Executive. Up to the 80s, the crime rate in the country remained in the 8th position of the worldwide average per 100,000 citizens. Since then, the rate started to rise progressively up to 57 less people compared to last year.
"This means that every 27 minutes, a Venezuelan is murdered by criminals," Ávila warns. And she adds that in spite of the three disarmament programs announced by the government, almost 80% of these murders are committed by means of fire guns.
"The first thing I would like to announce as soon as I take over the ministry is a disarmament plan not only of the Bolivarian circles but the whole citizen population," Diosdado Cabello affirmed on May 5, 2002, subsequent to substituting Ramón Rodríguez Chacín as minister of Interior and Justice few days after the events of April 11.
"It will be a national disarmament," he asserted. "Those who possess arms without legal permission inside the Bolivarian circles will have to assume their responsibility." The corollary of these announcements are already known: Lucas Rincón received the baton in January 2003 and reactivated another security plan in which he promised to make use of 100,000 police and military officers, as well as to prevent crimes in the communities.
National Guards on buses
Jesse Chacón, for his part, was the eight one in occupying the Ministry of Interior and Justice. He first occupied the position in 2004 and in a two and a half years, he developed four security plans and also started a police reform through the National Commission for Police Reform, Conarepol.
Chacón handed over his incumbency and the findings from Conarepol to Pedro Carreño, who disparaged them as a "rightwing report." He suggested a new query in order to design a police structure based on socialist values. That is how the plans and ministers came to life: Ramón Rodríguez Chacín came back for second time in 2008 and a bit later, Vice-Minister of Citizen Security, Tarek El Aissami, followed him; the one who by far has held the position the longest.
From the programs of the last years, the Caracas Safe Plan and others alike in which military officers were seen camping at the adjacencies of Caracas metro, squares and other public spaces in the capital city of the country. Fermín Mármol García , a specialist in security and crime prevention, admits that those operations worked wonderfully; however, he highlights that they are not enough: "It worked out at the very beginning of the patrolling," he indicates. "Wherever there is a national guard, crime will diminish but the problem is not on this side of the road but on the other one."
For Mármol, there has been a great number of erratic and reactive plans that have ended up militarizing the issue. Without a doubt, he asserts that the worst one is the Plan "Safe Route" (Plan Ruta Segura), announced in 2008 by President Chávez with the purpose of avoiding robberies and homicides in public transportation means. The very president proposed to guard every bus with a National Guard officer; nevertheless, the idea materialized for two weeks only. "It was non-sense to confine an officer to a bus, from the police viewpoint, a rifle does not only neutralizes but also may cause violence and therefore lead to death of innocents," he concludes.
Translated by Adrián Valera Villani
Cristian Fonseca, a businessman in La Candelaria district downtown Caracas, was doing the accounts in his small shop office on Sunday December 21, 2008. The Christmas shopping season kept him working late hours into the night. It was around 11 p.m. and his phone rang. A friend broke the bad news to him over the telephone.