Mapping Murder in Venezuela
At least 19,400 persons will be murdered in Venezuela this year, an increase of 4,816 homicides (33%) compared with 14,584 homicides recorded in 2008, according to Incosec, an NGO that uses homicide statistics nationally to create a dynamic “map” of murder in Venezuela.
That’s a national average of over 1,616 homicides per month, over 53.8 homicides per day, and over 2.24 homicides every hour.
Incosec predicts that at least 3,376 of the homicides recorded in 2009 will occur in Caracas, up 1,211 (over 35.8%) compared with 2,165 homicides in 2008. That works out to over 281.3 homicides per month.
Incosec’s map confirms that random homicidal violence happens everywhere in Caracas.
But the overwhelming majority of homicides in Venezuela’s capital city are concentrated in three sectors defined by crushing poverty, large populations of unemployed feral young men, and a violent macho culture where even the slightest disrespect is a motive for murder. These sectors are:
*Antímano, Sucre, 23 de Enero, La Vega, El Valle and Caricuao.
*Petare, La Dolorita and Caucagüita.
*Las Minas de Baruta and parts of Las Mercedes. But this sector experiences significantly less homicidal violence than the two above.
Incosec’s national map of homicides confirms what everyone already knows: homicidal violence is greatest by far in the country’s poverty-stricken “barrios.”
To be poor in Venezuela is to live under a permanent sentence of death held at arm’s length by extreme caution, sharp wits and a large dose of good luck.
Chavez has always maintained that he defends Venezuela’s poor, but the alarmingly swift growth in homicidal violence is victimizing mainly the poor – Chavez’s original base constituency.
Poverty and homicide go together everywhere in the world. The fact that the homicide rate has soared since Chavez has been president says everything about the failure of his Bolivarian revolution.
Since Chavez was elected president of Venezuela at the end of 1998, the homicide rate in Caracas climbed from 63 murders for every 100,000 inhabitants at in 1998 to 130 murders for every 100,000 inhabitants in 2007, according to Central University’s Center for Peace and Human Rights.
President Chavez has always been indifferent to the insecurity crisis suffered daily by ordinary Venezuelans. In the thousands of hours of endless broadcasts over the past decade ranting about anything that pops into his mind, there hardly has been any mention or acknowledgement by Chavez that violent crime is rampant in Venezuela.
In fact, Chavez has consciously fostered a culture of violence and class hatred as part of his agenda to create the “new” Bolivarian Venezuela.
The Chavez regime also has supplied weapons and financial support to dozens of armed irregular groups like the Tupamaros, Carapaicas, Comando Alexis Vive, La Piedrita, and Lina Ron’s bikers, among others. All of these groups are based inside 23 de enero, which historically has been a hotbed of Marxist revolution in Venezuela.
These armed groups are organized, and have defined political missions. The Tupamaros and Carapaicas have been active since before Chavez was elected president. Other groups like the Comando Alexis Vive and Lina Ron’s jackals are newbies to the armed revolution. These groups proclaim their undying loyalty to “Mi Comandante-en-Jefe Presidente Chavez,” but their revolutionary zeal is a great cover for criminal enterprises like drug trafficking, extortion, express kidnappings, car theft and other activities.
Beneath these organized irregular groups with defined political missions, there is a vast universe of tens of thousands of young men who belong to thousands of small gangs in the “barrios.” These gangs usually consist of young men of roughly the same age from families who all live in the same alley or street. Their numbers vary, but usually total at least 12 or more young men – strength in numbers. Often they form for self-protection against other gangs, they acquire some firepower, and they are very territorial.
Many may work on and off in the formal or informal economies, but crime is the main source of steady income for these gangs. Their activities include drug trafficking, extortion, armed robbery, vehicle and motorcycle theft, burglary, etc. They operate in the barrios mostly, but many go hunting off the reservation, preying on unwary victims in the more upscale sections of Caracas. Mortality rates (hence turnover) are high for these youth gangs. When they’re not killing each other in turf wars and blood feuds, they are battling the police and National Guard.
Eventually the survivors age out of the game, and new generations rise. Perpetual poverty assures an endless supply of new recruits in their early teens. The ones who live to 18 or 19 become gang leaders, but by their late-20s they’re old men past their prime.
Interior & Justice Minister Tareck Al Assaimi says the regime has contained the homicide rate in 2009 to levels comparable to 2008 – whatever that means. But the government refuses to issue new official crime statistics. It hasn’t issued any homicide and other violent crime statistics since first quarter 2009.
Al Assaimi also says that the first elements of the new National Police will be deployed before end-2009. Little is known about the National Police. But a couple of things stand out.
Cuba supplied the “technical advice,” and many currently active police officers are transferring into – or being absorbed by – the National Police from their current jobs in the Metropolitan Police, PoliCaracas, PoliSucre, PoliBaruta, etc. The Cuban national police have always been used mainly as an instrument of repression and intimidation. And the way existing police forces are being absorbed into the National Police suggests that ideological purges and proselytism will take priority over protecting the general population from violent crime.
However, can the new National Police make even a small dent in Venezuela’s violent crime wave, which now reportedly surpasses every country in Latin America including Colombia, Brazil and Mexico? The prospects of that happening aren’t good.
The Chavez regime years ago enacted Penal Code reforms and other legislation that consolidated a revolving-door system for violent career criminals. The Attorney General’s office functions mainly as a political prosecutor for the regime, but does poorly against violent crime. The courts are more politicized than ever, and more corrupt. Fewer than 3% of homicides result in convictions.
At some point, the Chavez regime will have to make a serious effort to contain/reduce homicidal violence. But perhaps this is wishful thinking.
It’s difficult to believe that the regime can effectively contain/control violent crime when so many of its senior “security” chieftains – like DGIM’s Hugo Carvajal, Disip’s former director Henry Rangel Silva, and many other active and former “chavista” officials of CICPC, Disip, DGIM, PM, Policaracas, etc. are actively involved in criminal enterprises.
Meanwhile, the gangs are growing bolder nationally. Recently the National Guard Colonel in command of the “Caracas Segura” anti-crime offensive was shot dead by a pair of gunmen on a motorcycle who were intent on stealing the officer’s SUV. He was the fourth police commander killed nationally in 2009.
Al Assaimi has talked of a plan to disarm the general population. Venezuela has about 27 million inhabitants, but by some estimates the country is flooded with between 15 million and 17 million unlicensed/unregistered handguns, shotguns and other small arms. But it won’t work. Venezuelans won’t disarm. The macho culture of death is too deeply embedded in the “barrios.”