Someone dies violently somewhere in Venezuela every hour, day and night, 24/7, 365 days a year.
During the first 18 days of 2009 the Bello Monte Morgue in Caracas (population over 6 million) received 275 corpses, an average of 15 cadavers per day, all of them victims of criminal violence. If the average so far this year continues during the next 11.5 months, over 5,500 people likely will be murdered in Caracas during 2009, roughly half of all murders that probably will be committed this year in Venezuela, based on the trends of the past ten years.
Over 110,000 Venezuelans, mostly poor males between the ages of 14 and 26, have died violently during the decade that President Hugo Chavez has been in power. Only three percent of these murders have solved by police and prosecuted successfully. Today practically anyone can get away with murder in Venezuela.
Venezuela’s violent crime wave started growing long before Chavez was first elected president in December 1998. Newspapers dating from the early 1980s contain hundreds of articles deploring the growing violence and insecurity which afflicted Venezuelan society over 25 years ago. Since Carlos Andres Perez, whose first presidency started in 1974, all presidents including Luis Herrera Campins, Jaime Lusinchi, Perez again, then Rafael Caldera, have deplored the rapid rise criminal violence and insecurity.
But violent crime and the national homicide rate spiked sharply after Chavez came to power in January 1999. And Chavez bears practically all of the blame for Venezuela’s transformation into an increasingly violent society in which armed criminals are able to operate freely. From the start of his rule, Chavez has been the chief proponent of violence as the preferred solution to every problem in Venezuelan society. “Socialism or Death” isn’t just a political slogan for Chavez.
Hungry or homeless or unemployed without any cash to buy food? No problemo. Only months into his first year in power in 1999, Chavez said repeatedly in speeches to the “soberano,” as he refers to his core followers, that any Venezuelans who were hungry, or without a decent home or a job were justified in taking by force whatever they wanted from anyone who appeared more prosperous.
“It’s only justice,” he would say. Some Venezuelans with nothing took Chavez at his word, armed themselves (mostly with handguns and larger firearms supplied by the government through channels like Freddy Bernal’s Libertador district and Aristobulo Isturiz’s Education Ministry), and went “shopping.” And the violent national crime spree has continued to grow rapidly since 1999.
The surge in violent crime nationally received a big boost from Chavez’s systematic drive to politicize and gain control of all civilian police forces, transforming them into repressive arms of the Bolivarian revolution. When he could’t gain control of a police force, like the old Metropolitan Police pre-April 2002, Chavez would deploy National Guard troops to disarm the cops, taking their light automatic and semi-automatic weapons and munitions.
While Chavez disarmed the police he didn’t control, and placed the police he controlled under the command of hardcore chavistas including individuals with criminal records, his government also was arming thousands of its civilian supporters.
Some of these armed civilian groups included the Tupamaros in 23 de enero, Bolivarian Circles created explicitly to function as street gangs commanded by then-Vice President Diosdado Cabello and then-Interior & Justice Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin in 2001-early 2002, Lina Ron’s motorizados, and a commune of crazy gungslinging communists who call themselves La Piedrita in 23 de enero, a sector where many of Venezuela’s radical leftist militant groups have sprouted over the past 50 years.
La Piedrita’s leader, Valentin Santana, confirmed yesterday that the group was responsible for multiple tear gas attacks in Caracas during the past week, including Globovision, the Nunciatura, Marcel Granier’s home, outside the Attorney General’s office, at Central University; shots also were fired at the building in Plaza Bolivar where the offices of the Greater Mayor of Caracas are located.
Santana claims he commands “several dozen mostly young men from the barrios” who are willing to “defend the Bolivarian revolution to the ultimate consequences.”
“La Piedrita was born over 20 years ago,” he told AFP. “The name reflects our will to be fastidious and bothersome. We eradicated crime and drug trafficking in our community. Now we defend the revolution. (The opposition attacks) the Bolivarian revolution every day; they disrespect the president. We make them cry with those (tear gas) bombs. But if it becomes necessary, we are willing to die in defense of the revolution and the president.”
La Piedrita could be a spinoff of the Tupamaros, which have been active for some 40 years, and which early in the Chavez regime split into two still-unreconciled factions. Santana says he is 46, but the original founders and members of the Tupamaros are mostly in their 60s and older now. So La Piedrita could be an offspring of the Tupamaros, as is another armed group which calls itself the Comando Alexis Vive.
These groups are usually crewed by poor feral barrio youths with high-powered weapons. They share warped perceptions that they are valued “defenders” of the revolution born of sustained ideological and political brainwashing, and a desperate violent machismo developed over a brief lifetime of knowing they have nothing to lose in the barrios except their lives, which were never worth much anyway.
A Revolution of Thugs and Gangsters
President Chavez has been using his armed street gangs to harass, intimidate and assault his political opponents since at least 2000. As the people’s power civil society movement grew in 2001, the Bolivarian Circles, thugs receiving monthly stipends from the administration of then-Libertador Mayor Bernal, the Tupamaros and gangs of motorizados financed and armed by the government through the Environment, Education, and Interior & Justice Ministries, systematically attacked peaceful opposition protests while the revolution’s media propaganda machine blamed all the violence on the opposition.
Over the years Chavez has threatened to arrest, jail, knock out, crush, destroy, erase, finish off and shorten the natural lives of his enemies. The revolution is peaceful but well armed, he always warns. “We have tanks and fighter jets,” he said in December 2001 during an air Force Day speech at La Carlota where advanced Russian-made attack helicopters are now parked. Any effort to halt the revolution, even by democratic electoral means, risks unleashing years of civil war and bloodshed in Venezuela, and a wider revolution across Latin America, adds Chavez. He also claims all the violence in Venezuela is the result of the US “Empire’s” secret plans, hatched with “fascist” Venezuelans, “rancid” Colombian elites and others seeking Chavez’s overthrow, including the political violence of April 11-14, 2002. Colombian paramilitaries and the DEA have infiltrated Venezuelans “barrios” and are responsible for most of the violence, says Chavez.
As the years have passed and Chavez has consolidated his power, he seems to increasingly take some kind of perverse pleasure in threatening violence against everyone who gets in his way. Chavez ignores the acute levels of criminal violence which have reached the point of a permanent low-intensity conflict with over 11,000 people murdered each year.
Take what you want, Chavez has urged his more radical poor followers over and over since 1999, popularizing the idea in an already violent society that more violence is the solution, at least “en las calles” where disputes between poor young men are decided moe often with guns and knives, than with fists or better yet, settling the issue peacefully. But who thinks of peaceful dispute resolutions when the presidentially endorsed violence implicit in “take what you want” is the accepted norm, even by cops who usually look the other way when people are mugged, robbed or killed?
Meanwhile, the president’s closest associates – Diosdado, Jesse, Ali, Jose Vicente, Freddy, Juan, Cilia, Nicolas, countless mayors, governors and generals, the entire presidential family and hundreds more, have amassed personal wealth on a scale never before seen in any of Venezuela’s previous governments. The senior members of the Bolivarian revolution marching faithfully behind Chavez were a famished lot at the beginning of the regime; but not anymore. Today’s Bolivarian Venezuela has a new revolutionary oligarchy, elite “chavistas” who share nothing in common with the poor majority that still goes hungry, lacks decent housing, and can’t find a good-paying job.
By 2005 Chavez was eagerly practicing what he had preached since 1999. He took everything he wanted in true Don Corleone style, telling owners of agricultural properties targeted for expropriation (ie theft) that they had two options: accept an offer from Chavez which they could not refuse, or else he would take it all and pay whatever he wished, perhaps not even one penny.
The president and his followers at all levels expropriated dozens and then hundreds of privately-owned agricultural properties, companies, office and apartment buildings, industries, warehouses, etc. Many private properties were intervened by the revolution after being invaded and occupied by allegedly “homeless” Venezuelans who actually were getting stends from the state toinvade private properties to create an excuse for the state to intervene (steal it). Between 2006 and 2008, Chavez also expropriated the 33 oil production joint ventures in which foreign companies were the majority stakeholders, and also nationalized the four foreign-owned Orinoco extra-heavy crude upgraders, CANTV, La Electricidad de Caracas, Banco de Venezuela, and Ternium Sidor. In all, these expropriations potentially could wind up costing Venezuela $20 billion or more, assuming ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips are awarded substantial (over $10 billion) compensation by international arbitration panels weighing their respective disputes with Pdvsa and Venezuela’s government.