President Hugo Chavez boasted on 29 December 2009 that his regime has “grabbed the bull by the horns” in terms of battling criminal violence and insecurity in Venezuela. Chavez also praised Interior & Justice Minister Tareck al Assaimi for allegedly reducing the national homicide rate by 47% in 2009 compared with 2008. It’s not clear where President Chavez obtained this alleged data, since the regime stopped issuing crime data in in first-half 2009.
Two days after Chavez also pledged that his new National Police – “socialist and revolutionary” – would defeat violent crime in Venezuela, residents of Caracas received the New Year with traditional fireworks and record bloodshed. Officially, 157 persons were murdered in Caracas during 31 December 2009 and 1 January 2010, or roughly 3.27 homicides per hour in just 48 hours. The majority of these murders occurred in the poorest sectors of Caracas, and involved guns and mostly young males ranging in age from early teens to mid-20s.
Violent crime and insecurity have always been perceived by most residents of Caracas. News archives going back 40 years at dailies like El Nacional, El Universal, Ultimas Noticias and El Mundo confirm that crime and insecurity have always been major concerns of the city’s residents. The historical news record also shows that successive governments before Chavez tried repeatedly to contain/control crime, but nothing worked because anti-crime initiatives always tended to be underfunded and short-lived. However, during the 11 years that Chavez has been in power violent crime in Caracas, and in fact all of Venezuela, has soared to historically unprecedented levels.
In 1998 a total of some 4,550 homicides occurred nationally; the average was 12.46 homicides per day. In 2008 a total of 14,589 persons were murdered nationally, or 39.96 per day. The homicide rate more than trebled in Venezuela since Chavez assumed the presidency in 1999.
Final homicide data for all of 2009 have not been issued yet. However, in September 2009 the number of reported homicides surpassed the 14,589 murders reported in all of 2008. Roberto Briceño León, director of the NGO called Observatorio Venezolano de la Violencia, says the final tally of people murdered in 2009 will be somewhere between 17,000 and 19,000.
Briceño León also says that Caracas was officially became the third most violent city on the planet in 2009, after Ciudad Juarez and New Orleans. Caracas recorded a homicide rate of 52 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2008, but preliminary indications for 2009 are that there were 56 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
Kidnappings for ransom also soared in 2009. According to CICPC officials, the number of confirmed abductions as of 27 December 2009 was 795 nationally, or 48% more than the 537 kidnappings reported in all of 2008. Express kidnappings nationally also are believed to have surpassed 10,000, compared with some 8,000 reported in 2008. However, many express kidnappings are never reported, so these numbers are probably understated considerably.
Given these real homicide figures, it appears that President Chavez grabbed something other than the bull’s horns and stepped in deep…..