By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – President Hugo Chávez has addressed Venezuela’s at times staggeringly high rate of violent crime, the primary cause of concern even to a public long accustomed to living in fear of life and limb.
In a decree issued Tuesday evening, Chávez set up a National Council of Prevention and Citizen Security, saying this would be the first of “seven fronts” to be opened up in battle against crime.
The council would be under the direction of the vice president’s office, and would include representatives of a flock of ministries, non-government organizations, and “the popular power,” he said.
Setting up the council follows in the footsteps of the National Security Plan unveiled by Interior and Justice Minister Tarek El Aissami two months ago, about which not much has been heard of since. That makes it a bit like similar plans that went before it.
One of the stated main aims of El Aissami’s plan is to disarm the public and “regulate” firearms in the hands of police forces, some of whose officers seem to be far too trigger-happy for the public good.
So far, there’s been no apparent reduction in the prevalence of guns in the wrong hands, even inside prisons. The police are still viewed as enemies by large swathes of the public, particularly in poorer districts.
Many of the other points made by Chávez have been heard before. He said other “fronts” would include an “integrated police system” – apparently, a follow-up to the National Police Force Law decreed into law during the last days before Chávez 18-month spell of special powers expired at the middle of last year.
Although the government makes much of the need for a single national police force to combat increasingly sophisticated criminals, this project, too, has made little visible progress to date. Similar proposals have been gathering dust at the National Assembly since 2002.
Now, the idea is to enshrine this aspiration in a General Police Council. The reaction to that was that the president was setting up one new council after another, when yet more bureaucracy wasn’t actually the answer.
Among Chávez’ other “fronts” is an Experimental Security University, where recruits will be trained including courses in subjects such as human rights. This strain of knowledge has not previously been included in police training.
Graduates and officers with extra training are to form the backbone of another of Chávez’ “fronts” – “community” police forces which will work with local residents in the war against the common foe.
El Aissami recently remarked that crime wasn’t just a problem for the government but for everybody. This was seen as a call to the public to get involved in fighting local thugs, and, unsurprisingly, it met with little enthusiasm.
Chávez’ crime agenda also includes a “transformation” of state and municipal police forces. Time was when officials talked of merging all of these into the planned national force.
The response to that were howls of protests against what was perceived as an attempt to strip regional authorities of power and concentrate it in the hands of one man. The thing people wanted, critics said, was more officers out on the streets taking on bad guys.
The critics have no shortage of ammunition, so to speak, to back up their claims that the government has never really gotten to drips with crime.
El Assaimi and the more recent of his numerous predecessors have trotted out percentages to back up claims to be getting top of crime. But since the government stopped issuing regular statistics some years back, it doesn’t have any hard facts to back its case.
In the absence of official data, the media fills in the gaps. Reptilian reporters aren’t exactly squeamish about informing Joe Public about what’s going on. Stories about “sucesos” (events) get good play.National Crime Blotter
In Zulia, the body of a dead woman was found trussed up in several large garbage bags in front of a diagnostic clinic bang slap in the center of the state capital, Maracaibo, on Monday morning.
The victim was later identified as Liseth Anahis Suárez Petit, 27, who’d originally hailed from Coro in neighboring Falcón state, worked in a laboratory and recently started a post-graduate course in biochemical analysis.
The autopsy showed that this studious individual had been raped several times, probably by at least three men, and strangled to death. Her body was found by a tramp who’d been rummaging through trash for food, tin cans and anything else that might have been useful.
In Caracas, three men were gunned down in the street in Turumu in the east of the capital in the early hours of Monday morning. Two of them were riding by on a motorbike when they were ambushed by a gang who shot at them several times. The third man was just passing by, on his way home with his wife from a party.
The suspects in this case are a bunch led by a mystery man known variously as Sigfredo or El Silfredo. Some members of the gang, who create fear and mayhem in the area, are said themselves to have been killed shortly afterwards not far in a barrio in Petare.
Down south in the city, another band led by a villain known as El Chino rein in terror over the residents of a district known as Las Minas de Baruta. Frightened residents are talking in whispers about this lot after Daniel Tua, a 20-year-old student, was shot in the forehead as he sat in a tavern at two o’clock in the morning last Monday.
Across town in Antímano, a man opened fire at a passing four-wheel-drive SUV full of kids. One four-year-old child died in hospital hours later, another’s in intensive care, and their two-year-old baby brother was shot in the leg.
The grandfather, who was driving, had tried to race away after spotting eight masked men on the road. He was shot in the hand after the men gave chase.
They’d been to a party. For safety’s sake, the grandfather decided to stay overnight and drive at dawn.
Outside the capital, in Ocumare del Tuy, an equally innocent couple who ran a hot dog stall was killed inside their home after armed brutes forced their way in early Tuesday morning. The couple had recently sold a vehicle and the thugs wanted the proceeds.
Even people at the bottom of the social heap aren’t immune. The partly burnt bodies of two men who’d also been stabbed were discovered, one in La Vega and the other in Catia. Both are thought to have been penniless street tramps.
Suárez Petit wasn’t the only unfortunate of the fair sex to catch it. Also in Catia, and in broad daylight last Saturday afternoon, María del Carmen Manrique, 52, was a on a bus when gunmen got on. She resisted being robbed, so they threw her off the bus and then shot her. She died instantly.
Although it may not seem so at times, the bad guys don’t always get their way, as Jorge Junior Fernández Brazón, 26, found out the hard way last Monday evening. He and another bad man tried to hold up two Arab storekeepers as they left their premises in San Martín. One of the storekeepers fired back and killed Fernández Brazón, whose accomplice fled on a motorbike.