By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – The murder of the chief of the government's much-vaunted attempt to cut violent crime in this capital – which reputedly boasts one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world – has underlined the impunity of trigger happy villains in this city and a society seemingly inured to what at times looks like non-stop slaughter on the streets.
National Guard Mayor Delio Amado Hernández Da Costa, 36, was mowed down in a hail of bullets last Saturday evening in Las Pastora, a district of west Caracas that's long had a grim reputation for gunslinging and gang warfare. At the time, he was taking a a break from supervising a crackdown on criminals in Catia – a nearby district with, if anything, an even more gruesome image among local residents.
He is thought to have been ambushed by two gunmen as he drove in a jeep after taking a meal break in a local eatery. On being stopped he was shot and mortally wounded. The killers ran off with the vehicle and his regulation firearm.
Two possible interpretations are being put on the major's murder. One school of thought has it that Hernández Da Costa was killed because of who he was in an act of impunity by local villains – a gesture of defiance in the face of government claims to be getting on top of the bad guys. The government's continuing reluctance to issue regular crime statistics does little to to back up those claims.
Amid widespread skepticism and cynicism, another hypothesis is also doing the rounds. This is that he was no more than just another victim of a crime wave with which the government has yet even to start getting to grips. This possible version of events is deemed to gain weight from the theft of the jeep, the fact that he was in uniform may have persuaded the gunmen to shoot first and ask questions afterwards.
The jeep was found in the early hours of Sunday morning, way across town in the east of Caracas, in another rough district called La Urbina. By then, Hernández Da Costa had expired in hospital.
On Monday, not far away from where the jeep was found, bus drivers blocked traffic on a highway at Palos Verdes in yet another protest against the continuing violence. Over 50 bus drivers have perished at the hands of gunmen this year so far – making their job not much less dangerous than being a law enforcement officer.
The bus drivers demanded that Interior and Justice Minister Tareck El Assaimi should resign in the wake of the security chief's death. Unofficial estimates suggest that the murder rate in Caracas regularly tops 100 each weekend.