By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS -- Vice President Ramon Carrizalez all but pointed the finger at Opposition Governor Cesar Perez Vivas of Tachira state in connection with the murder of two officers from the National Guard. Tachira, in the west of Venezuela, is one of three states that switched to the Opposition at the regional elections almost a year ago.
Carrizalez's remarks came even as prosecutors said they intended to bring a young man before court to be charged with killing of Sergeants Gerardo Zambrano and Buyssi Semidy Segnini López, who were slain as they manned a control point between an airport and a township near the frontier with Colombia last Monday afternoon.
The suspect was named as Johan Manuel Mora Rodríguez, 20, and Carrizales said the hunt was on for three others. Mora Rodríguez was said to have been captured riding a motorbike and in possession of two firearms whose file numbers had been removed. Presumably, these weapons were not those which were said to have been taken when the guardsmen were killed.
The vice president laid the direct blame for the double killing on supposed "paramilitaries" linked to the civil conflict in the neighboring country. These, he said, were in turn connected with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's agreement to allow the United States armed forces to operate out of military bases in his country.
President Hugo Chavez, whose dislike and suspicion of the United States has become legion during the decade in which he has been in power, has condemned that agreement as a threat to the region as a whole and to Venezuela in particular. He has repeatedly accused unidentified officials in Washington of plotting to assassinate him, invade Venezuela and seize its oil riches -- charges which both the Bush and Obama Administrations have consistently denied.
Carrizalez's accusation against Perez Vivas was indirect, alleging that the governor was in effect in cohorts with the paramilitaries, and that the Tachira state police under his control were looking the other way before the fact. However, the presence of guerrilla camps in Tachira and other border zones has long been suspected, including back to the days when Tachira was under the political control of a pro-Chavez governor. The vice president urged the government to take all possible action to close down the bases.
Perez Vivas has recognized that paramilitaries who have long been thought to have camped out in Tachira represent a problem, and called for his state authority and the national government to cooperate in dealing with them. To date, the reaction from Caracas to any such idea has been negative, to the point of holding him personally responsible for their being there.
Carrizalez went on to allege that "communications" that had been "intercepted" after the suspect had been captured had revealed a series of contacts between the paramilitaries and "destabilizing" groups with whom he claimed Perez Vivas had links, and whose aim was to secede from Venezuela. This was not the first time this particular accusation had been levelled at Perez Vivas, who has repeatedly denied any such intention.
Furthermore, Carrizalez cast doubt on Perez Vivas' claims to be cleaning out the state police force, not least by dismissing some officers and disarming others. In this, Carrizalez claimed, the governor had come into possession of 4,832 handguns, and a further 200 firearms that he said were not registered and could be used to commit crimes.
In Miranda state, police launched an investigation into the murder of Gustavo Gonzalez, a local Opposition politician who was was shot dead as he dined in a restaurant in the state capital, Los Teques, on Monday afternoon. Gonzalez, who was secretary of the Miranda State Legislature, was said to have been slain by a lone gunman without a word being said.
The way in which the shooting took place quickly prompted suspicions that this was a contract killing of some sort. However, there was little indication as to whether, if this were the case, the reason behind it had been political or otherwise. Officials called on the police to establish the possible motive behind the murder, evidently in the belief this might lead them to the killer.
Gonzalez's death unsurprisingly attracted media attention. Carlos Aquino, a senior official in the pro-Chavez Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV), resurrected the government's by now customary criticism of the media for focusing too much on crime. There was, he said, a "media campaign" to "magnify" the lack of security in an attempt to discredit the government.
Aquino pointed to the example of National Guard Major Delio Amado Hernández Da Costa, who was head of the government's much-vaunted Plan Caracas Seguro crackdown on crime in the capital when he was gunned down last Saturday evening. Predictably, this, too, got full-blooded treatment in the media.
The government's difficulties with Venezuela's at times astoundingly high rate of violent crime stem not only from its evident inability to prevent hoodlums with guns holding sway in large swathes of Caracas and the rest of the country. There also appears to be a widespread belief among the population at large that part of the problem is the police -- hence, Perez Vivas high-profile attempts to clean up the officer corps in Tachira.
The response from the government to public suspicion of the police is a much-mooted plan to set up a national police force, absorbing officers from myriad municipal and state forces around the country, but also refusing entrance to thousands of officers who are under suspicion or actually face charges of breaking the law.
In Caracas, over 5,000 officers from the Metropolitan Police -- and object of distrust and dislike in many parts of the city -- are said to have put down their names to join the new force. Edwin Rojas, Crime Prevention Director at the Interior and Justice Ministry, said that the first unit of the new National Police Force would be out on the streets from December this year onwards.
"The National Police will be the first corps of the state that will be in the street to participate directly with the reality," declared Rojas, who went on to urge the public to do their bit in the battle against crime. "It would be a fraud to tell the people that the problem of criminality is a problem between police officers and bandits, it's a problem that will not be resolved with guards and police officers."
The idea of a nationwide police force has been doing the rounds for years. However, the Chavez Government has always appeared to be reluctant to push through the necessary legislation, not least because the Opposition saw it as a ploy by Chavez to accumulate yet more power in his own hands.
Evidently tired of being attacked on the crime and chaos issues, Chavez finally took the plunge and decreed a National Police Law on to the statute book using his special powers under an Enabling Act. However, progress towards turn the aspiration of the law into reality has been slow since then.