By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – It’s almost as if the government thinks that if it ignores something bad long enough it’ll go away. A heads-in-the-sand attitude apparently prevails at the Interior and Justice Ministry when it comes to telling the folks about what’s going on in the battle against crime.
It’s been a long time since the government regularly issued statistics showing how good or bad the situation is. In the meantime, crime continues consistently to top the opinion polls when people are asked to identify the country’s biggest problem. In one recent poll, 86% put crime at the top of the list.
In the meantime, people find out from other sources anyway. Every halfway decent newspaper devotes considerable time, effort and space to “sucesos” – events, the euphemism for murder and other mayhem.
And it’s not just reptilian reporters on the crime beat who are having a field day. Other people are getting in on the act with regular weekly or monthly publications aimed at slaking the public’s thirst for gruesome news.
Alfar, a publishing house in Caracas, has just come out with a book, "Inseguridad y Violencia-Enforme 2008", setting out the grim record for last year based on survey data from the non-government organization, Venezuelan Violence Observatory (OVV).
This does not make easy reading, and, one would think, least of for ostriches at the Interior and Justice Ministry. For a start, the authors reckon Venezuela’s murder rate is four times greater than the world average (other estimates rank Caracas as one of the worst three per capita murder capitals on the planet).
“If there’s no access to information or it’s restricted, a systemized publication to understand the phenomenon of violence in Venezuela is important,” says Alfa Director Ulises Milla. He says the book explains how insecurity has taken on epidemic proportions to become a “public health problem.”
The reckoning at OVV is that last year saw 50 people killed for every 100,000; the world average is 8.8. Venezuela even outranks countries such as Colombia, wracked by illegal drugs and guerrillas, and whose comparable figure is 33.
Men are three times more likely to be killed than women. But, then, maybe that’s because it’s mainly the males who’ve got this penchant for marching around with a gun. And there are thousands of guns out there, by no means all of them accompanied by a permit.
Venezuela seems to be in a vicious circle, so to speak: 28% of the survey sample was willing to carry a firearm to protect themselves. How many of them were thugs fibbing about their motives would be difficult to establish without the application of a truth drug.
Things have reached such a pitch that 67% of the people who were polled admitted they approved of lynching. The police have had to rescue men from irate neighbors several times this year.
The government claims to have cut violent crime by 20% last year. But, as has become customary, it flinches from providing figures to back up this claim. The last empirical fact to come out of the ministry was a figure of 9,653 murders between January and September last year.
Milla, like most everybody out there, quite evidently doesn’t think things are going to get better, at least in the short term. He wants to publish another index on crime for this year, and he probably won’t be short of material, as recent events show.
There was a triple murder on Avenida Francisco Fajardo when two women and a man ran into a hail of bullets as they returned from a discotheque at dawn on April 2. Police say about 25 bullets hit the vehicle.
A pistol was found not far away, but the police have yet to establish to whom it belonged, or whether it had anything to do with the slaying. However, ballistic tests show that this weapon was used in the wounding of a chief inspector from the scientific and investigative police, CICPC, on Avenida Baralt earlier this year.
There was one survivor from the triple murder, Carlos Enrique Bolívar Ramos, 28, who’d been shot several times. He’s recovering from bullet wounds but his problems may not be over yet; it turns out that a saint he is not.
Records showed that Bolívar Ramos has been accused of murdering Carlos Guillermo Flores Pérez, 24. In April 2007, a judge released Bolívar Ramos on bail. A prosecutor has launched an appeal, arguing that he should be held on remand until trial.
It also emerged there’d been some sort of altercation ending in violence between Bolívar Ramos and another man at the U-Bar discotheque in the Macaracuay Plaza mall, from where the four victims were returning when they were killed. José Luis Santana Blanco, age undisclosed, is said to have been wounded inside the discotheque.
Police are trying to establish whether Bolívar Ramos had any connection with the gun found near the bodies. They are also trying to find out whether he was a bodyguard for a former member of a shadowy pro-government group, the Tupamaros, who was employed by the city when Juan Barreto was Metropolitan Mayor.
Barreto was once a key figure in the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, but his political star is said to have faded for reasons that have yet to become clear. One of the dead men, Andrés Alejandro Singer Ferrer, 34, was carrying an identity document describing him as a middle ranking officer at the military intelligence directive, DIM.
CICPC is investigating the deaths of two other women in west Caracas. Yuhelis del Valle Castejón Sánchez, 28, was shot inside her home in Caricuao. She was four months pregnant. Carmen Yanín Mejías García, 37, was taken to a hospital in Catia, but found to be dead on arrival, by a man who then promptly disappeared. He’s thought to be the boyfriend and his whereabouts still aren’t known.
Across the city in La Urbina, a man on a motorbike gunned down two 20-year-old cousins in the street. One of them was in a wheelchair and had asked the biker to be more prudent as there were children about.
Down in Valle-Coche, two brothers who originally hailed from Madeira in Portugal were ambushed by four men on two motor bikes as they drove along a highway and shot dead without a word said.
This is thought to have been a contract killing, although why isn’t clear. Francisco and Ángelo Teles, 52 and 59 respectively, each owned a jewelry store and are said not to have had problems with anybody.
In Aragua state last Friday, two other brothers, Franklin and José Torres Rangel, were arrested after a raid on a house thought to be linked to a gang in a town called Güigüe. A CICPC homicide squad cop was slain in a late afternoon shoot-out with the gang, who are suspected of killing another officer.
The sporting life doesn’t always equate to a healthy one. The Metropolitan Police are trying to reconstruct the death of Armando Abigail Guerra Morales, whose brother “Lobo” (Wolf) Guerra plays for the national football team.
Guerra Morales is said to have died on March 9 at the hands of the police during a drugs raid in Lomas de Urdaneta. Apparently, at the time he was standing at the door of his house.
Franklin José Medina Molina, a professional boxer popularly known as “The Lion” has roared his last. He was at home early last Saturday evening, received a telephone call, and went out. He went to a barrio, where he was robbed of his motorbike, BsF2,000, his watch, shoes and a bag.
The thieves tied him up and hung him high until he was dead. Then they threw his body off a parapet. Nothing in his nine-year boxing career had proved as dangerous as this.
Diego Alejandro Escarría Pérez, 28, a taxi driver who worked out of the shopping mall in Boleita Norte, north-east Caracas, took some passengers to Plaza outside the capital. He was found badly hurt in his car, which had crashed into a tree.
It was only when he was taken to a clinic that the discovery was made that he’d been shot in the head. He died on his way to a hospital. The chief suspects are the passengers.
Another taxi driver was killed in Puerto Ordaz. Two suspects, one of them a legal minor, are said to have confessed to this killing, admitting that their motive was robbery. A third suspect is on the run.
Back in the capital, an accountant was shot dead in front of his parents’ house in San Bernardino. The killers took his watch.
Yet another dead body was found at the side of Avenida Boyaca, the highway more commonly known as the Cota Mil that runs above the northern edge of the city. He’d last been seen in a bar in the company of some women who offered him a lift. The post-mortem established that he’d been beaten, shot and thrown out a vehicle.
This was the twelfth time that the corpse of a murder victim had been dumped on the Cota Mil this year so far. Last year, 42 were found there.