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Public Safety in Venezuela: ‘Safe Homeland’ to the Rescue?

[All links lead to pages in Spanish.]

The most recent video from the band Famasloop, titled “The Choro Dance,” has sparked controversy due to its graphic footage, but mostly for depicting one of the most troublesome issues facing Venezuelan society: the high level of civil insecurity in the country.

Produced by Alain Gómez and directed by Carl Zitelmann, the video depicts the violent reality of life on the streets of the Venezuelan capital.

On July 15th, the same day that Famasloop released its video on YouTube, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) called for advances in the so-named “Plan Patria Segura” (Secure Homeland Plan), a government program launched in May of this year that promises to resolve the issue of violent crime:

@NicolasMaduro: Llamo a Gobernadores y al pueblo a asumir el protagonismo de Patria Segura coordinando con el MinistroRodriguezTorres y la FANB [Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana]. Avancemos..

@NicolasMaduro: l call upon government leaders and citizens to play a greater role in Patria Segura, in conjunction with Minister Rodriguez Torres [Miguel Rodriguez Torres, Venezuelan Minister of the Interior] and the FANB [Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana, or Venezuelan National Armed Forces]. We need to move forward…

The statistics of insecurity

Venezuela is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world. By the year 2012 and the start of 2013, five of its cities were included among the fifty most violent worldwide, according to a study conducted by Seguridad, Justicia, y Paz [Security, Justice, and Peace], a Mexican NGO.

Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, is ranked third on the list, with 3,862 officially registered deaths. Barquisimeto, with 804 murders, is in ninth place. Further on, we find Ciudad Guayana in 20th place, with 578 murders, Valencia in 31st place with 997 deaths, and Maracaibo, ranked 39th, with 784 murders. The ranking is scaled according to the number of violent deaths in proportion to the number of inhabitants, and the figures generated allow for an analysis of the overall public security level in the countries included in the sampling.

The report also adds that “it is very probable that the absolute figures and the death rate in Caracas are higher, but we haven't found a way to discern the exact truth. At any rate, it remains a fact that Caracas is one of the three most violent cities in the world.”

Guardia Nacional Bolivariana (GNB) durante celebración 202 de la independencia de Venezuela. Foto de Santi Donaire, copyright Demotix.

Guardia Nacional Bolivariana (GNB) [Bolivarian National Guard] during  a celebration of the 202nd anniversary of Venezuela's Independence. Photo by Santi Donaire, copyright Demotix.

The NGO's statistics seem to coincide with those published by the organization Observatorio de la Violencia, which conducted an investigation of murder rates in the country during the year 2012 and the first six months of 2013. According to the results, Venezuela recorded 21,692 violent deaths during this period, a rate of almost 72 homicides for every 100,000 residents. This figure is three times that of countries such as Mexico, which shows a rate of 22 deaths per 100,000 residents based on data from the year 2012. With 28,946,101 inhabitants, according to the Official Census carried out by the Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas de Venezuela [National Statistics Institute of Venezuela], the country shows one of the highest crime rates in the continent.

The Venezuelan government, however, reveals more conservative figures regarding the issue. According to government reports, during the year 2012 a total of 16,000 homicides were recorded, representing a rate of 54 murders per 100,000 residents, and nearly 14% more than in the previous year.

‘Patria Segura', the Safe Homeland Plan

The problem of civil insecurity has taken a recent turn: after the Venezuelan government had repeatedly insisted that the “public's sense of insecurity is greater than the actual criminal statistics”, President Nicolás Maduro now classifies civil insecurity as the “most significant problem” confronting Venezuela.

“If we don't tackle this problem, we will have accomplished nothing. We can't just continue to do nothing. We have to resolve this, and so I call the entire country to action,” the president stated during a “must-carry” radio and television broadcast.

According to the official web portal of AVN [Agencia Venezolana de Noticias, or Venezuelan News Agency], since May 15th of this year, 3,000 members of the FANB (Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana) have been posted in Sucre and Baruta in the state of Miranda, considered to be the most dangerous in the country, as well as in the Caraquenian parishes of Sucre, El Valle, Antímano and El Recreo.

The Patria Segura Plan is the twenty-first of its kind to be implemented to deal with the problem of civil insecurity, and it has drawn criticism due to the deployment of members of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) for purposes of policing and public safety.

However, President Maduro explained that “for quite some time they have been assessing various ways to utilize the civil-military union, as promoted by the Bolivarian Revolution, to raise our capacity for protection, patrolling, surveillance, and support and auxiliary services, so that we can guarantee safety.” Maduro also pointed out that they have been designing this specialized plan for months.

Venezuelan citizens, however, have mixed feelings about the new security plan, especially since the deaths of two women in the state of Falcón, who died after being shot by a group of Bolivarian National Guard members in what has been called an “error” and an “excess” in the fulfillment of their duties –an incident that has heightened the debate over the fitness for duty of the military personnel in charge of public safety.

Juan B. Gonzalez (@jgonzal25), sociologist and public policy consultant, comments:

‏@jgonzal25: Cuando uno escucha que llegará la Misión Patria Segura, se acuerda de lo que pasó en Falcón, en Petare y en Tachira y dice: Que culillo!! [temor, inquietud]

@jgonzal25: When people hear that the Patria Segura detail is coming, they think about what happened in Falcón, in Petare, and in Tachira, and say to themselves, “This is terrifying.”

Alicia Colman (@hichadoda) describes her feelings during the recent action of the Guardia Nacional Boliviarana:

@hichadoda: Ahora no le tenemos miedo a los malandros [delincuentes] sino al la GN [Guardia Nacional], Patria segura

@hichadoda: We aren't so afraid of criminals any more. Now we're afraid of the Guardia Nacional. Safe Homeland, indeed.

Nevertheless, some citizens consider the intervention of the Guardia Nacional a necessary part of the solution to the public safety problem.

Luis Jose Aguilera M (@luisjoseaguiler) comments on Twitter:

@luisjoseaguiler: El gran esfuerzo que hace nuestro presidente, con el Plan Patria Segura, se consolidara aun más, con la conciencia y apoyo del poder popular

@luisjoseaguiler: The great effort put forth by our president in activating the Safe Homeland Plan would be even further strengthened with popular consciousness and support.

Tweeter @lumpen12 publicly supports the efforts of President Maduro and the Safe Homeland plan:

@lumpen12: Adelante Presidente Maduro con el Plan Patria Segura y el gobierno de calle apoyo TOTAL de su pueblo

@lumpen12: President Maduro, keep up the good work with the Safe Homeland plan and street government initiative. Your people support you 100 per cent.

In spite of the various criticisms and shows of support, however, the Safe Homeland plan continues to be unsuccessful in solving the serious public safety problem in Venezuela.

Liliana Ortega, director of the Committee for the Families of Victims of the events of February and March of 1989 (Cofavic, an organization dedicated to protecting and promoting human rights), has criticized the government's plan, pointing out to BBC Mundo that “in Venezuela it's crucial that all forms of control over the public order be placed in the hands of civilians, and that those specific functions be diverted from the military.”

Ortega insists that “it's clear that there is an increase in reports of alleged human rights violations made when the Armed Forces are utilized to control the public order or to guarantee public safety;” this is yet another problem that the Venezuelan government needs to deal with.

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