Sunday, December 8, 2013

Conflicting Viewpoints on the Violence in Venezuela

By: Katie Foglia

Produced & Edited by: Sandhya Kambhampati
  In early November, a large truck attempted to pass under a bridge and got stuck on one of the main highways in Caracas, Venezuela. The accident resulted in a traffic jam, and soon after armed men on motorcycles were assaulting people in cars.

  “In this city just to go out is a risk, because if there is any traffic in your way, you can be a victim of two men in a motorcycle with a gun,” said Gabriela, a consultant who asked to be identified as Gabriela to ensure her safety.

  Armed robberies, carjacking and kidnappings are among the most common crimes in Venezuela. The South American country has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and Caracas is one of the most dangerous capital cities in the world.

  President Nicolas Maduro and the Venezuelan government are aware of the concerns and problems that are afflicting the Venezuelan people. 

  Maduro has a personal website and a Twitter account, where he posts information on what the government is doing to prevent the crime, poverty and other issues that currently plague the country. His Twitter account has more than 1.5 million followers.
President Nicolas Maduro is working to prevent crime in Venezuela. (Image via Wikimedia Commons) 
  A recent article posted on the website quoted a speech that the president gave on December fourth.
 “We will launch a devastating offensive against corruption, against the corrupt, with the same characteristics of the economic offensive, under the Enabling,” Maduro said.

  But despite efforts from the government, the violence and crime rates continue to soar and many Venezuelans have had to adapt to the day-to-day violence.

Growing crime a new normal 
  Gabriela lives in Caracas and has seen some of the violence first hand.
  “At all times of the day, you can be a victim of an attack or assault,” she said.
  She noted banks, stores, streets and parks as locations where people are often assaulted.
  “Every night we go out to the movies, for a party, whatever we want to do, means taking a risk,” she said. “We feel threatened all the time.”
  Venezuelans in small and large towns and cities are aware of the violence and crime that surrounds them, and most have been indirectly or directly impacted by it.
  “Last September, at 8:30 a.m., I was walking with a coworker and motorized men offered to shoot us if we didn’t give him our cell phones right away,” said Maybelline Garcia, 49, a hotel administrator who lives in Parroquia El Cafetal.
  “Venezuelans are living in a sort of curfew, you go to your office and then to your home,” Garcia said.
   According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, a NGO that examines crime, the national homicide rate in 2012 was 73 per 100,000 of the population, with Caracas registering 122 per 100,000. The total number of homicides in 2012 was 21,692, which was an increase from 19,336 in 2011.
  The United States had 14,827 murders in 2012, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Canada had a homicide rate of 1.73 (per 100,000 population) in 2011, according to the Government of Canada Statistics
  Although the exact numbers and statistics of crimes in Venezuela are often speculated, the increase in homicides is not.
  The Venezuelan Observatory of Violence reported that the murder rate has tripled in the last 12 years.  The NGO also reported that in 2012, Venezuela’s homicide rate was three times that of Mexico, but it still followed behind Honduras and El Salvador in violent crime.

Contrasting viewpoint of government

  According to an article posted on the Bolivarian Communication and Information System’s website, the minister for the Interior, Justice and Peace, Miguel Rodriguez Torres, said that homicide rates were reduced by 20% and abduction rates were reduced by 51%.
  He stated that Venezuela is seen as an unsafe place due to the media’s portrayal.
  In addition to the conflicting viewpoints of the people and the government, there are other issues as well.
  “The most important thing is the police system,” said Freya Leon, 26, a writer from Caracas. “It is well known that most of the gangs of kidnappers work behind jail. If the government wants to end the problem, they know where to start.”
  Leon said the prisons are extremely corrupt. She moved to Barcelona three months ago to pursue a master’s degree.
  In addition to being threatened, she was the victim of violence in Venezuela when two men on a motorcycle tried to steal her phone.
“I know somebody who was kidnapped and when she went to the police to make the report, she realized the policeman taking the report was one of the kidnappers,” said Gabriela. “When the police are involved in those kidnappings it is very difficult to prevent them.”
Venezuelan police are seen as corrupt in some citizen's eyes.
(Image via Wikimedia Commons) 

Fear for the future
  Many Venezuelans note that the crime rate began to rise after former President Hugo Chavez took office in 1999.
  The change in office led to lack of punishment for crimes, and many people blame the government’s lack of responsiveness for the problem. Other factors include the high level of gun ownership, gang activity, drug trafficking and high unemployment rates among others.
  “One could say that for the last 15 years governmental speech has encouraged violence,” said Oscar Ayesta, 61, a hotel owner from Morrocoy. 
  He was the victim of a robbery a few years ago and knows others who have been the victim of violence and kidnappings. He cited impunity as the driving factor behind the high rate of crime.
  Chavez’s successor, Maduro, is currently facing much examination from the people of Venezuela. The country is facing political, economic and social turmoil.
  Supporters of Chavez are pressuring Maduro to continue the political and military tactics of the former socialist leader. But many Venezuelans are unsatisfied.
  “They [the government] are big liars. The government is not a democracy at all. It’s a dictatorship. What’s happening in Venezuela is a copy of Cuban government,” said Rolando Pena, 71, an artist living in Caracas.
  “They use a mask to put the situation to the world that they are free and the people in Venezuela are free and living well and not going hungry. It’s not true. The situation in Venezuela is a disaster,” said Pena. “It’s a catastrophe.”
  Some Venezuelans are afraid for the future of the country and skeptical of Maduro’s ability to lead the country out of its current crisis.
  "It is unstable, but people keep living,” said Leon. “They keep working. They take preventions to avoid risk, to go out at night, to go out and work…to do anything. They live their life because there is no option."

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