time there is some incident involving the police or the military, where
innocent people are killed, Government officials from the Chavez
administration argue that these type of things happened with previous
Governments also, as if this excuse in some sense exexmpts their
responsibility for these incidents. When such statements are made,
reporters sort of nod with their heads, as if agreeing with what the
Government official is saying.
have argued in the past that while the Government likes to talk about
the “previous” Government, in terms of contemporary Venezuelan history,
the Chavez administration has already become the previous Government.
No President in the 40 year history of our modern democracy ruled more
than five years, thus with the change of the Constitution, Chavez is
already the longest running President of Venezuela since 1958 when our
last Dictator departed.
the truth is that these Government officials are absolutely wrong.
While it is indeed true that such incidents as the recent assassination
of the three students in Barrio Kennedy by the police are not new, it
is also true that the frequency of such incidents has dramatically
increased since Chavze became President. In fact, both homicides and
deaths in confrontations with the police have ballooned since Chavez
contrast with economic numbers that are less and less transparent with
each passing year, the Government has yet failed to completely hide
crime numbers, but it is beginning to try as described in the Provea
report linked below. In fact, the coroners’ office, the Minister of the
Interior and Justice, the investigative police CIPC and municipalities
all report the data on crime, homicides and separate whether the death
occurred in a confrontation with the police. Additionally, Human Rights
organization Provea has been
gathering, collecting and analyzing such data, even before Chavez
became President and issuing regular reports on Human Rights looking at
the status of social, economic, political and civilian rights. The
latest such report can be found here for the years 2003-2004.
A look at the sections on the right to life or the right to personal security
paint a much different picture from what the Government claims, which
shows that in these areas the Venezuelan Government is also doing much worse than its predecessors.
Let us first look at homicides per 100,000 inhabitants at the national level and in the metropolitan area of Caracas, as in the graph below:
Chart I Total number of homicides per 100,000 inhabitants since 1986 in Venezuela (black line) and Caracas (blue line)
can see that the number of homicides at the national level went from 20
per 100,000 inhabitants per year to 49 from 1998 to 2003, while Chavez
has been President. Similarly, in the Metropolitan area of Caracas,
this number went from 63 to 134 in the same period. (It has continued
to increase in the last year and a half). Note that the numbers had
actually been dropping since 1994, which has been explained as being
the result of municipal police forces being created in the early 90’s.
These forces are better trained and prepared than either the
Metropolitan police or the National Guard and helped reduce crime.
These are HUGE numbers, as an example, most European countries have rates in the low single digits and the US is typically in the mid single digit range. Now, these numbers do not include deaths which are incurred in police incidents, which are shown below at the national level. (Note 2004 is only partial):
Chart II: Number of deaths in police confrontations since 1198 in Venezuela. The 2004 numbers are not for the full year.
numbers have also had a dramatic increase, with a four fold increase
nationwide in deaths by police forces. In fact, these numbers alone
would make the country’s homicide rate as high as that of any developed
country. There is no way that these numbers can be defended. They show
that the situation is certainly not the same as it was before Chavez
came to power and while it can not be proven that it represents a
policy, it does represent an attitude and the disregard by the
Government for human rights in general. Venezuelan security forces and
military have always been very repressive, if nobody tries to contain
them, they will act like they have been doing for the last few years an
these deaths by police also are included in the total number of
homicides, the rate of homicides for the country goes up to 59 deaths
per 100,000 inhabitants and that for Caracas
to 154 deaths per 100,000 per year. The absolute numbers are 11.342
homicides in 2003 and 2.305 deaths in confrontations with the police in
the same year. This comes out to over thirty deaths per day!
Two things have to be pointed out. First, these deaths affect mostly the poor. The deaths in Caracas every weekend are in the barrios where the cops sometimes do not even dare go in. Thus,
it affects primarily those that Chavez professes to care and love so
much. Second, when Chavez was elected in 1998, many people voted with
him because he was former military. They thought that he would make
crime a priority within his administration. The fact is that the word
crime is never mentioned by the President in his lengthy speeches. It
is unclear whether this is because he wants to separate himself from
the failed actions by his Government in this field or whether this is
not an important issue for him.
any case, the sharp jump in homicides and deaths by police represents
another one of the many failed promises of Hugo Chavez. In my mind,
this is the result on the one hand of a lack of interest in the issue
by the maximum leader, while the violent deaths in police
confrontations are simply a consequence of the repressive minds of the
leaders of police forces, all of which are former military.
Unfortunately, those that should raise their voice about these issues
like the Attorney General and the People’s Ombudsman, are so aligned
with the Government, so as to be essentially invisible on these issues.
And Human Right organizations like Provea and COFAVIC, praised by
Chavez when he was a candidate, have become the object of attack and
criticism by this irresponsible Government.