Posts Tagged ‘crime’


August 22, 2010

Venezuela, More Deadly Than Iraq, Wonders Why

CARACAS, Venezuela — Some here joke that they might be safer if they lived in Baghdad. The numbers bear them out.

In Iraq, a country with about the same population as Venezuela, there were 4,644 civilian deaths from violence in 2009, according to Iraq Body Count; in Venezuela that year, the number of murders climbed above 16,000.

Even Mexico’s infamous drug war has claimed fewer lives.

Venezuelans have absorbed such grim statistics for years. Those with means have hidden their homes behind walls and hired foreign security experts to advise them on how to avoid kidnappings and killings. And rich and poor alike have resigned themselves to living with a murder rate that the opposition says remains low on the list of the government’s priorities.

Then a front-page photograph in a leading independent newspaper — and the government’s reaction — shocked the nation, and rekindled public debate over violent crime.

The photo in the paper, El Nacional, is unquestionably gory. It shows a dozen homicide victims strewn about the city’s largest morgue, just a sample of an unusually anarchic two-day stretch in this already perilous place.

While many Venezuelans saw the picture as a sober reminder of their vulnerability and a chance to effect change, the government took a different stand.

A court ordered the paper to stop publishing images of violence, as if that would quiet growing questions about why the government — despite proclaiming a revolution that heralds socialist values — has been unable to close the dangerous gap between rich and poor and make the country’s streets safer.

“Forget the hundreds of children who die from stray bullets, or the kids who go through the horror of seeing their parents or older siblings killed before their eyes,” said Teodoro Petkoff, the editor of another newspaper here, mocking the court’s decision in a front-page editorial. “Their problem is the photograph.”

Venezuela is struggling with a decade-long surge in homicides, with about 118,541 since President Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, a group that compiles figures based on police files. (The government has stopped publicly releasing its own detailed homicide statistics, but has not disputed the group’s numbers, and news reports citing unreleased government figures suggest human rights groups may actually be undercounting murders).

There have been 43,792 homicides in Venezuela since 2007, according to the violence observatory, compared with about 28,000 deaths from drug-related violence in Mexico since that country’s assault on cartels began in late 2006.

Caracas itself is almost unrivaled among large cities in the Americas for its homicide rate, which currently stands at around 200 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to Roberto Briceño-León, the sociologist at the Central University of Venezuela who directs the violence observatory.

That compares with recent measures of 22.7 per 100,000 people in Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, and 14 per 100,000 in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. As Mr. Chávez’s government often points out, Venezuela’s crime problem did not emerge overnight, and the concern over murders preceded his rise to power.

But scholars here describe the climb in homicides in the past decade as unprecedented in Venezuelan history; the number of homicides last year was more than three times higher than when Mr. Chávez was elected in 1998.

Reasons for the surge are complex and varied, experts say. While many Latin American economies are growing fast, Venezuela’s has continued to shrink. The gap between rich and poor remains wide, despite spending on anti-poverty programs, fueling resentment. Adding to that, the nation is awash in millions of illegal firearms.

Police salaries remain low, sapping motivation. And in a country with the highest inflation rate in the hemisphere, more than 30 percent a year, some officers have turned to supplementing their incomes with crimes like kidnappings.

But some crime specialists say another factor has to be considered: Mr. Chávez’s government itself. The judicial system has grown increasingly politicized, losing independent judges and aligning itself more closely with Mr. Chávez’s political movement. Many experienced state employees have had to leave public service, or even the country.

More than 90 percent of murders go unsolved, without a single arrest, Mr. Briceño-León said. But cases against Mr. Chavez’s critics — including judges, dissident generals and media executives — are increasingly common.

Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda, a state encompassing parts of Caracas, told reporters last week that Mr. Chávez had worsened the homicide problem by cutting money for state and city governments led by political opponents and then removing thousands of guns from their police forces after losing regional elections.

But the government says it is trying to address the problem. It recently created a security force, the Bolivarian National Police, and a new Experimental Security University where police recruits get training from advisers from Cuba and Nicaragua, two allies that have historically maintained murder rates among Latin America’s lowest.

The national police’s overriding priority, said Víctor Díaz, a senior official on the force and an administrator at the new university, is “unrestricted respect for human rights.”

“I’m not saying we’ll be weak,” he said, “but the idea is to use dialogue and dissuasion as methods of verbal control when approaching problems.”

Senior officials in Mr. Chávez’s government say the deployment of the national police, whose ranks number fewer than 2,500, has succeeded in reducing homicides in at least one violent area of Caracas where they began patrolling this year.

Still, human rights groups suggest the new policing efforts have been far too timid. Incosec, a research group here that focuses on security issues, counted 5,962 homicides in just 10 of Venezuela’s 23 states in the first half of this year.

Meanwhile, the debate over the morgue photograph published by El Nacional is intensifying, evolving into a broader discussion over the government’s efforts to clamp down on the news outlets it does not control.

The government says the photograph was meant to undermine it, not to inform the public. The authorities are also threatening an inquiry into “Rotten Town,” a video by a Venezuelan reggae singer that shows an innocent child struck down by a stray bullet. For all the government’s protests, the video has spread rapidly across the Internet since its release here this month.

Given the government’s stance in these cases, many here worry it is focusing on the messenger, not the underlying message.

Hector Olivares, 47, waited outside the morgue early one morning this month to recover the body of his son, also named Hector, 21. He said his son was at a party in the slum of El Cercado, on the outskirts of Caracas, when a gunman opened fire.

Mr. Olivares said Hector was the second son he had lost in a senseless murder, after another son was killed four years ago at the age of 22. He said he did not blame Mr. Chávez for the killings, but he pleaded with the president to make combating crime a higher priority.

“We elected him to crack down on the problems we face,” he said. “But there’s no control of criminals on the street, no control of anything.”

María Eugenia Díaz contributed reporting.

Venezuela, More Deadly Than Iraq, Debates Why – NYTimes.com

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The “in your face” gruesome picture seen around the world

August 19, 2010

(Reality is unpublishable)

When El Nacional published the very gruesome picture of the Caracas morgue in response to the cynical and hysterical laughs of Andres Izarra, President of Chavez’ pet international propaganda TV station Telesur, reactions were mixed. The comments section of this blog flared up with disparate positions. Curiously, my concern when I thought about whether to publish it or not in my blog, was that some may find it offensive. But this seemed to be the minority position. A larger fraction seemed more concerned with the publication of the picture backfiring against those that oppose Hugo Chavez (I am trying to differentiate them from the “opposition”)
But El Nacional’s picture, through the missteps of the Government, some cooperation from other media, and yes, some luck, has become the “in your face” picture seen around the world, that has revealed the lack of respect of Chavez and his cohorts for the right to life and freedom of the press. In fact, even VTV reporters have already spoken against the very clear act of censorship by the Judge who banned printed media from publishing violent pictures.
Things got complicated right off the bat, when, while you could still hear Izarra’s hyenic hysterics, a woman from Hong Kong’s team got shot by a stray bullet in the World Women’s Baseball tournament being played of all places at a Caracas military fort. As even the Vice-President tried to explain away this event as unusual, most Venezuelans who live in the barrios likely stared at their TV screens wondering where does Mr. Jaua live, as both specific purpose and stray bullets are part of the daily life of poor Venezuelans, where the strength of Chavismo happens to live.
On that same day, a bus filled with 69 campers was hijacked and all of their possessions stolen, as the 20 adults accompanying and protecting them also were forced to hand out their valuables.
The Government was caught off guard by theeffects of the “in your face” picture. As the picture went around the world, newspapers reported on the injunction on El Nacional not to publish similar pictures. The whole thing may have died there, but then Tal Cual also published the picture in its front page, accompanying its Editorial. The Government then also issued an injunction against Tal Cual, using the sensitivity of children as an excuse, but it began stumbling when a Judge then prohibited all printed media from printing violent, bloody or gruesome pictures.
It is unclear who or why the Judge ordered this, but his decision is so transparently political and cynical, that his order of censorship is only temporary, it expires in four weeks, as if the sensitivity of kids will harden a week before the upcoming National Assembly elections, just when campaigning ends.
And the significant impact of the “in your face” picture was such, that it forced Hugo Chavez to speak on the problem of crime and homicides for the first time, a subject he has consistently avoided and has always failed to address.
And the improvised response has been absolutely terrible and uninspired, for a Government well known for selling any explanation for its missteps, no matter how absurd they may be.
Because once again those living in the barrios will not buy the excuse that the criminals were raised during the IVth. Republic and that it is capitalistic desires that drive crime. Because each and everyone of the inhabitants of the barrios has been in contact with the crime, the deaths and the abuses, in the absence of a Government that has now been in power for eleven years. And it is precisely their desires to lead a better life that have been hampered by crime. Thus, blaming the messenger or calling the picture mediatic pornography, is very unlikely to sell well in the areas Catia or Caricuao, or in the mountains of Mérida.
140,000 people have been murdered in Venezuela since Chavez took power in 1999. Where have you been all these years Hugo? Its clear the Dictator no longer has the magic touch or is in touch with the people.
And meanwhile the cries of “Censorship” have also been heard around the world, as Oliver Stone and Sean Penn are probably wondering why the hell they had to make a defense of free speech being present in Venezuela. Being a Hollywood star makes no one an expert on democracy in far off lands.
And even the Investigative police and the Prosecutor act harshly, showing up at El Nacional at peak time, just as the newspaper is being composed, pretending to have 100 reporters and photographers leave the newspaper, so they can retrieve the memory card with the infamous picture to determine when it was taken. In the face of that crowd, already predisposed against them, and not ready to even consider obeying the order, the cops and the prosecutors decided not to create another show and simply left. Sans card!
Thus, thanks to Izarrita’s sordid and fake laugh and the picture, the Government, for once, has not been setting the agenda for the last few days, attempting to contain the effects of the picture. This distraction follows that of Pudreval, which has been forgotten only because of the “picture”, except that crime is more important an issue than food, more so among the poor.
And when Chavez says that in 20 years there will be no crime, it brings people back to the old promise of no kids in the streets in five years, a promise made 12 long years ago, as well as the promise of eliminating corruption, as the inhabitants of the barrios see their Chavista leadership move around with expensive cars and body guards, making them immune to the crime problem.
Which goes back to a post I wrote recently. I noted that Diego Arria and Alvarez Paz, had been more effective at challenging and making the Government react than the opposition, by confronting the Government with new issues or responding directly to the absurd arguments of the Chavistas.
The picture has been a wonderful example of that. It may have been unintended, but a Government with no scruples, used to winning every argument, has trapped itself in explaining away the problem that it has never cared about. And it was not ready for it.
In your face Hugo!

The “in your face” gruesome picture seen around the world « The Devil’s Excrement

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The Picture by Teodoro Petkoff

August 16, 2010
from The Devil’s Excrement
tal

The Picture by Teodoro Petkoff in Tal Cual

Thus, the problem is the picture. The problem is not that of the 16,000 murders a year, 95% of which remain unpunished, the problem is not the 400 or so dead, set aside in the prisons, the problem is not the thousands of vehicles stolen each year, not hundreds of apartment assaulted by gangs of thieves, the problem is not the thousands of express kidnappings, and of the other type, which take place each year, nor are the protection money that guerrilla and paramilitary gangs force people to pay at the border and it is much less those countless purse snatches, which are no longer even reported because they have become banal. This is not the problem. The problem is the picture published by El Nacional.
Nor is the problem of the police overwhelmed by the criminals, underpaid, poorly trained and even infiltrated by criminals, let alone is a slow judiciary, of poor quality, most of whose judges are provisional, members of Chavez party PSUV, and who live afraid of issuing decisions that do not please the mighty. None of this is the problem. The problem is the picture published by El Nacional.
The former head of the PTJ spoke to let us know that now the floors of the morgue are brand new linoleum and there are ultra modern gurneys. That picture is old. The horrifying spectacle of hundreds of bodies that now enjoy new beds and lie on a floor again, and may be even polished, is not their problem. His problem is the “morbid” picture. Not the killiings that the picture captured. The ineffable Prosecutor of the Republic has already announced actions, but not against criminals, but against El Nacional. The Commission for the Protection of Minors, or whatever its name is, also mobilized itself.
Since acted against Tal Cua forl the horrendous crime against the “privacy of a minor” which was to publishthe name of the President’s daughter, that agency had not given any signs of life. Now out of its lethargy, as “child advocacate” whose “minds may be affected by the picture.” The hundreds of children who die hit by stray bullets, the young kids and adolescents who go through the horrible experience of seeing their parents or older siblings murdered before his eyes frightened, do upset the dreams of the people of the Defence Commission for the Protection of Minors. What matters to them is the picture.

All of the self-righteousness, hypocrisy, which permeates to the core of this regime has shone ominously in this episode of the picture of El Nacional. What worries the adulators is not that there’s violence, but that people know about it. Here we understand the publishing of this picture as an appropriate response to laughter, not necessarily less miserable and despicable, that whippersnapper who heads Telesur, who issued a hyena laugh while at his side while a Venezuelan expert on the issue of violence was informing us about the unbearable levels of violence reached in our country. The issue of crime makes you laugh, Izarrita, you make fun of the matter, do you think it’s an invention of the opposition? Laugh, then at this picture, you little preppy.

This entry was posted on August 16, 2010 at 2:54 pm and is filed under Venezuela.





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