Sunday, March 16, 2003

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Sunday 16, March 2003

I have already referred to the corrupt and inefficient judicial system in its past use by different governments to reach some of their ends, and Chavez who brought it to a higher level. But another consequence of this is the spectacular increase of street crime. I will put first some of the numbers (complete table from 1986 to present can be obtained from a table in Tal Cual , March 12, 2003; but you need to register to access earlier editions, and it is in Spanish).

Since I cannot make a nifty table in this format I will put the description year by year. The year, Total Murders TM, Murder Index in Venezuela per 100,000 people (MI), Caracas TM and Caracas Index per 100,000

1986 (first year cited, Lusinchi administration, 3 years before El Caracazo and 6 years before the Chavez coup)
TM 1501
MI 8
Caracas TM 335
Caracas MI 13

1992 (the year of Chavez coup)
TM 3366
MI 16
Caracas TM 1541
Caracas MI 68

1998 (Chavez elected in December)
TM 4550
MI 20
Caracas TM 1436
Caracas MI 63

2002
TM 9617
MI 42
Caracas TM 2436
Caracas MI 133

How to explain these terrible numbers and what does it mean to us?

THE WHY

The punitive system is based rather on revenge than punition or rehabilitation. Jails in Venezuela are notorious in taking in small time thieves and releasing them full blown murderers. The country has been cited several times over the last 20 years on that. Jails are truly rotten places where prisoners are accumulated without any regard as to sanity and safety, with the secret hope that a few will die through internecine warfare.

The judicial system is hopelessly slow as the judges are not interested in small crime which does not pay much. Add to that governments that do not want to build reasonably decent jails and you have petty thieves that get thrown in jail for month without trial and suddenly released, of course rather damaged goods.

Public outcry comes mainly from lower classes who see their children going in for minor delinquency, sins of youth, and coming back hardened criminals. Chavez was in part elected with the promise to treat prisoners a little bit better. Nothing has been done.

This might explain the doubling murder rate between 1986 and 1998 in Venezuela. But how to explain that under Chavez, the president of the poor, murder rate doubled in just four years in Venezuela, and reached a level TEN times higher in Caracas since 1986?

For one thing his refusal to let the Metropolitan Police have its way. In the past few months Chavez cronies have been more busy trying to take away the Caracas Metropolitan Police away from the Mayor rather than fight crime. They have claimed that by sending soldiers to protect the city people would be safer. They have been proven wrong, and it was to be expected as soldiers training do not include crime control which can only work if done integrated with the community. Show me an army that is able to listen to community concerns…

And this is of course compounded by a continuous economical deterioration which hits the lower classes harder than the higher classes, contributing mightily to crime increase.

What is worse is that this crime wave hits the poor the most since the bulk of murders come from street gangs fighting for the control of slum alleys. What else is new?

WHAT IT REALLY MEANS

The most affected are the lower classes, as mentioned above. Higher classes have limited their going out at night, and remain mostly within the confines of a few well delimited areas under the protection of the local police. However, even there the rise in robberies and other crimes is quite scary too. In San Felipe where the local governor has managed to maintain control of his state police, crime has not gone up as much. But industrial states such as Carabobo and Zulia have seen a spectacular increase in crime, linked to the economic deterioration.

What is much more worrisome is that a sense of lawlessness is slowly seeping into the people more likely to resort to crime. The laxity if the system is well known and the continuous examples of delinquents released is just becoming an incentive.

WHAT TO DO?

If you are middle class. Stay home. Leave only for work or necessary shopping. Drive with your windows up, doors locked, AC on. Only go out at night to visit friends, valet parking safe places. Get back home by midnight or come back next morning. Carry always some cash in your wallet to make the robber happy, and do not resist so as not to get shot.

If you are poor. May the force be with you.

Of all of Chavez failures this one seems the worse, to his own electorate. It is actually so bad that one sometimes wonders if it is not done on purpose so as to scare people and make them stay quiet at home. Surely, Chavez and his gang would not be that evil, wouldn’t they?

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