Thursday, November 20, 2003

Reasons for a Recall Election on Chavez
IV- The end of personal security
Thursday 20, November 2003

Before the reader gets the wrong impression from the title, it is important to stress that personal security was not great before Chavez came into office. In fact, that under Chavez personal security did worsen is not even my point today. One could argue that an economic crisis, perhaps in part imposed on him, made him lose options to ensure the safety of the citizens. No, the problem with Mr. Chavez is that we lost hope that things will ever get better at our personal level.

What defines personal safety for an individual?

Obviously, the first item is to ensure that you could go back and forth between work, home and grocery shopping without being afraid to get robbed and shot during the act.

But it also goes further than that. If you get shot, when you reach the public hospital will there be supplies to treat you? To preserve your life?

Then if you manage to get alive out of the hospital, will there be someway to pay for you care? Your re-education if needed? Will you have unemployment coverage in a timely fashion?

When you are back home, will there be a home to go back to? Will looters have visited you while you were at the hospital?

If everything is still fine, will you have a job to go back to?

And if you got a good settlement from a law suit against whoever was negligent in security where you were shot, will you be able to invest your money to start your own venture? Will the risks be normal? Will the robbers come back to haunt you as they have been untimely released? Will you be protected from judicial abuse from the robbers lawyers trying to get some sort of revenge on you from having lost their case earlier? Will you be able to protect your investment from envious eyes?

The answers to all of these questions, and more, seems to be no, even if you are a partisan of the regime. Today, even if you are a sturdy supporter of the Bolivarian adventure, you know that your good fortune depends on the whims of your “superiors”.

Let’s take two opposite examples to illustrate how this personal insecurity has effected all of us.

In February 2003 an important ranch in Barinas State was seized by the new land institute of Venezuela, INTI, in charge to recover idle but potentially productive land to redistribute it to landless peasants. The farm in Barinas was productive, cattle, agriculture, many installations. The “invasion” or land grab was performed by the local INTI representatives, a few truckloads of people with red berets and a significant contingent of the National Guard. The owners risked their lives just trying to protest as the TV images showed the violence of the National Guard. No compensation, which should have come by law, has arrived.

Amazingly the High Court accepted the look at the claims of the owners and have ruled that the proceedings of land redistribution had been carried irregularly. The owners should get everything back. It has been already two weeks and not only nothing has come of it but the public officials show every sign to challenge the final running of the highest court in the land.

And you want foreign investment to come to Venezuela?

The second example is on the other side of the social scale and it is concerned with the weekly toll in the poorer areas of cities, in particular Caracas. These areas that we call “ranchos” climb and cling to the hills surrounding Caracas and look exactly like the Brazilian “favelhas”. Living in these areas is indeed hard. It will require of its inhabitants to walk at least 15 minutes average to reach some form of public transportation to go to a job, if they have one. When they come back at night, usually after night fall as daylight ends at 7 PM in the tropics, they try to gather in small groups at the bottom of the hill to attempt to walk back to their humble homes. There is some security in numbers and they might be coming back with groceries or the daily wage, a big temptation in these areas. To this you can add the ever increasing drug problem and gang wars.

Of course the process is pretty much the same if they try to go shopping or to a public hospital, or several hospitals since they never know whether the hospital they will reach will have supplies that day.

People in “ranchos” have been suffering a toll of lives only comparable to the numbers we see from diverse war fronts. The reports of people killed in the slum areas passes the 30 000 since Chavez has been elected in 1998. Good numbers do not exist as local authorities tend to try these embarrassing numbers and many murders are not reported as such to avoid further reprisals, but it seems that we might be reaching twice the murder rate that we had in the middle 90ies. Fear reigns in the “ranchos”.

All indicators of personal security, be there life or property, have been deteriorating since Chavez has been elected. The only answer offered was to try to control all the local Polices directly from Caracas, to try to militarize some of the major streets, to make speeches. The only way to reduce such a degradation is to try to restore some rule of law, to promote local police that know the neighborhood, and to promote economic growth to palliate poverty and hopelessness, the major causative of crime. None of this is happening. None of this seems to be happening any time soon. And Mr. Chavez has had almost 5 years at the helm. What gives?

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