It is safer in Baghdad than Caracas
That socialist paradise created by Hugo Chavez has a new failure to add to its long list of failures – the failure of the government to provide the population with protection and security. Venezuela has become the murder capital of the world:
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.
Pretty convincing numbers if you ask me. Iraq is war torn and has car bombs going off all over the place and yet there were almost 4 times the deaths in Venezuela the same year. When you look at the numbers over the whole of Chavez’s rule, they’re mind boggling:
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.
Imagine that – we know a drug war is being waged in Mexico and we know the level of violence it has spawned, especially near the border. Venezuela has suffered almost twice the number of deaths as have occurred in the Mexican battle with the drug cartels.
In fact, the homicide numbers look more like those you’d find in a war. It points to a system that is either badly broken, turning a blind eye or incompetent – or perhaps a bit of all three.
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.
Chavez has spent years wooing the poor as potent electoral allies in his bid to remain in power:
During his 11 years in power, Chávez has cast himself as their champion. He often takes to the airwaves to tell Venezuela’s most humble that “no one loves you like I do” and warn them about being shunted aside by the “squalid bourgeoisie” if he ever loses power.
The government has plowed millions into healthcare, education and subsidies. According to the United Nations, Venezuela is a regional leader in reducing the income-gap between the rich and poor.
But other parts of the economy are stumbling badly, making even some of his most loyal supporters grumble.
In 2010, this oil-rich country will join earthquake shattered Haiti as the only economy in the Americas that will see its gross domestic product shrink; inflation — expected to exceed 30 percent this year — is eating away purchasing power; and crime is rampant.
As you can see Venezuela is also the regional leader in killing not only its citizens but its economy. And his base is indeed grumbling:
Ana Sanchez, 54, runs a government-subsidized day care center in the Simón Rodríguez sector of Caracas. She said she hasn’t received the funds in more than six months.
In the past five years, she has been mugged three times and her family has quit getting together in the evenings for fear of crime.
“We are living through terrible times,” she said, as she looked for clothes at the market. “It didn’t have to be this way, but the whole tortilla got turned.”
The change is not sudden. For the last two years Chávez has seen his popularity slide, said Saul Cabrera of the Consultores 21 polling firm. The latest polls show just 36 percent of Venezuelans approve of the president’s performance — the lowest figure since 2003, when Chávez survived a strike that decimated the economy.
A poll by Hinterlaces shows similar results — 65 percent of the population thinks the country is headed the wrong direction. But dissatisfaction does not always translate into votes, said Oscar Schemel of Hinterlaces.
The opposition has failed to inspire the poor or provide a coherent or “believable” proposal, he said.
The opposition there sounds like the GOP here. And the fact that Chavez has actively shut down opposition press. But there are cracks showing up in the foundation of Chavez’s support:
But even in the 23 de Enero neighborhood, there are signs that Chávez’s support is cracking, said Manuel Mir, the neighborhood campaign coordinator of the Un Nuevo Tiempo opposition party.
In the past, neighbors have torn down campaign tents, threatened opposition candidates and intimidated supporters, he said. During regional elections in 2008, the party had to hold its meetings outside of the area for fear of reprisals.
Now, they are meeting inside the community, he said. People are opening their doors for opposition candidates.
“This time a lot of people are dissatisfied. There are problems with basic public services and crime,” Mir said. “People think now may be the time for a change.”
Sounds like Venezuelans are wanting real change as much as many Americans. But Chavez runs the electoral process, pretty much owns parliament, and has stuffed the courts with his supporters. Pushing him out of power is not going to be an easy thing. But as the situation continues to deteriorate, and even his base of power begins to notice, he may find it very difficult to hang on. Unfortunately, having watched Chavez over the years, my guess is he’ll end up being carried out of office feet first rather than willingly giving it up.