Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights

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Maduro Government Puts Military in the Streets to Fight Crime

David Smilde and Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

A new citizen security initiative that will include the deployment of the armed forces (FANB) alongside the National Police (PNB) is being put in place today in several areas of Caracas

The announcement was made by President Maduro and the new Justice and Interior Minister Miguel Rodríguez Torres on May 6, during a session of gobierno de la calle (“On the Street” government) with pro-government community council (CC) representatives. The CC representatives spoke of citizen security as their most important issue. 

"This is a special plan to protect the people of Venezuela; our militia, army, and National Guard will be on the streets," said Maduro. Rodríguez Torres declared that all components of the FANB would participate in the plan, but gave no further details, such as number of officers that will participate or the actual role of the FANB.

The plan has been criticized by human rights activists who see it as a return to Venezuela’s tradition of militarized policing. Liliana Ortega, director of COFAVIC argued that the plan represents an unwelcome departure from the “essentially preventive, profoundly humanist, and close to the communities” perspective provided by recent efforts at citizen security reform. 

Marino Alvarado, Director of PROVEA praised the governments’ recent attempt to bring all of their citizen security reform initiatives into Misión A Toda Vida Venezuela (MATVV) but expressed concern over the new proposal. “We are worried by the announcement that the army will be put in the streets because that runs contrary to the philosophy of the MATVV, and [to international rulings] that state that the FANB should only act under exceptional circumstances and not be used to for public order.” 

Luis Carlos Díaz of the Jesuit Centro Gumilla tweeted that he is part of the 30% of Venezuela “That doesn’t agree with having the armed forces participating in citizen security…I understand that people are desperate for an everyday triumph against crime, but giving the streets over to the soldiers isn’t good.” 

From the first government of Rafael Caldera until 2008, Venezuela’s police forces were officially under the authority of the National Guard, and received military training. The 2006 National Police Reform Council sharply criticized this model as ineffective and the source of human rights abuses. The CONAREPOL’s recommendations were codified in the 2008 Organic Law of the Police Service which created civilian policing in Venezuela. 

As we have argued before on this blog (here and herethe possibility of returning to militarized policing is omnipresent as politicians and citizens desperate to do something about Venezuela’s extraordinary levels of crime and violence return to the default logic of “mano dura.” Marino Gonzalez, columnist for Tal Cual summed up the reaction of many to the plan saying “Very original, Maduro.”

The plan proposed by Maduro and Rodríguez Torres is not yet a national plan but only a localized operation restricted to some areas of Caracas (the parish of Petare and the municipality of Baruta, both parts of metropolitan Caracas that are in Miranda State, and the parishes of El Valle, Antímano, and El Recreo of the Libertador municipality of Caracas). 

Announcement of the plan came embedded in the inevitable political positioning. The May 6 gobierno de calle session was held with CC members from Chacao, Baruta, El Hatillo and Sucre municipalities—all located in Miranda. Henrique Capriles is the Governor of Miranda State and government officials have repeatedly claimed that the State has been “abandoned” by Capriles. The CC representatives expressed their concerns emphasizing that they were “orphans of mayors and the governor.” One of the representatives reminded Maduro that Capriles had been Mayor of the Baruta municipality before being elected Governor of Miranda, and that “he had not done any work for the popular areas.” 

Maduro answered by suggesting that the new plan was being started in Miranda precisely because it was one of the states with highest crime rates in the country. He added that the situation had been aggravated by Miranda’s police force (which answers to the Governor). “Those in charge of the Miranda Police are malandros (delinquents). They are the ones that are conducting kidnappings and sicariato (hired killings) in Miranda.” He even suggested that in the case of an emergency “I would not open my door” to a Miranda police officer.

The opposition Mayor of Baruta municipality, Gerardo Blyde responded on Twitter to the inclusion of Baruta in the plan. “Annual homicides: Libertador 2800 (97 per 100,000 habitants) Baruta 84 (19 per 100,000), which of the two is more unsafe Maduro?”  

Filed under Citizen Security