Posts tagged Citizen Security
Posts tagged Citizen Security
A water tower in Catia with Hugo Chávez’s face on one side and the face of Lina Ron (founder of the Venezuelan Popular Union party and symbol of La Piedrita, another well known collective) on the other © Richard Snyder 2014
A previous version of this article was published at Anthropoliteia.net
Speculation about the participation of armed citizens in “policing” the cycle of protests that began in February has raised questions about the relationship between these citizens, the government, and state security forces.
In my first post in this series I looked at how officers from the National Police view the role and actions of the security force that is playing the most active role in policing Venezuela’s protests: the National Guard. Regrettably (and despite their own relatively extensive training in human rights) National Police officers strongly support the National Guard’s presence precisely because they are not encumbered by human rights regulations like the police are.
In this post I look at an even more complex relationship: how the National Police view the actions of what officers, the media, and many Venezuelans refer to as “the collectives.”
Journalists have suggested that police are working in collaboration with the collectives to repress protestors (see, for example, Wall Street Journal , BBC, and Al Jazeera). And in May Human Rights Watch published a report which, though carefully avoiding the term “collective,” suggested that the police and “armed pro-government groups” were collaborating.
But National Bolivarian Police (PNB) officers describe this relationship quite differently. For them, their relationship to the collectives is one structured not by collaboration but competition for territorial control, access to arms, and even state protection.
In fact, ever since the Metropolitan Police in Caracas participated in the 2002 coup against Chávez, police officers have felt that the government trusts the collectives, who came out in support of Chávez during the 48-hour coup, more than the police to work the protests.
Listen to my interview with Ian Masters regarding the Monica Spear murder and citizen security in Venezuela. It ran last night on his program Background Briefing.
Rebecca Hanson and David Smilde
In our previous post we asked who gets the blame for crime in Venezuela. In this one we ask what Venezuelans think can be done to reduce that crime. Since 2008 the Chávez and now Maduro governments have increasingly taken on the issue of crime, often in quite contradictory ways. Here we look at if and how these strategies resonate with citizens’ opinions.
To do so we added a question to Datanalisis’ July-August Omnibus survey that asked respondents what they thought would reduce crime. The question provided respondents with a list of measures (improving the values taught to children by the family; decreasing poverty and social inequality; professionalizing police officers; reforming the judicial and penal systems; a permanent deployment of military in sectors with high rates of crime; improving access to sports and cultural activities; and improving access to public space) and asked them to rank the three most important in fighting crime.
The first table presents the percentage of number one responses each measure received.
Rebecca Hanson and David Smilde
In the first half of this year we ran a series describing Venezuela’s comprehensive efforts at citizen security reform. We have also traced the process over the past six months, whereby the civilian character of this reform has lost out in favor of militarized policing strategies. In the coming months we are going to run a series on public perceptions of citizen security in order to shed light on why reform has been so difficult to implement.
In March and April of this year, Nicolás Maduro made citizen security a campaign issue in a way that his predecessor never did. As we analyzed here, it was a somewhat risky strategy insofar as polls consistently showed that Hugo Chávez did not pay much of a political price for declining citizen security (we will unpack this phenomenon in a future post). Indeed, in 2009 a survey question asking about Hugo Chávez’s responsibility for crime found that almost 60% of respondents thought crime was such a difficult problem that no president could solve it. Only a little more than 25% thought that a different president would be more effective.
This was one of the reasons that it took the Chávez government so long to confront crime. It knew it did not pay politically for the issue and had no interest in altering this fact. Even when they began a comprehensive effort at citizen security reform in 2009, there was little public fanfare. Indeed it was not until January 2012 that Chávez publicly and forcefully addressed the issue by announcing Misión Seguridad.
In this piece we would like to ask whether the government increasingly “owns” the issue of citizen security in the eyes of the public. Put differently, have five years of citizen security reform and six months of Nicolás Maduro openly addressing the issue changed public perceptions? Is the government increasingly taking the blame for crime?
David Smilde and Hugo Perez Hernaiz
The Venezuelan military’s role as perpetrator of violence continues to make news. In a press release put out on August 8, human rights group Provea pointed out that from May to July Venezeula’s armed forces were involved in at least 8 violations of the “the right to life.” In 2012 164 people lost their lives at the hands of the military. Provea’s statistics are taken from Venezuela’s investigative police the CICPC.
In a piece of news analysis called “Terror in Uniform” Venezuelan daily El Universal also noted the continual flow of incidents. The article describes the terror average citizens feel when passing through the military roadblocks manned by heavily armed but lightly trained soldiers, many of whom are barely twenty years old.
The situation has come to fore since Nicolas Maduro has taken office because he has strongly reasserted the military’s role in citizen security. As we have suggested in our series on citizen security reform, in the past couple of years there has been a struggle within Venezuelan public administration between those who are pushing forward a progressive, civilian policing model, and those who seek to strengthen Venezuela’s traditional militarized policing strategies. During Maduro’s four months in office the latter has clearly gained the upper hand.
Venezuela’s Jesuit Centro Gumilla recently published an article denouncing that the Plan Patria Segura (Secure Homeland Plan) is being used to round up undocumented immigrants in poor barrios of Caracas and eventually deport them. The Plan Patria Segura puts heavily armed soldiers without civilian police training in the streets to ensure citizen security.
The author, Fr. Alfredo Infante has worked with immigrants and refugees in many Latin American countries. He narrates the stories of several families standing outside the SAIME (Servicio Administrativo de Identificacion, Migracion y Extranjeria, the government Agency for Identity and Immigration Services) building where a bus of the National Bolivarian Guard was parked and protected by heavily armed agents. Inside the bus were one Peruvian and seventeen afro-Colombian immigrants waiting for their fate to be decided.
Their relatives, mainly women and children from Petare, one of Caracas’ largest barrios, explained that the roundups took place in busy areas, such as outside the Metro station or close to a restaurant serving Colombian food in their neighborhood.
They also claimed that those detained were not fed, could not take showers, and were not given any information about the procedures to follow. Although the number of immigrants being deported through these roundups is unknown, Infante suggests that this situation shows that there is a “re-emergence of xenophobia promoted by the authorities.”
Venezuela is a country with an important historical tradition of hosting immigrants from all over the world—from neighboring countries such as Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador, as well as from Europe, mainly from Spain, Italy and Portugal. More recently, the country has seen the arrival of a great number of Caribbean citizens, mostly from Cuba and Haiti, making it South America’s second largest receiving country.
Verónica Zubillaga and Andrés Antillano
We Venezuelans now live in militarized cities. First came the Bicentennial Security Force (Dispositivo Bicentenario de Seguridad (DIBISE)), in effect since 2010 with expressed goal of reducing crime rates. Now a new initiative the Secure Homeland Plan (Plan Patria Segura) has been activated. This text is an indictment of militarized citizen security plans (see previous critique here) and an appeal for alternative policies.
First, a quick glance at the numbers reveals that militarized citizen security plans are good at putting disadvantaged young men in jail, yet ineffective at reducing crime.
Venezuela’s incarcerated population increased from a total of 30,483 in 2009—the year before the DIBISE came into effect—to 50,000 in 2011, two years into the plan. A recent study (Socio-demographic Diagnosis of the Penitentiary Population) revealed that 90.5% of those incarcerated were men; 88% were under 40 years of age (45% were between the ages of 18 and 25); most (68.28%) came from the most disadvantaged classes (56% from stratum IV and 11.6% from stratum V), and a quarter (23%) of them were in prison for trafficking and distribution of drugs.
And with the rapid and important increase of the incarcerated population, of course, problems such as overcrowding and inhumane living conditions in prisons are exacerbated. The January prison conflict in Uribana in which 55 prisoners were killed was only the biggest, most recent example of what is actually a daily tragedy.
Some might think that this is the price that must be paid to reduce crime. To the contrary, the total number of homicides increased from 13,851 in 2010—the year the plan was implemented—to 16,030 in 2012.
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.
Rebecca Hanson and David Smilde
The two murals above adorn the walls of the police station of Portugesa’s state police force, succinctly capturing the current juxtaposition of two very different models of security in Venezuela. The first mural encapsulates well the traditional model of policing in the country, with its gun toting, special operations image of citizen security. The second mural, a much more recent image added to the station walls that is adapted from the General Police Council’s training manuals, symbolizes the move toward differential and progressive use of force, with an emphasis on dialogue rather than force as a primary response.
Rebecca Hanson and David Smilde
The mural above—dedicated to the victims of police abuse—adorns a main wall of the new civilian-run policing university in Caracas, carrying with it a quote by Raquel Aristimuño, whose son was killed by the police here in 1992. The mural serves as a reminder of the violent and abusive history that the police must overcome if they are to convince Venezuelans that security forces are no longer “criminals in uniform” (malandros uniformados).
Before the passage of the 2008 Organic Law of the Police Service and of the National Police Body, police training was left in the hands of the National Guard, which resulted in little differentiation between tactics utilized by the military and the police. Police officers trained according to a military model of security have tended to view civilians (especially young males from the lower classes) as a suspicious enemy to be subdued, a mentality that has led to thousands of civilian deaths at the hands of the police each year. Indeed, homicide rates in Venezuela would be around 20% higher if the killings carried out by police officers—listed under “resistance to authority”— were counted as homicides. According to Provea, 3,492 killings in 2010 were placed in this category, which would represent an almost 300% increase from the early 2000s.