Proposals by the Venezuelan government to form "peace zones" will just enhance the power of criminal gangs and the impunity they enjoy, according to a security expert, whose analysis, it should be noted, precedes the actual details and implementation of the proposed policy.
According to Roberto Briceño Leon, director of non-governmental organization Venezuelan Violence Observatory, recent events in Ocumare del Tuy, a neighborhood about 45 miles south of Caracas, are evidence of the tight hold gangs have over many urban areas, reported El Universal.
Last week, a police station in the town was attacked with Molotov cocktails, and a shopkeeper kidnapped and then later released. Briceño said the brazen attacks were similar to those carried out in Caracas neighborhood 23 de Enero, where gangs had blocked roads.
"The wrong message is being sent and to permit actions of this type by criminal gangs and armed groups goes against any possibility of pacification of territories," he said, referring to a recent announcement by President Nicolas Maduro that "peace territories" would be created in Venezuela.
"Pacification must never imply impunity (…) because that would be more like a mafia-style peace," said Briceño.
Neighborhoods across the country live permanently under the control of criminal groups, he said, warning that while such groups respected and obeyed former President Hugo Chavez, who died in March, the same could not be said for Maduro.
InSight Crime Analysis
This is as much a political as it is a security question for Venezuela's government. "Colectivos" -- armed groups in Caracas who profess to be carrying out political and social activities as part of the Bolivarian Revolution -- were allowed to control neighborhoods and act violently without repercussions for years under Chavez. Maduro has maintained the status quo, terrified that any pushback would eat away at his dwindling popular support in the neighborhoods that he most needs to hang on to power.
To be fair, it is impossible to make any accurate predictions about what Venezuelan "peace territories" will mean until details are provided on what they will entail, how they will be created and how they will be enforced. Whether such details will be provided, or whether Maduro's announcement will just vanish into thin air -- as is so often the case -- remains to be seen.
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In this context, Briceño is right to point out that criminal gangs have tight control over many Venezuelan neighborhoods and act with impunity; such a security situation makes Maduro's announcement somewhat farcical.
On top of this, overall impunity is sky high, with 92 out of every hundred murders going unsolved. What's more, rampant corruption within the security forces, broken judicial institutions and the widespread availability of firearms would all need to be addressed before any talk of peace zones could become a reality.