Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's new security plan has some solid proposals, but its politicized launch illustrates how crime and violence are shaping up to be a central issue in the upcoming presidential elections.
On Wednesday, Chavez set out the details of the scheme, "Mision A Toda Vida Venezuela" (Mission for Every Venezuelan Life) on state television. The president acknowledged that the problem of violence in his country was "grave" and "indisputable," and called on citizens to join forces to "resolve this serious national problem."
Chavez gave some details of the wide-ranging scheme, saying that weapons control would be a priority, that it would create community centers for the resolution of conflict, and that national police agency the CICPC would be reformed to handle only criminal investigations.
The government emphasized the social components of the scheme, which is meant to focus on integral crime prevention rather than repressive measures. Interior and Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said the plan would address institutional, environmental and structural factors that cause crime, such as poverty and social exclusion, El Universal reported. One priority will be encouraging young people who are out of school to return to education, the minister added. Chavez also spoke of expanding the role of an orchestra program for young people as a central part of the security plan.
El Aissami said that the government was trying to find ways other than prison to punish non-violent crimes such as petty theft, for example having criminals make amends to society through community service.
The scheme will focus on the 79 most dangerous municipalities, out of the country's total 335, which account for 86 percent of all murders.
InSight Crime Analysis
Many aspects of the government's plan sound well-advised, such as the idea of cutting down on prison sentences for non-serious crimes -- the country's prison system is in crisis, with massive overcrowding driving inmate violence. However, the focus on certain municipalities has drawn criticism, with Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma saying it discriminated against the rest of the country. When the plan was first announced in May, InSight Crime noted that the selection of the municipalities could have electoral implications.
The plan cannot be viewed in isolation from the bitterly contested presidential election in October. Its politicized presentation illustrates what a key issue violence and crime is for voters as the vote approaches, forcing Chavez to acknowledge the scale of the problem. Venezuela saw its most violent year on record in 2011, with a rate of 66 homicides per 100,000 making it most violent country in South America.
Chavez said that the plan was not about gaining an electoral advantage, stating, "I don't need to do that, because we are winning by a big margin." The president still found time for politics in his speech, however, blaming the opposition for some security problems because they hire "real gangsters" as police chiefs in states where they hold power.
El Aissami also took the opportunity to jab at the opposition, contrasting the scheme's focus on prevention with the security policies advanced by "some sectors of the country," which he said were "repressive."
Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles responded forcefully on Twitter, saying that the government had launched 18 security plans during its time in power, and all had failed: "Elections come and today they launch another! ... It is clear that under this government the Venezuelans are not going to find security."