Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has announced a police reform plan that, on the surface, could appear to be a blueprint for a police state. If enacted, it would achieve little more than flooding the streets with easily-corruptible police forces.
On December 20, Maduro announced that in 2024 Venezuela would more than double the size of its national police force, the Bolivarian National Police (Policía Nacional Bolivariana - PNB), increasing the number of officers from approximately 44,000 to 100,000.
The new police officials would be used to bolster the government’s policy for territorial policing, “Cuadrantes de Paz” or “peace quadrants,” Maduro said. He ordered the PNB to coordinate with the military command so that these Peace Quadrants “work in a perfect civic-military-police union.”
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Maduro also announced plans to create a national industry dedicated to arming and equipping the PNB, including setting up a new weapons factory.
The police reforms, Maduro said, were “steps towards constructing a system of public security that strengthens the role of the state through its police, with a humanist concept and articulation with popular power.”
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Despite Maduro’s claims to be building a humanist police force, his plans raise concerns coming as they do from an authoritarian government with a history of politicizing security institutions and using them to violently impose social control and repress political opposition.
The PNB is not only a centrally controlled force, it is one the government has tried to instill with the Chavista ideology of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela – PSUV). Senior government officials have previously talked of the importance of “ideologizing” the PNB, while recruits have complained that in order to join the ranks, they must be members of the PSUV, according to an investigation by El Nacional.
In addition, PNB units have faced persistent accusations of being responsible for politically motivated human rights abuses, including extrajudicial executions, detention, and torture. According to a 2020 report by the United Nations Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela, abuses committed by the PNB were part of a “widespread and systematic attack directed against a civilian population, with knowledge of the attack, pursuant to or in furtherance of a State policy.”
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However, whether Maduro’s intention is to use security apparatus to maintain power, or simply to improve citizen security, is likely irrelevant as the government does not have the resources and capacity to effectively set up and maintain such a force.
Between an economic crisis and a kleptocratic elite, the government does not have the funds to train, equip, and pay the forces it currently has. PNB officials speaking anonymously to Version Final in late 2022 described how far from strengthening, the PNB is currently losing more people every day as officers, tired of having to survive on poverty wages and pay out of their own pockets for basic materials such as uniforms and gasoline for patrol cars, leave the force.
Those that remain commonly have to seek out alternative, often illicit, sources of income. There is extensive evidence of PNB officials participating in corruption schemes, abusing their position to carry out criminal activities such as robbery, extortion, and kidnapping.
Many end up working with organized crime, providing protection and intelligence, selling arms, and even working directly for criminal actors ranging from gangs to drug trafficking networks.
As such, the most likely outcome for plans to double the police force would be a huge increase in badly trained, poorly equipped police officials whose principal options for earning a living wage lie with corruption or colluding with organized crime.