Violence and Politics in Venezuela

Aug. 18, 2011, 8:40 p.m.

Violence and Politics in Venezuela analyzes the high levels of violence found within Venezuela and the relation this violence has to upcoming presidential elections in 2012 and the uncertainties created by the illness of President Hugo Chavez.  Venezuela faces many issues related to violence specifically a jump in the number of deaths as a result of the pervasive use of firearms within the civilian population, impunity for those who commit violence, high levels of police corruption and brutality, all leading to deeply entrenched violence throughout the country.  The various problems listed existed before Chavez became president, but they have significantly worsened after he came to power.  This is in large part due to the decline of Venezuela’s institutions.  Levels of organized crime have increased drastically accompanied by complicity with the security forces leading Venezuela to be the center of organized crime.  The paper addresses the roots of violence in Venezuela, the resulting rise of violence under Chavez, the impact of armed groups and their relationships to crime, violence and politics, institutional decay, and conflict risks. 

Violence and corruption have been facilitated by a steady process of institutional erosion that has become particularly manifest in the justice system and the security forces. While impunity levels soar, highly dysfunctional and abusive police have endangered citizen security. Heavily politicised, the armed forces are increasingly seen as part of the problem, enmeshed with organised crime and pressed by the president to commit themselves to the partisan defence of his “revolution”. The creation, arming and training of pro-governmental militias further increase the danger that political differences may ultimately be settled outside the constitutional framework, through deadly force. In this highly charged environment, political violence has so far remained more a latent threat than a reality. However, as the country heads into what promises to be a fiercely contested presidential election, with very high stakes for both sides, this fragile equilibrium may not hold. Moreover, uncertainties provoked by the president’s illness have compounded short- and medium-term prospects. The greatest danger is likely to come after the election, regardless of who wins, since the entrenched levels of violence are prone to undermine either peaceful regime continuity, hand-over to a successor or any transitional arrangement. Moreover, whatever the political complexion of a future government, the extensive presence of organised crime networks is likely to seriously threaten medium- and longterm stability. The necessary actions to avoid that scenario must begin with a commitment by all sides to peaceful constitutional means of conflict resolution and with effective government measures to disarm and dismantle criminal structures, restore the rule of law and root out corruption in state institutions.

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