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Since coming to power in 1998, Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez has presided over radical changes inside the country. Promising to create “21st century socialism,” he has reformed the constitution, giving government-funded health care to all. He has nationalized key industries in repeated attempts to address what he perceives as an imbalance between Venezuela’s business elites and its masses of poor, including a “re-nationalization” of the oil sector. He’s worked within OPEC to keep the price of oil high and contain America’s power (while also blaming it for his economic woes).
Most alarmingly, he has turned into the bully of Latin America, purchasing large quantities of Russian weapons, threatening his neighbors with war and constantly yammering on about American assassination plots and military threats whenever he needs a boost to his domestic approval ratings. He has supported the FARC terrorists in their insurgency campaign against US-ally Colombia. Clearly, the man has been busy. So busy, in fact, that it was to be expected that he would drop at least one of the balls he was juggling. Too bad for the people of Venezuela that the ball in question was the one concerned with keeping crime low and the streets safe: Under his leadership, Venezuela has become a disaster.
The statistics are sobering, and astonishing. On the whole, the country, with 26 million people, saw a whopping 19,000 murders in 2009. To put that into perspective, the state of Texas, with a comparable population of roughly 24.5 million, experienced 1,374 murders in 2008, considerably less than a tenth of Venezuela’s total. Indeed, the United States as a whole, with roughly 12 times the population of Venezuela, recorded nearly 3,000 fewer murders in 2008 than did Venezuela in 2009. (Please note the differing years reflect the most recent available data for both nations.)
Put another way, it is safer to live in Iraq than it is in Venezuela.
The problem is particularly acute in the capital city of Caracas, currently the murder capital of the world. In 2008, as rival gangs battled for control of the underworld and kidnappings for ransom flourished, the city’s central forensic lab was filled to capacity with murder victims awaiting examination, with more arriving each hour. Later that year, after more than 500 people were murdered in the capital during the month of December alone, the Ministry of Interior Relations and Justice announced a slate of initiatives designed to help bring down the rate of violent crime the next year. Community outreach into troubled areas and specialized police units operating within the capital were entrusted with bringing the murder epidemic back under control. It didn’t work.
How is Chavez, a man willing to shake his fist at mighty America, tackling this national nightmare? He’s blaming the media for reporting the extent of the problem. Rather than face up to the fact that the number of murders in Venezuela has at least doubled (some figures suggest an even great increase of 400%) since he took office, Chavez’s government is accusing the media of supporting opposition parties ahead of legislative elections later this month by running pictures of the afore-mentioned Caracas morgue, overflowing with the bodies of murder victims. Venezuela’s courts quickly deemed the images pornographic and banned similar images from publication, in a move that brought swift condemnation from the United Nations and various international press agencies. The rulings have largely been reversed, though the first two papers to publish the images remain under sanction.
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