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It seems to have escaped the notice of the government that if there’s a morgue full of crime victims, that itself is the problem, rather than the willingness of journalists to report on the facts. But for leaders such as Chavez, facts come a distant second behind ideology, and his ideology is simple: He is doing what is right for Venezuela, and if the country is in fact getting worse under his leadership, then it’s far preferable to shoot the media messengers than admit the truth. On the rare occasions when a government official is even willing to admit that there is a problem with a rising crime rate, they attribute it to regional factors, pointing out that other Latin American countries, such as Mexico, are also drowning in blood.
It is therefore interesting to compare Venezuela to its neighbor, Colombia. Colombia is of course far from perfect. It continues to grapple with an entrenched left-wing narco-insurgency, the very same FARC terrorists that Chavez supports. And violent crime remains a serious issue in many of Colombia’s major cities, in large part due to the same drug cartels and smuggling rings that beset Venezuela.
But unlike its socialist neighbor, Colombia shows no interest in denying that the problem exists and is more focused on finding solutions, including closer co-operation with America in modernizing its police. Such mutual assistance has paid dividends before; American military and technical aid was essential in allowing Colombia to deal several harsh military defeats to FARC, bringing large swathes of the country under government control for the first time in decades. FARC has even put out peace feelers.
Colombia’s efforts have paid off. Increasing security, economic development and a strengthening and maturing central government have seen the crime rate, while still problematic, drop by half during the same period than Venezuela’s has skyrocketed. With a newly inaugurated president, Colombia is well positioned to ride a wave of increasing prosperity in the wake of improving security conditions and continue to develop and modernize. None of this is to deny or minimize the challenges that lie ahead for a country that still must address economic disparity and remaining guerilla holdouts. But certainly, it is today better to live in democratic, capitalist, stabilizing Colombia than corrupt, violent Venezuela.
Hugo Chavez cannot be blind to the successes of his neighbor compared to the continued setbacks in his own nation. Whether or not he’s prepared to stop blaming the media for his own failures of leadership and take the steps necessary to improve the lives of his own people is an open question. But given his history of preferring the sound of a rattling saber over that of constructive criticism, there seems little reason for optimism.
Matt Gurney is an editor at the National Post, a Canadian national newspaper, and writes and speaks on military and geopolitical issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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