In a post three weeks ago, we discussed Venezuela’s persistent public security problems, including spiking murder and kidnapping rates and evidence of worsening organized crime. We interpreted the Venezuelan state’s inability to stem common crime as a reason to worry about its overall stability, especially its capacity to weather a likely coming economic shock.
Writing in last Thursday’s Washington Post opinion pages, international lawyer Robert Amsterdam offered a much more sinister take on Caracas’s crime wave. Likening ChÃ¡vez’s Venezuela to Putin’s Russia, Amsterdam imputes that both leaders are keeping common crime levels high on purpose.
Since Putin and ChÃ¡vez are said to rule with “iron fists,” a menacing question arises: Why have they been unable to stem the tide of crime in their streets? Is it a reflection of incompetence, or is there some tacit benefit to keeping a society imprisoned under a cloak of severe insecurity and moral panic? …
It occurred to me that the monstrous violence on the streets of Caracas and Moscow is perhaps useful to both regimes — and that in their incompetence at delivering public security, they have found a convenience that contributes to their grip on power.
Allowing lawlessness to fester on the streets as a means of enforcing an authoritarian social order? That’s certainly a novel interpretation of what’s happening in Venezuela. Violence in Venezuela could just as easily be the product of a model that, while highly statist and centralized, lacks the rigidity, ruthlessness and all-encompassing nature of the example followed in Cuba, where violent crime rates are negligible
If Mr. Amsterdam offered up even a shred of empirical evidence that Venezuela’s lax law enforcement was a deliberate strategy, and not simply a consequence of poor governance, his highly counterintuitive argument might make some sense. But his column includes no such evidence. It is surprising that the Washington Post would air such an outlandish argument based entirely on speculation.
Mr. Amsterdam is unconvincing. Venezuela’s violent crime problem is real and appears to be worsening. But instead of a devious means of social control, we see it as a result of bad public security policies, and thus a threat – not a support – to the ChÃ¡vez government’s longevity.