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Jan 262009

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 Chávez’s Venezuela to Putin’s Russia, Amsterdam imputes that both leaders are keeping common crime levels high on purpose.

Since Putin and Chávez 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 Chávez government’s longevity.

11 Responses to “Social control through common crime?”

  1. boz Says:

    It was a strange column. The crime is much more likely a result of poor governance than any sort of “bank-shot” for implementing authoritarian policies.

    As I’ve written over at my blog, there is a sort of paradox of “strong government, weak state.” Most people perceive the Chavez government as being very strong from the sense the executive controls the other institutions, but it’s incredibly weak in terms of state control over security.

  2. Jaime Bustos Says:

    WP has aired weirder stuff, believe me ;-)

  3. Randy Paul Says:

    This is indeed bizarre. Chavez may be a big blowhard, but it makes no sense for him to give the opposition a cause to help defeat him.

  4. Kyle Says:

    Exactly Randy Paul, exactly. Though, to be fair, Adam, we could state that the Washington Post’s running of this article may be related to an idea of objectivity and presenting various views on issues; the past, though, does not support that view in any significant manner.

  5. Chris Says:

    You can’t compare Venezuelan society to Russian society… from what I understand, Russian culture has always centered around a clan mentality that festers with crime… even during the Soviet regime. Putin didn’t create it, he just uses it to his advantage, and does little to nothing to mitigate or eliminate the problem. Venezuela doesn’t strike me as the same, which is why I see no merit in Amsterdam’s opinion.

    But like Kyle, we don’t have to beat-up the Washington Post about this…

  6. Montserrat Nicolas Says:

    Last time I checked, “internal security problems” (i.e crime) had social roots. I mean, less likely that kids with a happy life will do it…So, let us all go back and treat it as a poverty issue and not a security issue.


  7. Chris Says:

    Poverty and Security is or can be inter-related…

  8. jake Says:

    Agree 100%. Very odd. Given how close the December 2007 constitutional referendum was, and that crime has been polling as the number 1 concern in Venezuela for several years (it’s the single most immediate concern for 50-70% in most polls), it seems not much of a stretch to say that crime cost Chavez a win in 2007. He’s not stupid; the crime rate is an obvious political loser. I agree with commenters on weak state and incompetence, but would also just note that the very difficult details of crime-fighting just aren’t the kind of grand project that Chavez gets personally excited about.

  9. El Común Says:

    From the LA Times:

    Venezuela tolerates FARC rebels in border region, residents say

  10. Chris Says:

    From a strategic point of view… I would also tolerate the FARC rebels given my (Venezuelas) finite resources. Why? Because the FARC keeps Colombia unstable… imagine the powerhouse Colombia would be absent the various guerrilla groups. That would be a real threat to Venezuela.

    Personnally, I don’t think it’s in Venezuela’s national security interests to dedicate substantial resources towards eliminating the FARC on its borders.

  11. Nolan Says:

    It’s not in Colombia’s interest either as FARC is hardly the only cause of drug related violence.

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