|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Venezuela’s crime problem
THE RECENT article by Tony Saunois on Venezuela (Socialism Today No.115, February 2008) correctly points out that the blight of crime there "is a critical question". Many media reports focus on crime in one form or another, whether it is the murder rate in Caracas, the latest kidnapping, or another prison riot. As Tony comments "violent crime is now seen as a major issue as the government is seen as having failed to deal with it".
Tony quotes murder rates in Caracas of 33.2 per 100,000, with eleven murders a day in November 2007, showing that Venezuela is one of the most murderous countries in the world. According to figures from the United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (using figures collected between 1998 and 2000), Venezuela came seventh out of 62 countries in total numbers of crimes, lower than the US, Mexico, South Africa, Colombia, Russia and India. However, several of those countries have much larger populations than Venezuela – per 100,000 people the US murder rate in 2000 was 5.51, much lower than Venezuela.
In terms of general crime, however, Venezuela ranks 46 out of 60 with 9.3 crimes per 1,000 people, whereas the UK, USA, South Africa, Germany and Chile have much higher rates. Crime figures are often not brilliantly reliable, because not only do they reflect the actual crime rate, but they are also a product of each countries’ different classifications of crime, the reporting rate of crime, decisions on what crimes to record etc. Also, one crime type may be much more prevalent than the general rate (ie in Venezuela murder and serious violent crimes like kidnapping), which may skew the figures. Murder, however, tends to be well reported (if not only for the seriousness of the crime, then also the fact it can be cross-checked with other data including hospital admissions etc).
After the short discussion of crime rates, Tony then comments that "some may argue that it is unfair to blame Chavez for the high levels of crime". Indeed Chavez inherited a legacy of crime and corruption on assuming the presidency from previous pillaging capitalist rulers. The high murder rate, rampant prison overcrowding and other problems were just one part of that legacy. Tony also points out that crime is a product of social conditions, in particular poverty and alienation. Some of the proposals in the defeated referendum would have alleviated these to an extent, particularly the reduction of the working week, as have other previous reforms.
But those reforms have, as Tony notes, been financed on the back of high oil prices and economic growth and the coming world recession places them in jeopardy. Chavez has failed to nationalise most of the decisive sectors of the economy, which have been giving bonanza profits to the Venezuelan capitalists. Only through the nationalisation of these sectors of the economy, under democratic working class control, can these resources be fully utilised to eradicate poverty and moreover stop capitalist disruption of Venezuelan life, such as the current food shortages.
However, socialists do not stand back and do nothing in the meantime: it is necessary for the workers’ movement to take up crime, as the article states, "in a practical way". The article discusses the corruption prevalent in the Venezuelan police, but the demands made by Marxists in relation to the state are applicable not just to the police but all sections of the criminal justice system. It is no good for the police to arrest, for example, some fascist thugs, for them to be unconditionally released by the courts which are dominated by the usually conservative judiciary. Similarly, there is not much point in letting those convicted of crimes simply rot away and become even more brutalised in overcrowded jails. The whole criminal justice system needs to be taken under the democratic control of the community, with full trade union rights for the workers within it.
As the article states, the creation of an organised movement of the working class and poor is crucial. Only this, armed with a socialist programme, can guarantee the victory of the Venezuelan revolution and lead a real fight to rid Venezuela of its blight of violent crime.