Tower of terror

The journalist as Cassandra

The journalist as Cassandra

Jon Lee Anderson penned an epic article on life in Caracas for the New Yorker, and after jumping through many hoops, I finally dished out $5.95 and read it.

It is a devastating piece.

There are many ways in which one could tell the story of Caracas’ decay, how life in the city has deteriorated beyond measure. Anderson  chose to take us through a guided tour of the Tower of David. He confronts the cliché that the tower is a crime-ridden hell-hole by showing us a complicated microcosm of our society, with its own rules and fascinating ways of doing things. He spends a lot of time on the character of Alexander (El Niño) Daza, an ex-con who currently serves as an evangelical pastor in the tower … and also its self-appointed community head-honcho.

In spite of Daza’s apparent change of heart, he remains a criminal deep down. He has no valid answer for why or how he occupies the position of power he has. He shows little remorse for his past sins, other than to say he is a changed man. He has no regard for the rule of law, and the way he operates (in the shadows, surrounded by dubious characters) suggests more Al Capone than Billy Graham. Anderson seems to think this guy is one psychotic spell away from his old ways. In spite of his efforts to not paint in broad strokes, the message is clear: Daza, Juan Barreto (who comes across as something out of a Peter Greenaway movie), and other “community leaders” in Caracas’ slums are sociopaths.

Anderson provides no silver lining, and the sense of pessimism the piece left me with is hard to shake. The Chávez administration has so empowered thugs, and the decay in the rule of law is so pervasive, we may have passed the point of no return.

Even if we were to manage changing the government, we cannot tolerate this sort of impunity, and we will need to attack it head on. If there are tens of thousands of murders being committed every year, what do we do with the thousands of murderers roaming our streets? How can we build the future when killers (such as the Barreto protégé who confesses to killing “about sixty people”) are accepted as players in our political life?

Fixing Venezuela is going to require what, to some, will be an intolerable level of Elliot-Ness-like violence. We can wish it away, but we need to understand that leaving things as they are is not an option, and will likely lead to the same (if not higher) levels of violence.

These are the cards we have been dealt with. It’s not fair, but there’s no point complaining about it. We need to lay the groundwork and prepare ourselves – mentally, morally – for what’s surely coming.

87 thoughts on “Tower of terror

  1. I’ll have to trek out and buy it. It’s easy to think the whole Torre de David angle has been done to death, but if there’s one guy you’d trust to squeeze some juice out of what’s left in that orange, it’s JLA.

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    • The article goes well beyond the tower, the building is just a simbol in a bigger narrative of a failed revolution. Very well written. However, I didn’t get that feeling of pessimism Juan mentions, actually it felt so familiar I felt tranported to how it was growing in a barrio in the 80’s.

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  2. By the way, the New Yorker is really vigilant about not letting its content slip away for free in the Internet. The best way to read the article (for thos eof us not in the US) was to download the app for iPad or iPhone and buy the issue through there.

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  3. Of course, we have whole generations of Venezuelans, especially poorer ones, for whom the whole idea of an Estado de Derecho is a bizarre abstraction, something they have no direct experience of, nor longing for, nor understanding of, nor expectation of. The whole idea that the formal mechanisms of justice – courts and cops and prosecutors and such – could actually be relevant to you as you attempt to process a dispute in your personal life, or seek to obtain justice, is just totally alien to people.

    Primero Justicia at least should get kudos for seeing this early on, and pushing hard for a Justice of the Peace system of neighbourhood mediator-judges way back in the late 90s. But so much has happened in the interim…

    It circles back also to the debate on Constitutional Article 231 we had a couple of years ago. It’s worth trying to imagine how our outrage might have looked from the perspective of someone living on floor 28 of Torre de David. A bizarre, impossible-to-make-sense-of fetish. A #FirstWorldProblem drowning in a #ThirdWorldReality.

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  4. You are departing on a fantasy trip in which you assume what the piece describes it’s a deformed version of Venezuelan society. I’d call this type of wishful reasoning a gaffe that has become mainstream among Venezuelan middle class due to their ghettoization.
    The only thing that changed with the advent of Chavez was the institutionalization and consequent spill over of violence on middle class bastions, now left undefended by the Fuerzas del Orden.
    And I’m not saying that Ghettoization is evil per se, it’s much preferable than the underground war we live in, but 100% of the time leads to deformed perceptions and wishful narratives that don’t necessarily correspond with reality.
    Latin American countries have traditionally contempt violence through ordinary policing means which the left has transformed into repression narratives. They successfully transformed these “narratives” into meta-narratives, raiding the post-modernist wave, which is needless to say, has blurred even further perceptions about truth.
    What it seems so grim and truthful in this article for us the middle class can be as Manichean and manipulative as a George W. Bush speech for the “sans-culottes” of David Tower.

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    • Chamo, los homicidios se han cuadriplucado en 14 años, si crees identificar eso con el discurso violento y permisivo del crimen del chavismo y la destrucción de lo poco que existía de instituciones es fantasy thinking y que nada ha cambiado desde 1999, preguntale a los 21 mil que mataron el año pasado contras los 4550 de 1998.

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      • Lamento que no hayas entendido mi línea de argumento.
        Mi punto es que la clase media, de la cual formo parte, cree que la otra Venezuela, la chavista por llamarla de alguna manera, es un estado transitivo; una deformación exacerbada políticamente que puede, a la larga, ser domada, traída de nuevo a un redil. Y mi punto es, precisamente, que esto no es posible sencillamente porque nuestro problema de violencia es orgánico, genético, antes que, oportunista.
        Esa no es mi tesis ni tampoco es nueva; baste recordar que Herrera Luque señalara de manera evidente en “Viajeros de Indias” el problema de la violencia en Venezuela, mucho antes de la aparición del Chavismo. Su tesis puede tener flancos débiles desde el punto de vista psiquiátrico, pero para mí está blindada desde el punto de vista ontológico y dialéctico.
        El chavismo, como dije, sólo institucionalizó el uso de la violencia gangsteril, made in the barrio, llevándola al escenario político, emponderándola. El resultado inmediato ha sido el que la clase media se sienta asediada por un problema que durante muchos años estuvo circunscrito al barrio, al arrabal, al albañal, a la periferia. Democracia pura, dirán algunos, ¿por qué han de sufrir la violencia sólo los pobres? Ahora Venezuela es de todos…
        Las cifras de 1998 son excesivamente altas ya para la época, quizás sólo opacadas por la lucha de los carteles en la Colombia de Barco, Gaviria y Pastrana. Yendo más allá, nuestras cifras criminales comienzan a aumentar marcadamente desde principios de los 80s. De ahí que el ñangarismo atrincherado en la UCV siempre usó el tema de la crisis del capitalismo y la depauperación como estrechamente ligados; un mito que ellos mismos acaban de desmontar.
        Gracias y saludos,

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        • Más o menos entendí tu argumento. Pero la verdad no creo que las explicaciones filosóficas o postmodernas ayuden o contribuyan a explicar el fenómeno de la violencia en Venezuela ni tampoco leer a Herrera Luque. La violencia desatada en el país es la respuesta normal de la naturaleza humana ante la falta de instituciones, la aplicación selectiva de la ley y la arbitrariedad general en que vivimos. No creo que tengamos algún rasgo fundamental en nuestra identidad que nos condene a esto. Países en situaciones iguales o peores han logrado reducir significativamente el problema y precisamente, las explicaciones deterministas sólo hacen verlo como algo irresoluble, cuando a través de una serie de reformas institucionales, que por supuesto son dificilísima de lograr y implementar, se puede cambiar la situación.

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          • Yo no entiendo tu argumento “más o menos”, sino que lo entiendo completamente.
            Sin embargo, creo que la subestimación de ciertas herramientas del pensamiento no es, ni de lejos, algo que podamos llamar pragmático. Yo sí creo que la raíz de muchos de nuestros problemas ha sido ese desentendimiento de la “sociedad” venezolana con la raíz histórica de nuestros problemas e idiosincrasia. Voy más allá, como puede un hijo de extranjero, criado en un seno familiar europeizado, entender qué demonios pasa en ese espejo de las urbanizaciones de Caracas que son esos barrios anexos? Y más de un atorado saltará a atacarme de xenófobo sin terminar de leer; pero en este caso hablo de mi experiencia personal.
            Una cosa es “to keep at bay” y otra cosa es atacar la raíz del problema. No sólo está errado aquel que cree que matando el hambre con programas sociales famélicos como los de este gobierno puede echar a andar a una nación; sino también está errado aquel que cree que crecimiento económico lo es todo. Le construyen un teleférico al barrio, pero lo dejan sin iluminación; del otro lado están aquellos que creen que haciendo a los habitantes de un barrio pagar la electricidad y el agua que consumen es una manera efectiva de integrarlos plenamente a la sociedad. ¿Ves los extremos?
            Yo creo que la reforma institucional es importante, pero no la veo como el fin último; es más, no la veo cerca con el clima de mutua desconfianza y el discurso clasista que se ha integrado plenamente a la sociedad venezolana de lado y lado. Unos con el “no volverán” y los otros con el “ya tú vas a ver maldito cuando esto se acabe”. ¿Pa´ dónde vamos? ¿Cómo podemos hablar de una forma tan simple, sí, sí esto lo que le hace falta es una reforma institucional, y ya verás como la vaina se calma? Trabajando en Venezuela me he dado cuenta que el intelectual venezolano es flojo, el científico es flojo, el político es flojo; y toda vaina la convierten en un experimento en vivo, como vaya viniendo vamos viendo. Entonces para qué leer a Coronil, Herrera Luque, Briceño Iragorry, et al?

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            • Thanks to both Mayke Santos and Carcr 210 for a discussion that really seeks to touch on the socio cultural roots of the Chavez phenomena , that goes deeper than the more usual grumbling and cursing ( albeit seasoned with a lot of witty insights) . the topic really deserve attention but the space one can dedicate to it using this kind of format is limited . wish I could meet you guys with a few beers between us , we might even crack the dilemma that Chavez the darling of Venezuelast poorest poses for us .

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        • interesante punto de vista, para la base chavista la delincuencia no es un problema, es el estado normal de cosas

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    • A ver papito, lánzate a la confinanzas a hacer un artículo mas preciso y no deformado, si es que tienes cojones

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  5. The New Yorker is always worth the $5.95. Cannot wait to read the article, Jon Lee Anderson has reported on Venezuela at least a few times before and has connections with many in the Latin world . He also wrote the definitive (and fair, I thought) english language biography of Che, among many other things..

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  6. Wait, the only thing that changed with the advent of Chavez was the institutionalization and consequent spill over of violence on the defenseless middle class, but this is a fantasy? Oh I see.

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    • I´ll be careful next time when using a level of English visibly far difficult to understand for some in the blog.
      I hope you´ll be able to read the following comment I made in Spanish above.

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  7. Very bad, it looks like it is rather “normal”:

    http://www.el-nacional.com/sucesos/Lincharon-funcionario-Cicpc_0_122390866.html

    “Un funcionario del Cicpc adscrito al eje de homicidios de Ocumare de Tuy, estado Miranda, el detective Jacson Gil Barreto, de 23 años de edad, fue linchado y asesinado a golpes por la colectividad en el sector Marare, de dicha entidad, en el momento que practicaba la detención de un sujeto que era buscado por figurar como autor de un homicidio”

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    • “Los oficiales detallaron que la comunidad decidió defender al delincuente porque actuaba como un “Robin Hood” en el sector”
      Hmm, so how good is this socialist state then?

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  8. Save your money, guys — the PDF will be on the piratebay any day now. It’s not even worth a buck.

    Some choice quotes from the article:

    “Roughly built brick houses, similar to the ones that cover the hillsides around Caracas like scabs”

    “We entered as if into a cave, like pigs”

    So we can spot a theme here: Jon Lee Anderson imagines that the poor Venezuelans living rent-free in a city of greedy landlords are pigs infesting the landscape like scabs, and the revolution is responsible. No mention of Mision Vivienda, no mention that the ranchos started appearing way back in the 70s.

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      • I have a little more respect for the poor than Jon Lee, and a better ability to see the wider picture of how Venezuela ended up the way it is. This is the direct effect of social exclusion and the anarchy of competition.

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        • It is clear he is referring to the fact that given the socioeconomic conditions that surround them they are not living in decent, humane conditions, as opposed to actually choosing to live that way, which is how you’ve read it. Superb selective analysis.

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          • Yes, the absence of barrio kitsch must be confounding for some. Where are all the oldies playing dominos in neatly pressed guayaberas?

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          • Selective being the key word here. He doesn’t mention that poverty in Venezuela is now lower than it’s ever been since the “golden days”, or that population is growing at a record rate.

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            • Yes, selective indeed is the word: the only banner you wrap yourself in is the one that says poverty has been reduced…which apparently is reason enough to ignore oh, I don’t know, skyrocketing kidnapping rates, quintupled homicide rates with a 90% impunity rate, significant decrease in oil production, higher infant mortality rate, among others. But yes, yay for the poor who are apparently living in divine conditions.

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              • Well, less poverty means more people can afford to furnish their homes, and travel to and from their home. So yeah, much more relevant than the points you just mentioned.

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            • .Selective being the key word here. He doesn’t mention that poverty in Venezuela is now lower than it’s ever been since the “golden days”..

              Re “golden days,” I would suggest that you research the housing deficit pre-1999 compared to the current housing deficit. Recall that the above Anderson quotes refer to housing.

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            • Yoyo , very poor people are not made better human beings by their poverty , often quite the opposite , they frequently become the bullying predators of their own . Buñuel once made a film showing the dreadful lives and dreadful hearts of people living in the shantytowns of mexico city . People are not rescued from poverty just because they eat a bit better or get a sense of empowerement from participating in some megalomaniacal conceit . To root poverty out you have to wrest its corrupting dehumanizing influence from poor peoples mind and that takes a lot of intelligent effort and time . Chavez is just giving people happy piñata parties that make them happy for a while but doesnt really make up for what poverty has taken from them .

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            • (In response to your comment below that I have to reply to here) They can afford more than before to travel to and from their homes and put things in their homes…with no certainty that they’ll survive the trip back to their house, or that when they get there their belongings won’t be stolen…yes, you’re right, poverty is all that matters. You do realize it’s ridiculous the government cannot promote a political culture in which public officials simultaneously secure several rights of citizens, right? Or is multitasking not possible in the form of government you support?

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              • But you are also guilty here of making it sound like a drop in poverty is really insignificant. But its not just poverty that has fallen, consumption has increased across the board. Venezuelans consume 40 percent more food per capita today than they did 14 years ago. Hunger has vanished, as even the FAO has recently recognized. These are not insignificant facts, and have a lot to do with explaining why people keep supporting this government, despite the increase in crime.

                And you all are correct in pointing to crime as a major problem. But I would like to see a serious analysis of it, and an attempt to actually give a feasible explanation for why crime has increased so much, not these brainless explanations like “the chavistas are all a bunch of psychos”. That kind of thinking is absurd.

                What is the reason? Is it because the government has simply refused to crack down on crime? Or is it because there is more money in the streets fueling more illicit activities? Or is it because the Chavista base is in the barrios, making it hard for the government to really intervene in a major way there?

                I honestly don’t know, but if you are going to focus on it so much, you all should at least try to give a reasonable explanation for it. At the very least it would help future governments tackle the issue. Please don’t respond to this with more dumb ass explanations.

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              • Getaclue,

                I think I’ve given it the significance it deserves – it is quite an accomplishment, although I would question its sustainability given the misiones’ dependency on the oil boom-bust cycle. I don’t think hunger or poverty reduction are insignificant. I do think it is a bit naive to act as if it is sufficient to claim that Venezuelan society enjoys a better quality of life, though.

                And at no time have I said or referred to “chavistas being psychos”. If you want an explanation for the violence and insecurity, I have plenty of readings I could email you that do extensive societal and political analyses of the increase of violence in Venezuela since the early 1980s.

                I could begin, though, by stating that the increase in homicides in Venezuela has occurred due to political reasons and a break in the social pact. Complete strangers kill each other on a daily basis. I’m not saying political violence in the sense of conflict between groups competing for power, but as the existing political settlement that allows society to regulate conflicts, define social norms and enforce compliance. The political agreement that underlies and supports the rule of law, for example.

                This also means that violence in Venezuela does not originate from social reasons such as poverty or inequality. There were still plenty of poor people before 1998. Or economic reasons such as increasing unemployment and decreasing the country’s GDP. In fact, in Venezuela inequality has improved – as you well know – yet homicides have continued to increase.

                In particular I would say the early 1990s played a particularly important role in how violence increased: given the institutional crises from about 1989-1993, the two coups in 1992, and, more recently (since 2000 ish) a weakening of the rule of law and increase in impunity.

                I would also say lack of accountability (the removal of criminal-related data from the public view) since 2005 should be considered as a factor that should change as well.

                In addition, the lack of justice being served in Venezuela is rather surprising: in Brazil and Colombia imprisonment for homicides increased while homicides remained stable in Brazil and have decreased in Colombia. In Venezuela, less malandros are arrested and, of course, they continue to commit crimes.

                En fin, I would say misiones, dedicated to reducing poverty and inequality, are quite valuable in themselves. However, they will not reduce crime or increase safety if they are not accompanied by a strengthening of social organization and institutions.

                You could read up Briceño Leon’s analyses if you are interested, the director of the Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia, who has written extensively on each of these issues.

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              • As Pablo Escobar and El Chapo Guzman have taught us, to name a couple of other famous slumlords from the region, the temporary relief of poverty and support of “social programs” are not necessarily accomplishments inconsistent with organizational objectives of inciting, promoting and benefiting directly on a systemic basis from crime and acts of violence.

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              • Sorry Jonathan,

                But it is hardly reasonable to say that people in the barrios of Caracas are killing each other at an alarming rate in 2012 because of an institutional crisis in 1989 and 1992… or because the government stopped publishing crime stats in 2005. Those are just slightly less dumb than other explanations given here.

                As has been recognized often on this blog, the people in the barrios have never had involvement or conception of the justice system in Venezuela. They don’t start killing each other because they perceive some sort of institutional crisis going on in the state organs that for them have never really existed in an important way. Besides, this ignores the fact that Venezuela is not the only place in LA where crime has skyrocketed in recent years.

                The lack of justice is a slightly better explanation, but it ignores that justice systems are notoriously bad in all of Latin America. And crime hasn’t skyrocketed everywhere. So that also cannot be the whole explanation.

                Regardless, none of your explanations will be convincing unless they are based on some actual data, actual evidence, that can support them. You would have to show that the justice system in Ven is actually worse than elsewhere, or is actually worse today than it was in previous decades. Or you’d have to show that there is less police presence now, less punishment of crimes, etc.

                Anyone can rattle on in vague terms about an “institutional crisis” or about a “lack of justice”. But those are baseless assertions unless they can be backed up with actual facts and evidence.

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              • “I would like to see a serious analysis of it, and an attempt to actually give a feasible explanation for why crime has increased so much, not these brainless explanations like “the chavistas are all a bunch of psychos”. That kind of thinking is absurd.”
                Get a clue,
                The one and only explanation is that there is no institutions to enforce the law, if you commit a crime and get away with it, without any punishment, what you get is anarchy and crime.

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              • Getaclue,

                I’ve just seen your comment. I didn’t say that people started killing each other because of the institutional crisis: by including all of the factors I did I was implying that the institutional crisis led to a weakening of the rule of law and an increase in impunity, that has clearly worsened since the early 1990s.

                I also didn’t say that violence increased because they stopped publishing crime stats. I said there is a lack of accountability, something completely different, though directly related to control of (and access to) information. I’m not saying by publishing crime stats you have resolved all issues of accountability, but I do think that by providing as much information as possible it allows the people and the government to interact on which zones need specific attention, how to resolve the issues with what programs, etc.

                I also agree that people in barrios don’t have a conception, generally, of the justice system in Venezuela (and many other countries for that matter). But why would they begin killing each other at a higher rate? As I stated, it is likely that the weakening of the rule of law and an increase in impunity have led to higher violent crime rates, among other things – even if those institutions weren’t present before, if kids grow up seeing older kids getting away with crime a sub-culture of criminality can develop in which justice does not seem likely to be served and crime becomes an economic option, a business. The fact that Venezuela is not the only place in LA where crime has skyrocketed in recent years doesn’t negate what I’ve said (firstly because we are talking about crime in Venezuela, not looking to explain crime in the entire region, which entails completely separate justice systems, societies, cultural norms, institutions, etc. etc.), and in each case where crime has gone up those two factors are usually present.

                And the issue is lack of justice, in all of Latin America (even if it isn’t the whole explanation, which I never claimed it was, seeing as I mentioned various factors): wherever there is poor law enforcement, crime rates are higher than areas where law enforcement is better.

                And in terms of data, I gave you a website with plenty of information and presentations from experts who cover security in various countries – so I think you can find at least some information there, and then compare it to other information as you like.

                The justice system is noticeably worse in Venezuela than in Brazil and Colombia as I mentioned before. That is in the presentation by Briceño León, and there are other studies that support this in comparisons by John Bailey, a professor who has focused on security in Mexico and Colombia in recent years and can be a good point of comparison for those studying Venezuela. And in terms of less punishment of crimes – that information is in Briceño León’s presentation and charts/graphs/other info can be found here:

                http://centroderecursos.alboan.org/ebooks/0000/0586/4_her_im.pdf

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              • You just restated what you had already said, without providing any of the evidence you’d need to prove it, as I mentioned above. Nor do the things you link to provide that evidence. The Briceño-Leon presentation is hilarious. It simply asserts that the quality of governance is deteriorating in all these different ways, without providing an ounce of evidence. And all those charts??? They don’t even have numbers, just lines showing things getting worse after 1999. Nor does he even say where he got that information.

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              • That would be because I studied the issue and those are contributing explanations in my opinion and there are analyses that support that opinion, just like there are others that don’t. They are, of course, not the only explanations and I think several factors contribute. You can build on them from there and, as I said, use your own sources if you are convinced other factors are involved. You said you wanted someone to write about security in a serious way, well I did, and although you don’t like the explanations, it doesn’t make it any less valid of a point just because it isn’t in line with your political/social explanations of insecurity in the country.

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              • Yes, you did much better in providing an explanation than the rest here. But still, you haven’t responded to my comments. The information you link to does not appear to have sources for much of the most crucial information. The Briceño-Leon makes all kinds of assertions and claims, with charts etc., but I can’t find where he has taken his information from. He only provides a source for one of his charts, and it is CICPC archives. However, he only goes back to 1998, so it is impossibly to tell if the trend is new, and it is impossible to make a comparison to the average of the 1990s.

                I think he might be onto something with his information on homicide detentions, but he doesn’t allow for a comparison to the pre-Chavez years, nor does he provide any analysis for WHY there might be less homicide detentions today. Is Chavez telling the police to not arrest murderers? That doesn’t seem likely. There must be a better explanation.

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              • I agree – I mean, I don’t think he’s carrying out the most subjective analysis which I figured you wouldn’t like, but I do like that he at least has his own figures for recent homicide rates and looks at the relationship between political/institutional breakdown in the 90s (before Chavez) and the rise of violence thereafter. I think that if we used his as just a small piece to the puzzle it would be possible to make a solid argument for a theory that covers rising crime rates since the 1970s-1980s. There are other pieces I just haven’t read lately, but there are definitely other sources that would be good to consult.

                Also, I don’t think he’s saying that the lack of homicide detentions are because Chavez is telling them to be corrupt, although he makes it clear he thinks Chavez has done a poor job responding to crime, I just think he believes that there is a culture of impunity in which, in my opinion, crime has become a business where state and nonstate actors interact at different levels, for several reasons (I think the business-aspect of crime should probably be further studied, though – although Eduardo Moncada has a thesis about all of this – Clientelism, Business, and Violence – that’s pretty interesting).

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    • You take issue with the epithets, not with the situation described. Are you anything else but a propagandist?

      Never mind that they, the poor, live, not under the scourge of real-deal serial killers, but now live under their “leadership”. That does not bother you at all.

      Never mind that living in such an unsafe place (and I have seen occupied abandoned factories ten times uglier, all sporting DirectTV antennas) is not quite what we pictured for a country governed by people who say at every step that they “care about the poor”.

      And as a parting shot: Not only the landlords are “greedy” in Venezuela. Most everybody doing business in Venezuela is, by necessity, most of them members of the Socialist government or with the approval of the Socialist government. That greed, my not-so-dear, is a direct consequence and achievement of the system actually governing Venezuela.

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    • In rarely fall in the trap of your comments or cort’s but its obvious you have not read the piece, he does talk extensively about Mision Vivienda and also the comment of pigs is made by one of the squatters, I guess she felt like a pig and the author reflected that. No idea where you get that Anderson does not respect the poor from that comment. And he mentions how Chavismo intended to deal with the slum problem and how that was also forgotten in the quest for winning the next election, so he is not blaming chavez for the slums. Please read the article before spouting your nonsense.

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  9. The definition of Juan Barreto (former mayor of metro Caracas) in the piece really troubled me. Take this one excerpt:

    He organized
    a crew of motorizados-motorcycle mounted
    bodyguards- to travel with
    him. Among his entourage was a teen-aged
    former contract killer named Cristian,
    whom he was rehabilitating. He introduced
    him to me by asking, “Cristian,
    how many people have you killed?” The
    boy mumbled,” About sixty, I think,” and
    Barreto cackled with delight.

    Could it be possible Barreto has such little disregard for life? He “cackles” in delight when one of his bodyguards proclaims he’s got about sixty homicides to his credit.

    These guys are psychotic. No other way to describe them. And Barreto is one sick m-f’er.

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    • The problem is not just that they’re psychotic, but that they are psychotic with power, with complete impunity to go around and do what they want. When someone comes in and tries to take away that power, what’s going to happen? Can that be done in a “civilized” fashion?

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    • I assume Barreto’s killer boy doesn’t do his “thing” using his bare hands. A “Ley de Desarme” would end this guy’s career, right?
      But wait, teens are not supposed to own guns in the first place, with the current laws. I wonder where does he get his instrumento de trabajo from… Oh, he must get it illegally… Damn, there goes the anti-gun argument that says less guns means less crimes and killings.

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      • No such thing as “less guns” in Venezuela. Jail inmates have guns (check that: RPGs, hand grenades, machine guns). The hot dog vendor at the street corner carries a piece. Any half-decent middle class abode has an armed guard (often, licensed). The legitimacy of guns is irrelevant as is everything else in a place where this particular term has no meaning.

        Venezuelan society is already armed to the hilt and, if anything, it is living proof that proliferation of fire-arms does nothing to prevent crime.

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  10. “How can we build the future when killers (such as the Barreto protégé who confesses to killing “about sixty people”) are accepted as players in our political life?”

    These can be defined as Local Warlords. As in Africa, as in diamond and Coltan producing areas. How can we build the future…? My pessimistic answer without taking these people out of the game one way or the other: Let society go through a cycle. Let the warlords organize a government of violent extortionists, and maybe in a couple of thousand years we will have a Republic again… any other way implies stripping them of power, and making their subjects citizens.

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    • It just struck me. Anybody with “around sixty” homicides is a mass murderer. Barreto hires a mass murderer as an armed bodyguard (I believe he would be “armed” though the JLA piece does not say so) to “rehabilitate him”?

      Barreto is indefensibly psychotic.

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  11. Got it via Kindle, I have to say I kind of agree with Mayke, it reads like Caracas was this great city and then somehow we got here. I always had this argument with people who told me Caracas was beautiful, to what my answer was have you ever been to Las Adjuntas. caracas was never nice, what has happened is that the violence and the ugliness has extended to middle class and high class areas thanks to impunity and the Robin Hood discourse. But no, Torre de David was the way our barrios were created and that is not new.

    I still think it’s worth reading it, the best quote for me was from Guillermo Barrios, dean of architecture at the UCV: “Every regime has it’s architectural imprimatur, its icon, and I have no doubt that the architectural icon of this regime is the Tower of David. It embodies the urban policy of this regime, which can be defined by confiscation, expropriation, governmental incapacity, and the use of violence”

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    • I have to agree with you, Moraima.

      The notion that all was gravy until 1998 is simplistic. Life has been cheap in the barrio since AD and Copei gave the land and materials away to create the first barrios after Perez Jimenez went away.

      And, Quico, not for nothing, but in your comment above it sounds to me like you are saying we had an Estado de Derecho and then it went away.

      Nothing could be further from the truth, Venezuela never really had an estado de derecho, ever. Witness the book William Ojeda (yes that one) wrote during Caldera II, Cuanto vale un Juez, which pretty accurately described how our justice system worked.

      I can go back even further. in the 60’s my father and uncle’ patent on the manufacture of foam rubber was blatantly disregarded by a judge who got a call from Romulo Betancourt to rule against them and in favor of a crony.

      There are countless examples from before Chavez. What has gotten worse is how much more evident it has become.

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      • The saddest thing for me Roberto is that Chavez was supposed to make things better, and all the money and political power went to what? Is the waste of the opportunity what gets me the most, even though I never believed in them.

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        • Historical lesson Moraima.

          We always want to bypass the painful solutions. We wanted to transform into developed without the hassle. Let´s gonna chose a super guy who can do everything instead of us as nation. A magical state, as Coronil puts it.

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    • I dunno, I guess depending of the year you were born. I bet the adjuntas were nice in its time. My dad was born in la parroquia la vega when little boys took the scooters to school, taking the tranvia alone and nobody messed with them. So… for that generation Caracas was incredible nice. Small town with a lot of green. Crime was really not a big problem, robapollos stealing chickens. Getting rid of crime IS possible but it won’t happen until we get a government who wants to do it. The city of New York did it. Unfortunately for us, not even the other communist let their cities get away with crime…. but it’s the government from hell we have, not the people.

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      • Posibbly, when I was a toddler big parts of Macarao grew vegetables and I have very distant memories of going to buy our vegetables directly from the farmer and the mist coming from El Junquito covering everything early in the morning. But by the time I was 10 or 12 I already remember the gangs fighting each other to death, killing people over a pair of shoes, drug addicts hanging out in the stairs. Yes, all the way to university I still could walk around with my books and no one would bother you if you were local, the malandros has geographical loyalty. But it wasn’t so much better. It grew too much too fast, without infraestructure so it was excrement and garbage everywhere, lack of running water all the green was gone by the time I was 15 and it keeps getting worse but the difference is a matter of degrees and I guess people get used to it and don’t even care about it.

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  12. I couldn’t read the complete piece, but I do agree that the culture of violence and the lack of Justice is a problem that in the near future will leave us without a choice, we must do something drastic to stop it and build a more constructive society. Sounds really difficult when the regime has the responsability in this issue.

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  13. “Elliot Ness-type violence is what we have now, but al reves, with the bad guys on the trigger of the gun. This type of violence is not “new” because it is newly-affecting previously-immune middle-upper classes. The skyrocketing homicide rate (and concomitant 5/1 wounded, usually seriously, rate) is still affecting mostly the poorer classes, and is a direct result of the corrupt application of Caldera’s COPP, plus weak Chavista institutions, and the promulgation of “crime is OK for the poor”, for example, if they’re hungry, straight from the top out of the Malandro Mayor Chavez’s mouth. This problem can only be attacked by stronger laws/institutions/police forces, adequate prisons, and, in general, the complete opposite of the impunity sponsored by the Chavista regime.

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    • May I ask you,

      Who are you going to fill with Courtrooms, Police, Prisons and Institutions?
      Martians by any chance?

      Porque aqui el que menos puja, puja un piano. No nos gusta Chávez, pero como le damos palo a ese CADIVI.

      Give me a brake guys, be more insightful and creative.

      Regards,

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      • You start with the laws and the institutions, as any (semi-) civilized state/society would/must do. If you assume all Venezuelans in all places of responsibility will be corrupt, which, unfortunately, in large part may be a possibility, then the game/state/society are lost, and only a Ness/Pinochet type can bring a solution, which in turn would be very difficult in a generally nangara Latin America. I advise you to move–you wont even be safe in Rio Caribe or Paria for long (I doubt if you are even safe now…).

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        • Your comment is mostly spot on but, my perception is that for these institutional changes to take place, we must first abolish the conditions for the existence of the magical state (to borrow Coronil terms). That implies to disempower this sort of kingship in which the Venezuelan presidency has become. Second, a serious effort to diminish the size and interventionist nature of the central goverment must be carried out. In any case, a whole academic paper…
          I would kindly apreciate to leave details of personal origin aside

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          • Fair enough. My advice, though personal, was actually friendly. I first visited Rio Caribe on a Saturday, about 1966, when a young Americo Martin, spewing anti-U.S/imperialist fiery rhetoric (he was a great speaker then, before selling out to the establishment), was addressing literally the entire town of very poor largely fishermen families. I had to leave quickly for safety’s sake. The people were/probably still are wonderful, but, with the wrong Government spin, could become a problem. The experience is still burned into my memory….

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  14. Chavezlandia and its politically enfranchized malandros are the monster children of social and family conditions that started getting worse and worse before Chavez came into power , if the fourth republic was a cancer , Chavezlandia is its metastasis , the final shove that pushed Venezuela into becoming the nighmare we know today. Talking to physicians who took care of slum children provided a 1st clue , Proyecto Venezuela was part of an international study of how the phisical growht and intelligence of Venezuelan children compared to those elsewhere, Doctor collected statistics , these doctors starting noticing from some 18 years ago that children were becoming smaller , lower in weight, more sickly and malnourished than they used to be . A doctor told me the turning point came when less and less mothers took their babies to their children and where replaced by grandmothers or aunts , the mothers had stopped caring for their children, caring more for finding a new macho to replace the one they had just lost , if you follow the trail of what chidrens doctors tell you how year by year children weight and height fell, and malnutrition illness and slowed mental growth , rose , and what kind of mothers have them (younger , and dumber and more uncaring and pants crazy every year ) you get a picture of an abandoned childhood , one bearing scars and traumas that maim their emotional growth and transforms them into violence freaks intent on proving their manliness by acts of wantom cruelty and crime . There is much more to this story but we havent the space . All pieces in the puzzle come together when you read the work of father Alejandro Moreno from La Bombilla on slum life and family structure. 20 years ago things were bad for poverty stricken people but now they are becoming worse and worse than ever before whatever efforts this or any othe regimen makes to ‘make believe’ that they have the magic bullet for curing our poors deepest problems . There are no magic bullets only garish coloured placebos for something that goes as deep as this!!

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  15. All i know is that being poor or having an imperfect democracy with it’s bratty middle class is no excuse for becoming a rogue state. I’m arriving from cambodia and vietnam. Countries that have gone thru lots worse than we have and they have communist/ autocracy in the case of cambodia and they are evolving with not even the 5% of the natural resources we have. So… Cut me some slack here. We have everything to be the best economy in Latam but we don’t care for our country. Punto

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  16. Lavici,

    Totally right! Venezuelans have never really cared for their country, in the civic sense of the word. As long as I can remember it has always been about being “mas vivo que el otro”. I always say that it has been the bankers that have made the most amount of money with Chavez, those whom you would suppose would do everything they could to not further the aims of the Chavez government at least a la Oscar Garcia Mendoza. But no, they have been milking that cow as long as possible, or as Mayke said, “No nos gusta Chávez, pero como le damos palo a ese CADIVI.” Whatever happened to not trading with the enemy? Not in our Venezuela, and now that the future is even more uncertain, they’re all looking to see who can get some dollars before the devaluation comes, they don’t have time for constitutional niceties… This is why we have become the country we see everyday. Asi son las cosas..

    Th

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  17. It reads just like DREDD, I guess La Torre de David is Peach Trees and that community organizer is MA-MA. Conchale Super, I am so sorry but I didn’t like your comments towards Garcia Mendoza, if they leave the country they are foragidos, escaping, blah blah blah, living the life of the rich and famous abroad, and if they stay and try to make business with the maze of corruption that is the government as per today, working for us citizens uh uhm, then they are in conchupancia, nomejodan brothers and sisters.

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  18. To the primitive mind, manly self pride is bound to the cult and brutal expression of might , of force , of violence ( as the most dramatic expression of force) , of cruelty ( pleasure in harming others ) , of rage . The speech and acts of the Supremo and his regime are always full of histrionized expressions of might , force, violence , rage ( insults, threats , disparagements) dolled up to look like the outpourings of a ideologically righteous heart. People respond to this with wild enthusiasm , they become intoxicated by it , their narcicism bloated with the passions which such speech arouse in their primitive hearts. They become infected with the violent passions that they see so thriumpally ennacted and idolized . Can it surprise us then that people bred in a Machista culture , and feasted with such spectacles should become more violent ?? more prone to see violence as something grand and empowering??. This not to say that many other factors also feed the rising crime phenomena : absence of structured families , abandoned childhood, the machismo culture , lack of efficient law enforcement etc. etc. but violence in today’s Venezuela is a central part of the regimes political discourse and that has consequences!!

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  19. El problema de los barrios comenzó hace años al fracasar la Reforma Agraria y al darle más importancia a las inversiones inmobiliarias en las Capitales urbanas (Caracas, Valencia, etc..), ello produjo un elevado desplazamiento rural del campo a las ciudades para buscar empleos (recuérdese la actividad de Pérez Jimenez y no sólo la venida de Italianos y Portugueses para trabajar en la Ciudad, sino la gente del campo que eran obreros de la construcción y que vivieron en sus ranchos. O sea, ese desequilibrio espacial entre la zona rural y la urbano fue trágica para el país y ahora corregir eso es complejo.

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  20. My programmer is trying to convince me to move to .net from
    PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the expenses.
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