Violence and Venezuela

I spent much of the last few weeks of the semester trying to convince my Latin American economics students that Venezuela is unabashedly the craziest place on earth. I may have made this claim about several places I’ve lived, but new evidence shows that I may actually be correct about Venezuela.

In Al Jazeera this week, former Fulbright scholar and current Stanford PhD student, Dorothy Kronick, discusses the prevalence of violence in Venezuela and how Chavez amazingly escapes the blame for it. Comparisons of Venezuela’s level of violence have been made to Iraq during the height of the war, Ciudad Juarez, and other dangerous places, but Dorothy points out that unlike Iraq or Ciudad Juarez, there is no war going on in Venezuela. Petty crime often ends in murder, gang-related deaths are all too common, and I’ll add that violence against women, at least in my anecdotal knowledge, is rather high.

Despite the relative impunity with which these criminals act and the astounding levels of violence that permeate society, President Chavez does not seem to suffer electorally. In fact, Dorothy shows that the areas showing the highest growth in rates of crime have lost very few Chavez and chavista votes.

“People don’t seem to blame the government for the security problem,” Gerardo Gonzalez, an analyst with one of Venezuela’s top polling firms and a Central University of Venezuela graduate, told me in an interview. “In fact, it seems to us that violence might even help Chavez: the more people talk about violence, which they don’t attribute to him, the less they’re talking about unemployment, which they do attribute to him.”

So, there’s only so much you can complain about, but I still find it most amazing that Venezuelans don’t attribute la inseguridad (violence or insecurity, loosely) to Chavez. I never knew a pre-Chavez Venezuela, but it can’t have always been like this.

Over on Caracas Chronicles, my former editor gives his take on the same article: it can’t go on forever.

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