News / Americas

Venezuelan Presidential Opponents Clash Over Crime Rate

The body of a man lies on the street after he was shot dead when he tried to rob a policeman dressed in plain clothes in Caracas.
The body of a man lies on the street after he was shot dead when he tried to rob a policeman dressed in plain clothes in Caracas.
Reuters
Moments after he registered to run in Venezuela's April 14 election, acting President Nicolas Maduro vowed to go on foot, unarmed, into the toughest slums of Caracas and ask the gangs there to lay down their guns.

Both Maduro and his opponent, Henrique Capriles, have clashed over a top campaign issue: the daily murders, armed robberies and kidnappings that make the South American country one of the most dangerous in the world.

"We'll go like this, with our chests bare!'' Maduro cried at the campaign event, pulling open his Venezuelan-flag tracksuit top to reveal a red T-shirt emblazoned with the eyes of his late boss, Hugo Chavez.

"We'll go without fear, to tell these youths to stop the killing, to give up the guns, to come to Christ the Redeemer!'' he exclaimed.

Fears about personal safety routinely top polls of voters' concerns in the country with the world's biggest oil reserves - despite the many programs started by Chavez during his 14-year rule aimed at bringing down the homicide figures.

In a report last week, the U.N. Development Program said that only Honduras, El Salvador, Ivory Coast and Jamaica had worse rates than Venezuela's 45.1 murders per 100,000 people. The rate in the United States was 4.2.

The Venezuelan government concedes the country suffers more violent crime than most of the region. But it accuses opposition politicians of exaggerating the problem and shamelessly stoking fears to tarnish Chavez's socialist "revolution."

Capriles, a 40-year-old centrist state governor who accuses Maduro of exploiting the emotion over Chavez's March 5 death in an effort to win the election, kicked off a provincial tour over the weekend.

He calls Maduro a poor imitation of Chavez and mocked his performance outside the electoral authority offices.
       
"Do you think Nicolas is going to solve the violence problem? It's not opening your jacket and saying 'I'm Superman and I'm going to go I don't know where," Capriles said.

"I'd like to leave my house at 11, 12 o'clock in the night, for my children to be able to go out and me not to be terrified," he said. "Can we do that today? Can we live like that? No.''
       
Weak justic system

At the root of the country's crime problem, experts say, is a proliferation of firearms and drugs, and a weak justice system that means the majority of offenses go unpunished.

Among a spate of attacks on prominent victims, a U.S. Major League baseball player and diplomats from Mexico, Chile, Belarus and Costa Rica have been kidnapped in recent months.

The government says there were 16,000 homicides nationwide last year.

Non-governmental organizations put the figure higher. The Venezuelan Violence Observatory said its conservative estimate for 2012 was more than 21,000 murders.
Without detailed figures from the authorities, it is not possible to crosscheck the numbers.

Stung by allegations that the situation is out of control, Chavez's administration revamped the main investigative police unit last year, created several new public safety bodies, and said it cut the homicide rate in Caracas by 10 percent.

Most afflicted by the gangs of criminals are poor residents living in the myriad shantytowns where the late president found his most fervent followers.

Voters seldom held Chavez personally responsible for the high crime rate. Some viewed him almost as a member of the family, others in near-religious terms. Maduro is trying to forge the same emotional bond but lacks Chavez's charisma.

On Sunday, he inaugurated a new sports facility in the capital's gritty Petare barrio, briefly taking to the court to play basketball with a group of youths. There were wild cheers when he made a basket on his third attempt.

The acting president blames violent crime on a decadent legacy left behind by capitalist governments in the OPEC nation.

"They've given us these values from birth through narco-TV shows, fashion linked subliminally to drug consumption, fashion linked to pistols, and the cults of guns and of criminal gangs,'' he said after he registered his candidacy for the presidency.

He accuses the opposition of cynically allowing bandits to roam unchecked - for example, in Miranda state, which includes poor parts of Caracas and where Capriles is governor.

"You know why?'' Maduro said to the crowd. "Because they don't care about people's lives. They prefer barrios that are full of drugs and criminality so they can continue stigmatizing the people like they have done for the last 500 years.''

You May Like

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Raul Castro Steps Out of Brother's Shadow With US Deal

Cuban president scores diplomatic triumph, surge in support with this week's deal that ends decades of hostility with United States
More

US Report: Immigration Officials' Apprehensions Rose in 2014

Apprehensions of Mexicans fall 14 percent; those of individuals from other countries, predominantly in Central America, rise 68 percent
More

Strife, Mutual Interests Mark Cuba-US Ties

Island nation was once a vacation destination for Americans; over years, many Cubans sought refuge across the Florida Straits
More

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change
More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings
More

Cubans Imagine New, More Prosperous Life Without an Old Foe

News of the historic shift in US-Cuban relations echoed quickly through the Spanish colonial plazas of Old Havana this week
More