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

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

More Americas News

Venezuela Lets Uruguay Pay for Oil With Goods, Services

Struggling economy, currency controls in Venezuela have led to shortages of medicine, toilet paper, flour, shampoo, other basic goods
More

Venezuela to Require Visas for US Travelers

Move eliminates United States from list of 65 countries exempt from tourist visa requirements
More

Chilean Volcano Goes Quiet After Overnight Eruption

Volcano, located near popular tourist resort of Pucon around 750 km (460 miles) south of Santiago, is one of South America's most active
More

Obama Hopes for US Embassy in Cuba Before April Summit

But, in interview with Reuters president also cautions it will take more time to fully establish normal relations with Cuba after more than a half-century rupture
More

US Agriculture Delegation Visits Cuba, Protests Embargo

Delegation began three days of meetings Monday, hoping to find potential business partners, while urging Congress to lift embargo on trade with the island
More

Venezuela Tells US to Downsize Embassy Staff

President Nicolas Maduro claimed Saturday that Venezuela has detained American spies
More