Sticks and stones?

Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald has an interesting article called “Miss Venezuela’s murder reveals culture of violence.”  In the last 15 years, Venezuela has become a very dangerous place to live.  Its homicide rate has gone up by 400%, from “19 per 100,000 people to 79 per 100,000, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, a non-government group that tracks violent crimes.”

While news of homicides are nothing new in the country, the recent murder of former Miss Venezuela Mónica Spear has rocked the country to the extent that President Maduro has reached out to longtime opponent Henrique Capriles to look for solutions.  Ms. Spear, who became a beloved actress as well, was shot and killed with her ex-husband in front of their 5 year old daughter while vacationing in Venezuela (Kevin and I actually went to Venezuela on our honeymoon but I wouldn’t consider it nowadays).  I personally was shocked by the news as I had enjoyed watching Ms. Spear in a couple of Venezuelan telenovelas, which I watch to practice my Spanish.  She seemed to have had a spunk, intelligence and a feistiness that is often lacking in telenovela stars.

Interestingly, instead of blaming the increasing violence on video games or movies, Oppenheimer instead points the finger at the government itself, accusing it of using “rhetoric that glorifies violence.”  Obviously the evidence is only anecdotal but he makes a thoughtful case.

So how has the government contributed to this surge in violence?

a. Chávez himself in 2007 took his oath of office proclaiming “Fatherland, Socialism or Death!” In his speeches, he turned former coup plotters and guerrillas into “martyrs,” promoted the creation of paramilitary “people’s militias,” and urged the people to support him in a “war” against “the fascist oligarchy.”


b. “In Venezuela’s official rhetoric, government supporters are not sympathizers, but “combatants.” Merchants are not business people, but members of the “parasite bourgeoisie.” Political adversaries are not opponents, but “scum” and “enemies of the fatherland.”

c. “In November, Maduro called for the ‘’occupation’’ of department stores that were allegedly failing to comply with government price controls. When thousands of looters ransacked department stores, even the military were seen loading their motorcycles with television plasmas”

d. “Chávez installed the idea in society that stealing is not necessarily bad, and that criminals are not necessarily bad people, because they are victims of the capitalist system. That has contributed to the current epidemic of robberies and murders,” according to Alfredo Romero, head of the Caracas-based Foro Penal Venezolano, a non-government anti-crime group.

Oppenheimer hopes that Ms. Spears’ death may cause the government to tone down its rhetoric. Whether that directly affects crime rates or not, it would certainly be a good thing.