After the death of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela is set for the second presidential election in less than six months. Chavez's handpicked successor Nicolas Maduro faces challenger Henrique Capriles.
CARACAS – The official presidential campaign period to replace Hugo Chavez will be a short one – only ten days, instead of the usual three months in Venezuela.
The dominant themes of the campaign, which started on Tuesday, are violence and insecurity. Both candidates have made these issues their number one priority – Chavez successor Nicolas Maduro and contender Henrique Capriles have vowed to change Venezuela’s reputation as one of the most violent countries in the world.
Before Chavez was elected in 1998, there were about 4,500 homicides a year in Venezuela. Fourteen years later, that number rose to over 20,000, in 2012. According to statistics from the United Nations and the Organization of American States, Venezuela is somewhere between the fifth and the second most violent country in the world – with 46 to 60 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
Police sources claim that Chavez had to negotiate with illegal sectors in order to be elected. But later, these illegal sectors gained so much power that the government lost its control over them. This explains why, during 14 years in office, Chavez never went after them and allowed crime to escalate to the high levels it is today.
During these 14 years, the Chavez government announced 19 public security plans, all of which failed, explains Carlos Vecchio from the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) centrist party, created by Chavez opponent Leopoldo Lopez.
“During the 100 days of Maduro’s interim government, more than 4,000 murders happened, and numbers appear to be increasing. The morgue in Caracas is overwhelmed,” adds Vecchio.
Feasting on death
Unlike Chavez, Maduro has been talking about insecurity for weeks. On Monday he toured the new facilities of the National Experimental Security University, where police officers are trained. During the same visit, Interior Minister Nestor Reverol 3,400 homicides had been recorded in the first three months of 2013.
Maduro accused the media of “making a feast of death with the problems of violence and crime,” which he said had been generated by “the negative values of capitalism.” He vowed to be the president “of peace.”
Capriles is also focusing on the themes of crime and insecurity, saying the nation dreams of “being able to walk through the streets after dark,” and “public spaces should belong to the citizens.” He pledged to make Venezuela's streets safe again.
The NGO Asociacion Civil Paz Activa (Active Civil Peace Association) presented a law project this week, entitled Damages to the Victims of Homicide and Kidnapping. “The goal is to establish a set of legal and administrative provisions, as well as an array of social, economic, individual and collective measures for victims of homicide and kidnapping,” explains sociologist Luis Cedeno, the NGO’s executive director.
“The official figures talk of about 1,100 kidnappings a year, but our research shows this number is about three or four times higher. Victims seldom report kidnappings by fear of reprisals,” says Cedeno.
The first campaign polls show Maduro leading Capriles by 7 to 22 points.