Venezuela’s year-old “Zonas de Paz” (Peace Zones) initiative shows no sign of coming to an end, despite troubling reports of overwhelming violence, highlighting the government’s ineffective response to the country’s grave security situation.
“Peace zones” are sectors where Venezuela’s security forces maintain no permanent presence and rarely enter. Vigilance by local residents is meant to replace policing in these areas, as a response to the mistrust that some communities feel towards police, who have been involved in crimes like kidnapping and extrajudicial killings.
But these designated areas have become safe havens for criminals and are often overrun by violence. In Miranda state, which contains the Caracas metro area and the largest number of peace zones, the murder rate within the peace zones was 105 per 100,000 residents in 2014, compared to 67 per 100,000 residents outside the zones, reported El Nacional.
“You can’t call these places lawless. But only in the sense that criminals are instituting their own law,” Venezuelan journalist Javier Mayorca told InSight Crime.
Since their implementation in January 2014, kidnapping gangs appear to have been using the zones to hold victims, who regularly appear in them upon release, said Mayorca.
InSight Crime Analysis
President Nicolas Maduro announced the creation of the peace zones just weeks after the murder of a former beauty queen sparked public outrage over insecurity in what is one of the world’s most violent nations.
As well as citizen vigilance, the plan was meant to include community development schemes, but was short on specific details. During the initial introductory phase, security expert Roberto Briceño expressed concerns that the zones would increase criminal impunity.
More than a year on, El Nacional reports the program has been marred by vague goals and inconsistent implementation, resulting in their current state. Despite this, Venezuela’s Interior Minister Carmen Melendez has shown no signs of abandoning the program.
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Peace zones are just one of an array of disastrous or poorly implemented security initiatives in Venezuela, including a disarmament law that failed to take guns off the streets. Amid the chaos, killings of police officers has gone up, and InSight Crime has predicted the security situation is only going to worsen in 2015.