Venezuela Govt Proposes Arming Civilians to Combat Crime

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Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro announced a new package of anti-crime measures that includes giving arms to civilians and charging supervised groups with gathering intelligence, raising concerns over possible human rights abuses and arbitrary actions on behalf of the state.

“Only the people can save the people… I call on everyone, with all the strength of Venezuela, with all our abilities, to rise up,” the president said in a radio and television broadcast, Panorama reported.

As part of the “Carobobo Campaign 2021,” the new set of measures looks to initiate simultaneous actions from the military, police and civilian populations. Two of the most controversial measures are the arming of civilians and the strengthening of an intelligence system within neighborhoods known as SP3, which is controlled by the government.

SP3 aims to identify criminal groups and paramilitaries with the help of civilian informers, known as “cooperating patriots.” Operation Humanist Liberation of the People (Operación Liberación Humanista del Pueblo – OLHP) — previously known as the Operation Liberation of the People (Operación para la Liberación del Pueblo – OLP) — is considering a massive deployment of government forces to seek out and neutralize criminals while remaining in the communities after the operation has ended.

Maduro’s announcement was preceded by military exercises in which the president announced plans to deliver arms to communities in order to defend Venezuela‘s sovereignty, El Nuevo Herald reported.

InSight Crime Analysis

The call for Venezuelan citizens to rise up in hopes of eradicating crime in the country is nothing new. The government already has so-called “colectivos” — armed left-wing civilian groups which have been allowed, and sometimes encouraged, to take over urban communities in west Caracas.

Investigations by InSight Crime have found that these groups, who claim to be protecting communities, actually exert violence, threaten, extort and intimidate the population. Given this precedent, it’s possible that the president’s new plan will strengthen these groups and promote the creation of new ones, possibly increasing violence.

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Reported human rights abuses and concerns from security experts were not enough to discredit the OLP. The only proposed solution from the government was a simple name change that added the word “humanist.” For now, no change has been proposed to specifically reduce crime.

In the past, Chavismo executed similar plans without having any lasting results. In their end-of-year report, the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia – OVV) estimated that there were 28,479 “violent deaths” in 2016, accounting for a violent death rate of 91.8 per 100,000, an increase from the 82 violent deaths per 100,000 reported in 2015.

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