Abajo una extrardinaria nota de The Economist acerca de la actitud del gobierno ante el problema de la inseguridad en Venezuela
Crime in Venezuela
The government blames the media for crime
Aug 19th 2010 | Caracas
THE chance of being shot in Caracas may be higher than just about anywhere else in the world, outside war zones. Cheuk Woon Yee Sinne, a baseball player from Hong Kong, found that out on August 13th. As she took the field for a match in the Women’s Baseball World Cup, at an army stadium in Venezuela’s capital, a stray bullet hit her in the leg. Her team promptly pulled out of the tournament.
That was an embarrassment for the government of Hugo Chávez, which faces a legislative election on September 26th. It said the shooting was an isolated incident and moved the tournament to a venue outside the capital. But it also has another solution to Venezuela’s crime problem: suppress negative crime statistics and prevent the media from publishing gory images.
The government stopped publishing data on murders several years ago. Nevertheless, Roberto Briceño-León of the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, an NGO, says that a government report he has obtained puts the national murder rate at 75 per 100,000 people, up from 49 just four years ago and almost twice the rate in neighbouring Colombia where guerrillas continue to wage war.
The report estimates the murder rate in Caracas at an astonishing 220 per 100,000 people. That is higher even than in Mexico’s drug-ridden Ciudad Juárez. “I don’t have the slightest doubt that Caracas is the most violent city in the world,” says Mr Briceño-León.
In 1998, before Mr Chávez became president, there were 4,550 murders nationwide, a figure that had remained broadly constant for several years. Had it stayed there, more than 70,000 of those who met violent deaths in the past decade would still be alive today. But the numbers have risen inexorably, and in 2009, says Mr Briceño-León, the total was 19,113.
When he revealed the level of violence during a televised debate on CNN’s Spanish-language channel earlier this month, he was greeted with raucous laughter by Andrés Izarra, Mr Chávez’s former information minister. Mr Izarra, who used to work for CNN and now runs a rival, Telesur, for the Venezuelan government, accused the channel of “journalistic pornography”. But he did not produce any alternative figures.
One of Venezuela’s main newspapers, El Nacional, responded to Mr Izarra’s guffaws by devoting much of its front page to a photograph, taken last December, of bodies in the Caracas morgue.
The authorities announced that they would prosecute the paper for contravening a law protecting children and young people from violent images. Even so, four other newspapers reproduced the photograph. The country’s chief detective said the picture had been taken in 2006, and conditions had improved since then. But with the media barred from the morgue, the point was hard to prove.
Mr Chávez speaks on television and radio for hours on end, several times a week. But for years he has said little or nothing about rising crime. The strategy of ignoring the issue worked politically. In opinion polls, a majority did not hold him directly responsible. As the violence mounts, that seems to be changing. “People are beginning to blame the president,” says Saúl Cabrera of Consultores 21, a pollster. In one of its polls, taken in early June, 55% of respondents held Mr Chávez directly responsible for their most urgent problems, with crime at the top of the list.
To judge by the reaction of official spokesmen this week, Mr Chávez’s people are well aware of the potential damage this might do in the election. The courts, which are controlled by the government, barred El Nacional from publishing any information about violence and then barred all print media from publishing any photos about the subject for a month.
Apart from blaming the press, the regime is searching for other scapegoats. Héctor Navarro, a former education minister who is now a spokesman for the ruling socialist party, says crime is a product of the neglect of youth under the pre-Chávez regime. Mr Briceño-León, retorts that “they have a policy of blaming the previous government. But they don’t seem to realise that, after 11 years in power, they are the previous government.”