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Crime in Venezuela

The murder of an actress topples official strategy of keeping mum on the problem of violence

Venezuela has just presented us with the example of a government that has had to bow down to reality. President Nicolás Maduro's attempts, as was the case of his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez, to cover up the soaring crime figures in the country — including resorting to censuring the media — have been to no avail. The murder of a popular actress and former beauty queen in the course of a robbery, in which her partner was also killed and her five-year-old daughter wounded, has left the official policy of keeping silent on the lack of security in the country in disarray.

It is difficult to ignore the "anxiety of the public" when Venezuela has become in the past decade one of the five most violent countries in the world, with a murder rate that is triple that of countries that have been the scourge of drug-trafficking and armed conflict such as Mexico and Colombia. Almost 70 people were murdered in Venezuela every day in 2013. To this must be added the flood of daily robberies and kidnappings, abetted by police corruption and scandalous impunity.

If, as is suspected, Chavism aimed to win the loyalty of criminal gangs by using them as shock force against the "bourgeoisie" in the same way that the "Bolivarian militia" were armed, this strategy has come at a huge cost for the country. Maduro himself on Thursday announced the resignation of his entire Cabinet to "pave the way" for a reshuffle of his government, although the reach of the planned changes remains to be seen.

The furor unleashed by the murder of the actress Mónica Spear, in whom so many Venezuelans saw themselves, has brought about something that previously seemed impossible: that Maduro aims to reach a consensus with governors and mayors of the opposition on a security strategy for the most dangerous municipalities. Many people would like to believe that the unprecedented handshake between Maduro and the head of the opposition, Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda, will serve to calm the political waters, but that is hardly likely.

In the past few weeks, Maduro has accelerated the "radicalization of the revolution", which is another way of saying the Cubanization of Venezuela. He has increased the financial clout of the armed forces by putting a bank and a construction company in their hands, while strengthening price controls and intervening in the private sector with the vain aim of reducing rampant inflation, which currently stands at 56 percent. He has also bragged about the tabs he has put on members of the public, publishing a list of the details of how some 30 politicians, journalists and businessmen spent their Christmas holidays.

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