Venezuela Initiates Citizen-Disarmament Plan to Fight Crime

Maduro signed the disarmament plan during a ceremony for International Peace Day.
Maduro signed the disarmament plan during a ceremony for International Peace Day. (Prensa Presidencial Venezuela)

EspañolLast week, the Nicolás Maduro administration announced new measures to help combat Venezuela’s rampant crime that will rely, in part, on the goodwill of the nation’s gun owners.

The government will soon roll out its Disarmament Plan, which aims to rid the country of illegal firearms, paired with a smartphone app called Intelligent Patrol, which citizens can use to report suspected criminal acts.

Venezuela holds the distinction of having the second-highest murder rate in the region, behind only Honduras. The homicide rate in the South American country is 57.6 per 100,000 residents, according to the UN Global Study on Homicide 2013.

However, the Venezuelan government only allocated 1 percent of its 2014 budget to law enforcement, according to an analysis conducted by Transparency Venezuela.

Since 1999, when late former President Hugo Chávez first took office, at least 20 security plans have been implemented. Despite these efforts, over 200,000 murders have occurred in Venezuela over the last 14 years.

Given this track record, uncertainty now hangs over the government’s latest national security plan proposal, known as the Great Mission for Every Venezuelan Life.

More of the Same

The new legislation allocates 300 million bolívares for the creation of a National Disarmament Fund, which has been pending since June 2013 when the law first came into force.

Hugo Chávez first promoted the Disarmament Law as a way of repealing policies dating back to 2002 that the government considered “inapplicable” and no longer in line with the “Venezuelan reality.”

Maduro’s version of the plan is now scheduled to be implemented in 10 of 24 Venezuelan states.

According to Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres, firearms can be submitted confidentially, and the government will offer incentives to those who participate. Authorities are offering medication and medical treatment in exchange for firearms, as well as university scholarships to the first 10 people who voluntarily turn in their guns.

The initiative will be paired with the Homeland Security Plan, which will send 2,000 new police officers to work in Venezuela’s most insecure areas. The program is set to launch in October, along with the Intelligent Patrol app.

Doesn’t Go Far Enough

For Luis Cedeño, sociologist and executive director of the Venezuelan NGO Active Peace, this new initiative is only one of many elements necessary to successfully reduce crime.

“The plan is based on voluntary disarmament of people, legally or illegally, carrying firearms for self-defense. This is not directed at criminals; only the police will disarm them. The statistics do not favor people who have a firearm when confronted with a trained criminal. When armed, nine out of 10 victims will end up dead when confronted by a criminal,” Luis Cedeño told PanAm Post.

Cedeño says the voluntary forfeiture of firearms should be accompanied by other conditions, such as a public destruction of the guns and guaranteed anonymity for those that turn them in. He said efforts to reduce crime in the country should be consistent, and not sporadic nor reactive.

There are no official statistics on the total number of guns in Venezuela, but the most conservative estimates say at least 3 million — less than one-third of which are legal. “To have an impact, you need to eradicate at least 200,000 guns annually, but we are not anywhere near that number,” Cedeño said.

Lawyer and criminologist Luis Izquiel agrees. In an interview with Unión Radio he said, “There needs to be a campaign of public awareness for the disarmament plan to be effective. In Brazil, for example, the guns are not turned in to the police. NGOs and the Catholic Church handle the forfeitures.”

According to independent analysts, over 90 percent of homicides in Venezuela go unsolved.

Translated by Alex Clark-Youngblood.

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