Share This Page

Venezuela's military sent into high-crime slums

| Friday, May 17, 2013, 7:39 p.m.
AFP/Getty Images
A mask of deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been placed in a corridor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Caracas on May 16, 2013. AFP PHOTO/JUAN BARRETOJUAN BARRETO

PETARE, Venezuela — Stern-looking soldiers clutching assault rifles wave down the beat-up Chevy Caprice entering this sprawling slum on the outskirts of Caracas.

Flashlights in his face, the driver steps out and places his hands on the roof while the soldiers frisk him for drugs and weapons.

He's clean, and he's sent off into the maze of ramshackle homes that is Petare, one of the most dangerous parts of Venezuela's notoriously crime-infested capital.

Since Monday, this scene is playing out day and night at dozens of military checkpoints set up here in the socialist government's latest attempt to control the oil-rich country's pandemic of violence.

With some 15,000 killings a year, Venezuela has a homicide rate that is the fifth highest in the world, according to U.N. statistics. The murder rate doubled during the 14-year rule of the late President Hugo Chavez as cheap access to guns and an ineffective justice system fed a culture of violence.

Critics dismiss the “Secure Homeland” initiative as a political charade. Some of the first military units were deployed in areas under the political control of the opposition to the current regime.

But to many residents, weary of being terrorized by armed gangs, seeing troops on the streets is a welcome projection of government power.

“You have to act forcefully so that people feel the force of the state,” said Irving Garcia, 47, an unemployed former Army reservist.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.