When British citizen, Thomas Henry Berry and his ex-wife, Monica Spear, travelled to Venezuela for a vacation early in the new year, they hoped to spend time enjoying the beautiful sights and sunsets of Spear’s distant homeland.
Unfortunately, the former Miss Venezuela and her ex-husband fell victim to the harsh reality that many of her compatriots face on a daily basis, as they were left dead on a roadside in the mountains of western Venezuela.
More recently, 22-year-old local beauty pageant winner, Genesis Carmona, faced the same fate as Miss Spear, shot in the head and killed while protesting in the city of Valencia. But it’s not just beauty queens that are being killed in country where someone dies every 21 minutes.
All Venezuelans are feeling this extreme insecurity and senseless violence to the extent that it incentivized the Venezuelan youth to mobilize on February 12th. Considered the third most violent country in the world, Venezuela has seen homicide rates rise an astonishing 444 percent in the 14 years since Chavismo took over.
More than 2,000 Venezuelans are killed every month, of which at least 80 percent come from the low-income sectors of this Andean nation.
It’s not just the crime and violence that is destroying Venezuela. It is another kind of insecurity – economic insecurity – that creates the conditions for these inordinate levels of crime and violence to intensify throughout the country. With record shortages and the world’s fastest inflation rate, Venezuelan officials have left very few choices for ordinary citizens to seek a life outside of the criminal world.
If the incentives for predation are greater than those towards production, you will see criminal enterprise outgrow free enterprise. This is exactly what is happening in Venezuela.
The criminal enterprises, which consists of drug kingpins, money-launderers and fixers, terrorist-financiers, and the infamous colectivos, to name a few, have all profited from the booming illicit economy in the Bolivarian Republic.
So have their bureaucratic sponsors, who are sure to get a kickback for turning a blind eye, or perhaps partaking in the spoils. Meanwhile, small business owners, entrepreneurs, and the overall legitimate labour force have had to fight over meagre earnings, while being vilified as criminals for making a profit.
Although this rise in insecurity has gradually increased throughout a decade and a half, the late Hugo Chavez never placed citizen security at the top of his agenda. For years Chavez would ignore the problem, until the presidential election of 2006 when homicide rates started spiking in Venezuela, prompting Chavez to double down on defence and start politicising the police.
Defence, unfortunately, is very different to security, and having the latest surveillance technology or anti-air defence systems does little to improve street-level public safety.
According to one analyst, only 1 percent of government expenditure is devoted to public safety in Venezuela, while ten times that is used to bolster the Venezuelan military and all its unnecessary equipment.
The result is a paralysis of the public institutions meant to protect the wellbeing of and provide justice for Venezuelan citizens. An astonishing 95 percent of serious crimes in the Bolivarian Republic go unsolved; lowering the cost of crime and sending a signal that criminals have free reign.
Chavez’s heir apparent, Nicholas Maduro, has continued the failed policies of his predecessor, and is now facing an angered and awakened Venezuelan populace. When the lines for milk are longer than the length of a movie, or when toilet paper and toothpaste become luxury goods–you will have a revolution on your hands.
Not a “Bolivarian” revolution dreamed of by Chavez, but a real revolution made up of concerned citizens who have lost their sense of fear.
In a true irony, the opposition is led by an actual descendent of Simon Bolivar, Leopoldo López, the former Mayor of a Caracas municipality, and other courageous allies such as Maria Corina Machado and Diego Arria.
Along with the students, they have brought international attention to human rights abuses by the Maduro government in the face of the protests, that is inspiring a sense of urgency throughout the rest of the region. Their fight is not just for Venezuela; it’s for all Latin Americans who have suffered from the 21st Century Socialist export that has created a cancer within several countries in the region.
The senseless murders of beauty queens Monica Spear and Genesis Carmona were, perhaps, no greater tragedies than that which is ongoing in the daily life of many Venezuelans. But in a society where the status of a beauty queen holds high cultural currency, this shows the severity of the situation, as one of Venezuela’s proudest traditions has become part of its tragedy.
Joseph M. Humire is the Executive Director of the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS), a global think tank based out of Washington D.C. Data and statistics for this article were taken from the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, based out of Caracas, Venezuela. You can follow him on Twitter: @jmhumire