Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced Thursday the founding of the National Council of Citizen Security and Regional Citizen Security Coordination, which will supervise the construction of an integrated national police force in compliance with the National Police Law which was turned over for a final round of public consultation earlier this month.
Venezuela`s 126 state and local police squads will be integrated into a comprehensive national force based on the principals of social inclusion, disarmament, respect for human rights, penal improvement, and the "co-responsibility" of a mobilized citizenry that works in team with the state, the president remarked at the inauguration event in Caracas.
"We have to examine this repressive vision of security very carefully and leave it behind, because we still have it here like a virus, like an old disease," Chávez asserted. "Repression is a classist vision of the Bourgeious state to preserve the interests of the dominant class," he said, declaring as an alternative the ideals of socialism, which is "the kingdom of Jesus" and promotes a "culture of life".
A presentation by Minister of Justice and the Interior, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, who is a member of the new council, brought attention to the deep social and historical roots of violence and crime in Venezuela, particularly the effects of the "neo-liberal package" of political and economic policies introduced during the 1990s, which Chacín associated with a rise in ransom kidnappings during that time.
On a similar note, President Chávez characterized violence as "an ideological problem, the cause is social, political, from the point of view that it has to do with everybody, with the polis," concluding that, "in a world where there is justice, there will be peace."
The creation of a national police force is mandated by Article 332 of the national constitution, which was passed by popular referendum in 1999. Venezuela`s National Assembly initiated the process in 2002 by creating the National Police Reform Commission (CONAREPOL), which coordinated a nation-wide public deliberation process that culminated in late 2006, from which the new model of national policing was synthesized in a report by the CONAREPOL. This model provided the framework for the National Police Law, which will be passed by presidential decree after it finishes another period of public review.
This thorough process of "diagnosis, consultation, the model, the law, and now another popular consultation" exemplifies the "democratic construction of public policy," according to the appraisal of Soraya El-Achkar, who is an associate of the Justice and Peace Support Network, an autonomous Venezuelan human rights NGO founded in the 1980s.
In a phone inteview with Venezuelanalysis.com, El-Achkar, who was a member of the CONAREPOL, said "The [National Police] Law encompasses all the recommendations of the public gathered by the Reform Commission." She summed up those recommendations as representing a change in mentality towards the perception that "citizens who commit crimes are not enemies of war."
The text of the law includes a code of police conduct, which follows the principals set forth by the United Nations. Such a code never existed in the past in the form of a law, according to El-Achkar.
President Chávez emphasized that a major challenge regarding citizen security will be the presence of Colombian paramilitary groups in Venezuela, which, he reiterated, are exported from Colombia as "part of the imperialist plan to cause disturbances among the people, as part of the international conspiracy against Venezuela."
Paramilitaries are responsible for both kidnappings and homicides in Venezuela, according to Tarek El-Aissami, the Vice President of Citizen Security, who is also a member of the National Citizen Security Council created Thursday. Recently, a mayor in the border state of Táchira denounced that paramilitaries there had killed 68 people, including 10 taxi drivers, according to a report on the government television channel Wednesday.
On February 18th, El-Aissami announced that during the first seven weeks of a police surge called "Caracas Security Plan 2008" led by the Ministry of Justice and the Interior (MIJ), the weekly homicide rate was reduced by 68.7% compared to the preceding months. He criticized the mainstream media for not reporting the result, which he said was "disappeared" with the "intention of generating uncertainty and restlessness in the population," he claimed.
In contrast to the Interior and Justice Ministry`s statistics, the widely-circulated opposition newspaper El Universal reported today that 265 homicides were committed in January 2008, the month in which the Caracas Security Plan 2008 began, whereas 176 homicides were registered in January 2007.
Beyond the MIJ, the National Citizen Security Council will include national investigative police, Miranda Governor Freddy Bernal, Caracas Mayor Juan Barreto, the Metropolitan Firefighters Chief Francis Morales, and Civil Protection and Disasters Administration Director Antonio Rivero.
The council`s work on citizen security "should be oriented in function of humanism, integral...and the participation of the communities," President Chávez highlighted.