Strengthening police presence and combating violent crime at both the regional and national level were the central topics of discussions taking place last Saturday during an extraordinary session of the Venezuelan government’s Federal Council in the capital city of Caracas.
The Council, chaired by Vice President of the Republic Elias Jaua, was convened specifically to address crime prevention and brought together members of the Executive cabinet as well as state governors and local mayors to strategize solutions to the problem of insecurity in the country.
According to Jaua, the meeting of the Federal Council was made in response to the call of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to “convene all levels of government in order to address the topic of security”.
During the extraordinary session, 148 million bolivars ($34.4 million) were approved by the federal government to advance local policing initiatives, fulfilling all budget requests presented by the country’s governors and mayors.
“We want the country to know that there is a co-responsibility with respect to security measures that needs to come from the governors and mayors. It’s not just a problem of the national government”, Jaua said.
Also approved was an additional 15 million bolivars ($3.4 million) for training and the restructuring of the country’s 134 police forces as well as a standardization of practices and equipment.
Venezuela, like many Latin American countries, has been grappling with high crime rates, especially homicides, for decades.
Getting to the root of the problem has been a major concern of the national government, which attributes the high indexes of delinquency to a multiplicity of factors.
“[The government] has always understood that the fight against crime is not an issue exclusively about police. Violence needs to be addressed in an integral way”, Jaua said on Saturday.
As part of this integral approach to crime reduction, the federal government launched a new initiative in 2010 known as the National Bolivarian Police (PNB).
By working with community members and helping to form participatory relations between residents and officers, the PNB has achieved high levels of crime reduction in the limited areas of Caracas where it has been active.
Given the success of the PNB, the government has been eager to multiply its presence in other regions of the country and replace what Justice Minister Tarek El Aissami referred to on Saturday as the nation’s older police forces that were “infiltrated by mafias”.
As such, a new plan was unveiled to form citizen committees across the country designed to oversee security operations and ensure the continued participation of community members in the policing of their neighborhoods.
“We have said that it’s necessary to have the political will, the financial will and the public will on a general level…But the most important is to have the people’s support to have a healthy police force”, explained Soraya El Achkar, Dean of the nation’s Security University responsible for the training of PNB officers.
Achkar informed that twenty-four committees would be formed in 2011 that will be linked to 34 different state and municipal police forces.
Such measures, officials assert, are part of the government’s new security policy which values respect and human rights over repression and exclusion in order to, as Vice President Jaua noted, “value life and build a country where everyone lives with equal rights”.
Jaua also applauded the participation of Venezuela’s conservative opposition in the Federal Council on Saturday and the willingness of government critics to find common ground on security matters.
“Beyond the many political and ideological differences that we have and that are natural in a democracy…this debate allows us to solidify policies that benefit the Venezuelan people”, he affirmed.