Security and ever rising crime rates are about the only issues of substance opposition parties such as Un Nuevo Tiempo (UNT) and Primera Justicia (PJ) have among their various criticisms of the Bolivarian government. For example, in Caracas alone, WEEKLY murder rates often level off well over 100. Kidnappings are a common occurrence, as are armed robberies and the ‘collateral damage’ of ongoing gang wars – stray bullets, turf battles, and general intimidation tactics.
Many analysts assert opposition candidate Manuel Rosales did as well as he did in the 2006 elections for precisely this reason. The “ni-ni” vote (neither-nor; the coveted sector of the middle class which doesn’t vote because it is either too apathetic or cynical to give either the Bolivarians or the Escuálidos the time of day) is starting to be moved by the lack of significant advances on the violence front. The result, hopes the opposition, will be an increase in protest votes from previously under-mobilized sectors of the population.
Furthermore, the ‘student movement’ – which came about in defense of opposition television station RCTV and discredited itself faster than any movement I’ve ever heard of (see the analysis of the gringo in Venezuela – no relation – blog at: ) – has now shifted gears and dedicated itself to the ambiguous ‘Misión Vida’ of PJ.
So why, pray tell, does it seem like Manuel Rosales – leader of UNT and current governor of the state of Zulia – is doing all he can to INCREASE the number of kidnappings in his state?
Here’s the background: Zulia is the richest state in Venezuela, home to one of the most important ports in the country as well as large oil, coal, copper and other mineral deposits. It is also the westernmost state in the country, sharing a more than 400 kilometer border with Columbia. Hence it is also a key point for parallel economies such as narcotrafficking, kidnapping and other activities associated with Colombian paramilitaries.
Rosales recently announced a new initiative dubbed ‘Guerra a los secuestadores’ (War against the kidnappers) in which up to Bs. 100,000,000 will be paid for information leading to the release of hostages and/or the arrest of kidnappers. Immediately thereafter Pedro Carreño, the Interior and Justice Minister labeled the Rosales ‘war’ for what it is, an irresponsible and ill-thought scheme that only presents a new avenue for the kidnapping rings to make money.
Another fumble from the bumbling opposition? Probably not.
Gian Carlo di Martino, the mayor of Maracaibo (capitol of Zulia) has gone one step further, attacking Rosales in a series of full-page denunciations published in Venezuela’s largest dailies. Among the most damning critiques levied by di Martino is the accusation that Rosales established ties with Colombian paramilitaries when he took office in 2000. He notes that by 1999 local government efforts had reduced the kidnapping rate to 0 in the state, whereas there have been 29 so far this year. Mayor di Martino has called for federal intervention in Zulia, accusing Rosales and the regional police of being in bed with the secuestadores for political as well as financial reasons. publishing a full-page denunciation of Governor Rosales in the country’s largest dailies.
The link between opposition parties makes sense, given their common hatred of socialism and mutual benefactors to the north, but this latest development presents an incredibly new form of political opportunism and cynical strategizing. Rosales puts a ‘plan’ into action, making it look like he’s ‘doing something’ about crime. This plan, which he well knows, will more than likely encourage the ill he is ostensibly trying to attack. At the same time, the money flow to armed groups that are willing and planning for a future coup increases.
(For example, in May 2004 over 70 Colombian paramilitaries were arrested in el Hatillo, a district on the outskirts of Caracas. They were encountered on the farm of Robert Alonso, a Cuban-Venezuelan known for his anti-Castro and anti-Chávez antics. Investigations into the plans of the paramilitaries later uncovered ties to retired Venezuelan generals and A12 coup members Néstor González González and Francisco Usón Rodríguez. González González and Rodríguez are interesting cats. After the supreme court decided they shouldn't be prosecuted for their involvement in the kidnapping of the president and the suspension of the constitution, the pair 'symbolically' occupied Plaza Altamira, a park in the posh eastern part of Caracas, in October 2003 and declared their open resistance to the ‘Chávez dictatorship.’ At the time of the May 2004 incident, both retired generals had taken up residence in Miami.)
When the kidnapping rates either increase or remain the same, Rosales can once again strike out against the national government, accusing it of caring more about Cubans than Venezuelans, just like he did during the campaign.