In Venezuela, Clear and Present Danger Lurks in the Shadow of Chavez
By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS -- President Hugo Chavez's new National Police Force formally came into being last Sunday and officers were promptly despatched to take up the battle against bad guys in arguably the single most dangerous district in a city that's widely regarded as one of the most perilous places in the world that's not actually in a war zone.
Sucre, a poor district in Catia round the back and down the hill from the presidential palace, Miraflores, boasts an average of atleast one murder a day -- and that's regarded as a cautious estimate -- along with serious injuries inflicted by violence on three people a day. The rough reckoning is that buses fall victim to at least 15 armed robberies each and every day.
Catia as a whole chalked up 295 unlawfull killings during the first half of this year alone, and a further 120 victims have followed since. One of them was Delío Hernández, a major in the National Guard who was chief of security in west Caracas under the government's much-vaunted "Safe Caracas Plan" when he was mown down in a hail of bullets on October 30.
This is gangland with guns, and with a vengeance. The great majority of attacks on persons involve the use of firearms ranging from revolvers to automatics and the occassional machine gun. It's an armoury waiting to explode.
The rough reckoning at the latest count is that something like 28 different gangs fight over turf in Catia. The centerpiece of this inglorious activity barely a kilometer from the seat of power in the country is Sucre.
It's motorbike-man country, and the hostility is out there for all to see in the suspicious glares that meet a stranger walking down the main avenue. There's no question that it's going to be him who steps into the gutter as they mess around with their machines on the sidewalk.
To the side, narrow alleys and steep stairways lead into zones of brick-built hovels crammed together and on top of each other. A discarded syringe lies at the side of a pile of garbage and excrement strewn in the passageway. Enter at your peril.