• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, www.bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
The murder of the daughter of a Chilean diplomat has received major attention in Venezuela and the region. Various police officers have been arrested in the case and it has been condemned by all sides of the political spectrum. Unfortunately, in Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, killings by the police are quite common.
The issue rose to the surface in 2009 with several important media articles and the government's admission that as much as 15 to 20 percent of all violent crime in the country is committed by police officers. At the time, there were between 600 and 900 murder accusations against police officers in the previous 12 to 15 months. The statistics suggest the extrajudicial execution rate was even higher as police claimed they were killing criminals in firefights when they were really executing innocents. Several years ago, I called it Venezuela's version of the "false positive" scandal that occurred in Colombia.
There hasn't been quite as much coverage and commentary about the issue over the previous two years, but little has been done to reverse the trend. Police still engage in a significant number of extrajudicial executions and kidnappings. One private estimate I saw placed the number killed by Venezuelan police in 2010 at over 1,800 people. I haven't seen estimates for 2011. Certainly, some of those cases were the killings of criminals during a firefight. Some of it is political violence against opponents of the government. Other cases are corruption or organized crime related, people out for money with no political agenda. Some were cases in error in which the police opened fire on unarmed civilians like the Chilean consul's daughter and then tried to cover up their error.
Sadly, it takes high profile cases like the murder last week to highlight this tragic issue. It's an issue where the Chavez government has repeatedly promised reform (and will certainly do so again), but failed to deliver as crime statistics have worsened and the media attention has turned elsewhere. Chavez's government should face the full blame after over a dozen years in power. Cleaning up the police force must be one of the top agenda items if and when a new government is elected to national office.