The disarmament that wasn't there

It’s not much… but that it’ll do.

The central government has tried over and over again to present itself as proactive in tackling crime. As usual, reality has gotten in its way.

Violence in Venezuela is once again in the international media because of both the grizzly murder of Chavista MP Robert Serra and his assistant earlier this month, followed just days later by a shoot-out in downtown Caracas between the authorities and a pro-government armed group (colectivo), which left five dead, including leader José Odreman.

In early September, UNICEF’s recent report titled “Hidden in Plain Sight” said Venezuela has the third worst homicide rate for children and teenagers (0-19 years old) in the world (20 murders per 100.000 inhabitants), right after Guatemala and El Salvador.

Weeks after that report was released, the central government announced a brand new voluntary disarmament plan, which would be backed up by a $47 million special fund. The plan allows people holding unlicensed guns to surrender them anonymously in one of the designated centers around the country, getting in return this certificate and the promise of future “incentives” (like a laptop, a college scholarship or construction materials).

But could this really work? El Nacional’s crime reporter Javier Mayorca has serious doubts, which he summarized in this post in his blog Crimes Without Punishment. Concerns include the lack of prior organization and promotion or the fact that the plan doesn’t have an established timetable. Other criticism centers anonymity, which the government believes is essential. This plan also includes the examination of the weapons to see if they were used in crimes.

But Interior Minister Miguel Rodríguez Torres wants to go further, and has authorized the review of all legal gun permits in the country, which goes along with his previous pledge to eliminate all legal permits to carry firearms in the medium term. He has found resistance from an unlikely source: the Bolivarian Bodyguards’ Association.

How many illegal guns have been gathered so far? It’s hard to say. The most recent news report talked about the destruction of 750 weapons. Is this the total or just part? Given the lack of details, I can’t answer for sure … It is worth noting that, in order to be credible, most of the literature emphasizes that disarmament plans should be transparent and verifiable.

Meanwhile, the government will continue its negotiation with criminal bands. Too bad it hasn’t worked before.