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Venezuela’s army has been deployed to fight organised crime, which new president Nicolas Maduro has called the greatest threat to the country. Three thousand soldiers of the national armed forces are spread around the capital Caracas as part of a plan launched earlier this week, called ‘Safe Homeland’.
In one neighbourhood with a high crime rate, a programme commander described the mission now entrusted to men trained for war: “The Venezuelan Bolivarian national police and military police will work body and soul to protect the people and guarantee their safety, as they deserve.”
Opposition critics say promoting social order is a matter for civilian institutions to work on. The government said this is a short-term measure to guarantee the conditions for peace and justice. According to the UN, Venezuela has the world’s fifth-highest homicide rate.
In 2012, the government says the country had more than 16,000 murders. One non-official source says there were far more: well over 21,000.
In a recent survey, the Gallup institute said it found that public fear had remained remarkably high over the past six years, suggesting that the Chavez government, before Maduro, left important aspects of governance unaddressed.
Gallup and other observers also cite Chavez’s stance toward businesses as threatening. The state’s role in the economy, such as through nationalisation and controlling prices, has contributed to acute shortages of basic consumer goods.
One Caracas shopper said: “I have spent two weeks looking for toilet paper. The army guys on the street told me there was some here, so here I am, queuing up.”
Maduro is blaming what he calls anti-government forces for intentionally destabilising supply. Economists say government controls on foreign currency don’t help, and that goods go where people can afford them. Here’s another government bid to cover itself.
Minister for Commerce Alejandro Fleming says: “The revolution will import 50 million rolls of toilet paper in the coming days. We’ll be getting the first shipment this Friday of 20 million rolls, to cover the demand for one week, or even more than a week.”
Companies don’t have free access to foreign currencies, which they need to pay to import consumables, raw materials, equipment and parts. There was a clampdown when Chavez began expropriating land and assets ten years ago and people tried to get their capital out. Now many less well-off Venezuelans are hitting the wall.