Originally published in Caracas Chronicles in February 2017 https://www.caracaschronicles.com/2017/02/17/el-aissamis-new-militia/ written with Ernesto Herrera
When Tareck El Aissami was appointed as Vice-president, Maduro said he’d be in charge of “citizen security” — crime-fighting, basically. Soon after, El Aissami, who was interior minister from 2008 to 2012, announced last week that the Bolivarian National Police as well as The Bolivarian National Guard will bring on more than 20,000 additional officers.
In theory, it sounds like good idea, right? If only. If only.
The first thing to realize is that this plan is a retread. Tareck El Aissami proposed the same thing back when he served as Interior Minister in 2012!
Basically the man is offering a plan that was tried before and failed miserably. Take the number of homicides: a common proxy for overall violent crime. Lack of transparency makes evaluation difficult, but there is an undeniable trend of rising homicides since 2012, as well-reported by Dorothy Kronick last year for Caracas Chronicles.
Five years on, the state is flat broke and its institutional structures are far weaker, amid political radicalization and the catastrophic crisis Caracas Chronicles readers know all about.
But Tareck wants this broke state to hire 20,000 highly qualified cops. From experience managing a police institution at a local level and advising others, we know that, if done correctly, only a few candidates manage to graduate as police officers, and with 414 police officers and military killed in 2016, falling infrastructure and terrible wages, not many people want to sign up.
In the case of Sucre municipality, the last cohort managed to graduate 31 police officers from 70 starting candidates, sourced from over 140 applicants. Extrapolating, with those ratios, if you want to have 20,000 police officers you will need to have at least 90,000 applicants, which is more than the entire number of students at UCV, including professors and all other personnel.
But it’s when you get to the nitty gritty of the recruitment plan that loud alarms start to ring. Here, for example, is how El Aissami describes the recruitment process:
“(…) a process in which popular organizations such as the consejos comunales , the Chavez-Bolivar Battle Units (UBCH) and the Francisco de Miranda Front will be taking part, we initiate the 2021 Carabobo Campaign Plan”
(…) proceso en el que además participarán organizaciones populares como los consejos comunales y políticas como las Unidades de Batalla Bolívar Chávez y el Frente Francisco de Miranda, se da inicio al Plan de Campaña Carabobo 2021. “
Is this recruitment drive for citizen security or for a loyal government militia? It seriously sounds more like one of the FARC or Fuerzas Bolivarianas de Liberación (FBL) than a state security body. And considering El Aissami’s longstanding closeness to the Cuban-inspired Frente Francisco de Miranda activist network, it’s really not too hard to figure out where the bulk of the recruitment.
What Tareck is proposing is to transform the state security forces into a partisan militia that fights crime on the side.
This is deeply dismaying. Police institutions, like the army, are hierarchical structures meant to guarantee the rule of law. And impartiality in enforcement is a defining feature of the rule of law. Recruiting on political rather than technical criteria makes a mockery of the institution. If you substitute political impartiality and the rule of law with the will of the rulers, but you keep the old hierarchical structure in the service of the ruler’s interest, what you end up with is not a Law and Order organization at all. What Tareck is proposing is to transform the state security forces into a partisan militia that fights crime on the side.
Police officers are not construction workers. The process for picking people to work as cops needs to be rigorous and involved. This officers are going to be carrying weapons 24/7, and as they will be responsible for protecting people’s lives, they need to be mentally prepared to take decisions of absolute gravity.
The process of selection needs to be as rigorous as possible. How do you conjure up 20,000 people out of thin air? What quality can you ensure? If recruitment is done by looking to see if the person has a Carnet de la Patria rather than his test scores and capabilities, you can imagine the force we’ll end up with.
In the Maduro-Tareck’s Carabobo Campaign plan, new officers have to have at least a high school diploma to be admitted to a one-year training that includes weapon handling, legal framework, defensive driving, physical and psychological training, etc. Police officers that want to change forces or that want to re-enter have to complete a four-part selection process, including psychological interviews, medical and physical tests as well as an evaluation by a social worker.
Strategy in security policies
The underlying problem is that citizen security has been approached like poverty-alleviation under the chavista regimes: a los realazos — by throwing money at it. If you want to reduce crime, adding officers is a necessary but far from sufficient, policy.
According to the Vice-ministerio del Sistema Integrado de Policía, Venezuela had 3.5 police officers per 1,000 inhabitants by 2015. International standards suggest 4 per 1,000 inhabitants, which is nice..but El Tocuyo or Charallave are not London or Taipei. With over 5,741 violent deaths in 2016 in Caracas alone, we probably need more officers than a normal country. An area like Petare or Catia is uncontrollable if we apply the international standards.
Crime is a tremendously complex issue with causes ranging from a corrupt justice system to pran ethics, inequality, and poverty. Addressing these problems requires strong, impartial institutions with quality officers and a comprehensive approach. It’s not like buying votes, just throwing money at this problem won’t cut it.