How to address criminal violence in a country where the government is responsible for scarcity of food and medicines, where there are no incentives for businesses to produce, innovate, and be effective, and where there is no respect for basic democratic principles including human rights and political freedom? How to prioritize criminal violence in a country where the economic system is collapsing due to hyperinflation, corruption, failed policies, and mismanagement? How to even begin to address the structural factors that account for crime on the streets in a country that does not count with the basic political and societal institutions, and where the police force is corrupt and ineffective? Is it even reasonable to be thinking of working on criminal violence in such conditions, and if so, what steps do we need to take in order to accomplish this seemingly unreachable goal?
Venezuela, where I was born and raised, is a country that is now facing all of these structural, institutional, political, and socioeconomic issues. It is a country where failed policies, price controls, shortages, nationalizations, and a general mismanagement of the industrial sectors are the order of the day, and have all contributed to a sense of general despair among the general population. Amidst this situation, and following a historical trend of it should not come as a surprise that the country tops (together with Honduras and El Salvador) most of the global homicide rate indexes, and that it has some of the most violent cities in the world (including the largest urban centers such as Caracas, Valencia, Maracaibo, and Barquisimeto). In particular to the criminal justice system, some of the most striking and important features include: Venezuela has become one of the most significant routes for drug trafficking; the ubiquitous barrios (slums), which represent between 30 and 40% of the total urban population, are hotbeds for criminal activities; and where about 98% of crimes do not result in prosecution. Considering all of these factors, together with the polarizing and hateful rhetoric of a political regime that violates the most basic political rights of the opposition, I have grappled with the following question over the last two weeks: How can I apply (or adapt) some of the models and policies I have learned in the SPP to solve some of these pressing issues related to crime and peacebuilding in a collapsing nation, in order to and alleviate the incredibly complex issue of criminal violence?