Leroy N. Soetoro
2019-08-03 04:01:23 UTC
CUCUTA, Venezuela/Colombia border As Venezuela continues to crumble
under the socialist dictatorship of President Nicolas Maduro, some are
expressing words of warning and resentment against a six-year-old gun
control bill that stripped citizens of their weapons.
Guns would have served as a vital pillar to remaining a free people, or
at least able to put up a fight, Javier Vanegas, 28, a Venezuelan teacher
of English now exiled in Ecuador, told Fox News. The government security
forces, at the beginning of this debacle, knew they had no real opposition
to their force. Once things were this bad, it was a clear declaration of
war against an unarmed population.
Under the direction of then-President Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan National
Assembly in 2012 enacted the Control of Arms, Munitions and Disarmament
Law, with the explicit aim to disarm all citizens. The law took effect
in 2013, with only minimal pushback from some pro-democracy opposition
figures, banned the legal commercial sale of guns and munitions to all -
except government entities.
Chavez initially ran a months-long amnesty program encouraging Venezuelans
to trade their arms for electrical goods. That year, there were only 37
recorded voluntary gun surrenders, while the majority of seizures - more
than 12,500 were by force.
In 2014, with Nicolás Maduro at the helm following Chavezs death but
carrying through his socialist Chavista policies, the government
invested more than $47 million enforcing the gun ban which has since
included grandiose displays of public weapons demolitions in the town
A former gun store owner inside Venezuela who told Fox News he has now
been relegated to only selling fishing supplies since the ban said he
cant sell any type of weaponry - even a slingshot - and underscored that
even BB ammunition and airsoft guns are only issued to police and military
The punishment for illicit carrying or selling a weapon now is 20 years
Prior to the 2012 reform, there were only around eight gun stores in the
entire country. And the process of obtaining a legal permit to own and
carry was plagued by long wait lines, high costs and bribery to make the
process swifter at the one department allowed to issue licenses, which
operated under the umbrella of the Ministry of Defense.
Venezuelans didnt care enough about it. The idea of having the means to
protect your home was seen as only needed out in the fields. People never
would have believed they needed to defend themselves against the
government, Vanegas explained. Venezuelans evolved to always hope that
our government would be non-tyrannical, non-violator of human rights, and
would always have a good enough control of criminality.
He said it didnt take long for such a wide-eyed public perception to fall
apart. If guns had been a stronger part of our culture, if there had been
a sense of duty for one to protect their individual rights, and as a show
of force against a government power and had legal carry been a common
thing it would have made a huge difference, he lamented.
Since April 2017, almost 200 pro-democracy protesters in Venezuela armed
mostly with stones were shot dead by government forces in brutal
retaliation to their call to end the oppressive socialist regime. The once
oil-wealthy nation has continued its downward spiral into financial ruin,
extreme violence, and mass human rights violations. An estimated three
million Venezuelans have been forced to flee since 2015.
Venezuela shows the deadly peril when citizens are deprived of the means
of resisting the depredations of a criminal government, said David Kopel,
a policy analyst, and research director at the Independence Institute and
adjunct professor of Advanced Constitutional Law at Denver University.
The Venezuelan rulers like their Cuban masters apparently viewed
citizen possession of arms as a potential danger to a permanent communist
monopoly of power.
Although the bill was sold to the population as a hardline effort to
improve security, and sharply reduce crime, many now point to Venezuela as
a case study for how gun prohibition can actually produce the opposite
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The violent crime rate, already high, soared. Almost 28,000 people were
murdered in 2015 with the homicide rate becoming the worlds highest.
Compare that, according to GunPolicy.org an international firearms
prevention and policy research initiative to just under 10,000 in 2012,
and 6,500 thousand in 2001, the year before Chavez came to power.
The total number of gun deaths in 2013 was estimated to 14,622, having
steadily risen from 10,913 in 2002. While comprehensive data now goes
unrecorded by the government, in September this year, Amnesty
International declared Venezuela had a murder rate worse than some war
zones 89 people per 100,000 people - and three times that of its
volatile neighbor Brazil.
Much of the crime has been attributed by analysts to government-backed
gangs referred to in Spanish as collectivos who were deliberately
put in place by the government.
They were set up by the government to act as proxies and exert community
control. They're the guys on the motorcycles in the poor neighborhoods,
who killed any protesters, said Vanessa Neumann, the Venezuelan-American
president and founder of Asymmetrica, a Washington, D.C.-based political
risk research and consulting firm. The gun reform policy of the
government was about social control. As the citizenry got more desperate
and hungry and angry with the political situation, they did not want them
to be able to defend themselves. It was not about security; it was about a
monopoly on violence and social control.
So while Venezuelan citizens were stripped of their legal recourse to bear
arms, the collectivos established by Chavez when came to power were
legally locked and loaded. Deemed crucial to the survival of the socialist
dictatorship, the collectivos function to brutally subjugate opposition
groups, while saving some face as they arent officially government
forces, critics contend.
Eduardo Espinel, 35, who serves as a representative for the rapidly
growing Venezuelan population in the Colombian border town of Cucuta
having fled his ailing nation two years ago under the threat of being
kidnapped by local gangsters said the law had proliferated the violence
by allowing the collectivos to freely and legally shoot and kill.
Everyone else but the common citizen. This law asks for the disarming of
the common people, but everyone else can carry, Espinel said. The kind
of law might make sense in a normal country, but in Venezuela, it makes no
sense. People are faced with crime and have no easy means to defend
And Maribel Arias, 35, who was once a law and political science student at
the University of Los Andes in her home state of Mérida but fled to the
Colombian border with her family two years ago living mostly on the
streets as she and her husband take turns finding odd jobs such as selling
water and attending bathrooms and while sharing the parenting duties of
tending to their four children bemoaned that they simply cannot rely on
the nations law enforcement.
The people of Venezuela should have rights for gun carrying because there
is just too much crime and people should have the right to defend
themselves because the justice system is not working, Arias asserted. If
you call the police, the police come only if they want. If they capture
the criminal maybe they will take away whatever they stole, but they
normally go free again. Its a vicious cycle.
Many contend the gun ban has in some ways hurt police and law enforcement,
who have themselves become a more fervent target of street gangs. There
was a 14 percent increase in police murders in 2016. And more than 80
percent of assailants subsequently stole the officers gun, according to
Some experts contend many of the weapons and ammunition used by gangsters
were once in the hands of government forces, and obtained either through
theft or purchase from corrupt individuals.
And adding to the complication, the ranks of the police force are
beleaguered by crime and corruption. Crimes are committed by police, a
lot of the criminals are police themselves, said Saul Moros, 59, from the
Venezuelan city of Valencia.
Luis Farias, 48, from Margarita, said that gun violence was indeed bad
when guns were freely available for purchase. But it became much worse
after the gun ban was passed. Now the criminal mother is unleashed,
Farias said. Trying to ban guns didnt take guns off the streets. Nobody
cares about the law; the criminals dont care about the law.
A black market in weapons is also thriving. There are an estimated six
million unregistered firearms circulating in Venezuela, but they remain
far from reach for the average, non-criminal Venezuelan.
The black market of weapons is very active, mostly used by violent
criminals, said Johan Obdola, a former counter-narcotics chief in
Venezuela and now president of Latin America-focused, Canada-based global
intelligence and security firm IOSI. Venezuelans simply looking to
protect themselves from the regime are totally vulnerable.
Prices vary daily. But an AR-15 rifle goes for around $500, sources said,
while handguns sell for about $250. Those prices are far beyond the reach
of the average Venezuelan.
Most guns can be bought illegally in a sort of pyramid structure. A big
irregular group or criminal organization has the best access to weapons
directly from the government, and they sometimes even get access to
basically new unused weaponry," explained Vanegas. "The longer down the
pyramid you are, you must get your weapon from the nearest big irregular
group that overpowers you within your territory. This is not an option for
any moral person, due to the fact that you need to deal with criminals in
order to get an illegal gun. And for many obvious reasons, people will not
even consider this.
The Venezuelan government denies it is in a deeply deteriorating crisis,
caused by its own policies. Rather, it blames the United States and
opposition leaders for waging an economic war.
According to Omar Adolfo Zares Sanchez, 48, a lawyer, politician, and
former mayor of Campo Elías municipality in the Venezuelan state of
Mérida, it is now all but too late to make guns legally accessible to the
Without a doubt, if there had been a balance of armed defense we could
have stood up and stopped the oppression at the beginning, he contended.
But there is too much anarchy on the streets now. Making guns easier for
anybody to buy now would start a civil war.
Other Venezuelans argue that while violence has indeed rapidly increased
in the years since the gun ban, it might have been that much worse as the
economy collapsed, and the country deteriorated. The problem from the
beginning and still now is that there are too many people in Venezuela who
are lawless. Crime is a way of living, said Emberly Quiroz, 25, mother of
three. Access to weapons wont solve the problem.
It will if you kill the politicians who created it.
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