A United Nations (UN) official praised Venezuela’s gun control and disarmament efforts as the government proceeds with several policies aimed at countering violent crime and guaranteeing citizen security. Meanwhile, government officials have condemned photographs showing children posing with assault rifles and launched an investigation to find those responsible for the act.
William Godnick, coordinator of the UN Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean said, “There are several disarmament commissions in different countries in the region, but none of them have the human and economic investment of Venezuela’s”.
He made his comments while participating in an international conference on gun control and disarmament held in the Caracas last week, where Venezuela’s Presidential Commission for Gun Control and Disarmament shared experiences of firearm control policies with other groups in order to further develop its strategies.
“The Venezuelan government has made an impressive investment in this issue, proportionate to its needs,” stated Godnik.
Advancing Gun Control and Disarmament Policies
The Presidential Commission was established last May 2011 by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to design, promote and implement public policies toward gun control and disarmament, where 78% of homicides in Venezuela are linked to the use of firearms.
The Commission recently announced several policies toward this end, including a public awareness campaign to be launched this Monday to tackle the “cultural problem” of violent crime and promote peaceful values in society.
Signalling that public, private and social network media would participate in the campaign, Interior and Justice minister Tarick El Aissami declared yesterday, “It [gun control] is an issue that doesn’t only concern the national government or democratic institutions of the state, it’s an issue of shared responsibility”.
The minister further called on the owners of private media outlets to cooperate with the campaign, especially after having put such emphasis on the issue of criminal violence in Venezuela. “It’s time that you contribute with your outlets in the effort toward this model we’re constructing, committed to living together in peace,” he continued.
Other measures announced by the Commission last week include tighter police firearms regulations, making the Ministry of Justice and the Interior responsible for selling arms to the country’s security forces, and the closure of commercial gun stores in Venezuela.
“As of March, every last gun shop in Venezuela – and there are less than 80 – should be closed. That is to say, the perverse chapter of the commercialisation of firearms and munitions is over,” confirmed El Aissami.
Venezuela has also seen progress in the confiscation and destruction of illegal firearms, with over 250,000 destroyed 2003 – 2011, and 177,000 destroyed by September in 2011 alone.
A law for greater firearms control and disarmament is under debate in the country’s National Assembly, which has been formed since last year in consultation with organised communities. In Venezuela it is legal to own firearms with a permit, and authorities estimate there are 9 – 15 million firearms held by civilians in the South American country.
El Aissami mentioned last week that the government would not announce any “drastic measures” of prohibiting the possession of firearms outright due to the “cultural problem” of attitudes toward violence and firearms that first needs to be tackled. Nevertheless, he stated that the government’s security policies are ultimately aimed at the disarmament of the civilian population.
President Chavez also announced during his annual address to the nation on 15 January that the Venezuelan government would create a new security mission to complement the new measures taken in this field during the previous two years, which together aim to tackle violent crime in Venezuela from a “comprehensive” perspective.
Investigation Launched into “La Piedrita” Photographs
Tarick El Assaimi confirmed on Wednesday this week that an investigation has been launched to find those responsible for giving a group of children assault rifles, after photographs surfaced earlier this week showing a group named “La Piedrita” in the 23 Enero district in Caracas accompanying children who held the rifles and copies of the country’s constitution.
The minister stated that the Venezuelan government “categorically rejects” the incident, continuing, “it’s a condemnable, morally unacceptable act. Nothing is further from the values of our Bolivarian Revolution, which are of life, peace and solidarity…the whole country should condemn and reject this kind of activity”.
During celebrations last night marking 13 years since he was first sworn into power as Venezuelan president, Chavez also condemned the incident, while speculating that such attitudes promoting violence “are so counterrevolutionary that I assure you there is more than one CIA infiltrator in these [type of] groups”.
The president, who during the evening’s proceedings also approved another US $16.8 million for the work of the Presidential Commission on Disarmament, continued “what are the chances! Almost always there’s an election on when these groups appear. Are they really revolutionaries? I doubt it…the arms we are giving to our children are laptops, schooling, health and recreation”.
“We don’t endorse nor permit situations like that. We want a world of peace, of happiness, of love. We don’t incite violence…I make a call for the population to disarm,” he concluded.