Emphasis on “Pacification” Raises Concern in Venezuela

David Smilde and Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

The Venezuelan government is set to announce its new Pacification plan today. Maduro originally announced that the government would be developing a plan de pacificación in the wake of the Monica Spear murder. In December, before the Spear case, Maduro had already announced that he was working on an “enabling law for the pacification of Venezuela.”

Rodriguez Torres has announced that the new plan will absorb the previous Full Life Venezuela Mission. He did not however mention if the new plan will also incorporate the Plan Patria Segura which included the use of military personal for citizen’s security.  

Development of the plan has come in tandem with consultations with mayors and governors nationwide. Interior Minister Rodriguez Torres has been meeting with State governors and city mayors, including opposition governors such Capriles, governor of Miranda State.

These security meetings have been the scene of well publicized handshakes between opposition leader Capriles and Maduro, Rodriguez Torres, and PSUV Mayor of Caracas Jorge Rodriguez. Criticized by opposition supporters for attending these meetings, Capriles argued that “we will work and meet with whoever we need to because security is a sacred issue. Violence does not care for your party affiliation. This problem is the responsibility of the central government, but we are here to collaborate and to be proactive so we can overcome this crisis…We have witnessed the Minister of Interior and Justice’s disposition and we hope it can produce good results.”

Nevertheless the term “pacification” has raised alarms among human rights activists.

Rafael Uzcátegui of PROVEA has warned about the militaristic history of the term, arguing it reflects the war like mentality already present in the Plan Patria Segura: “Of all the terms that could have been chosen [by the government] to define its [security] policy, this is the most unfortunate. To speak of ‘pacification’ responds to a military logic: it means to define a physical space where there is a group of people that you need to exterminate physically or socially.”

Criminologist  and human rights activist Andrés Antillano also worries that the term “pacification” supposes an open conflict “such as the one in Central America 30 years ago.” He says “we need to be clear that violence in Venezuela does not primarily come from armed groups…Violence in Venezuela is primarily carried out by excluded youth.”

Indeed, while nobody is against the idea of “peace,” the term “pacification” has a disturbing history. Historian James Dunkerly points out that the term was originally used in Europe in the Fifteenth Century “at a time of civil war and conquest, for which it was quite frequently employed as a euphemism.”

It was frequently used in reference to the Spanish conquest of the Americas, France’s efforts to suppress local rebellions in colonial Algeria throughout the 19th and 20th Century, Nazi Germany’s efforts to control resistance in Poland, South Vietnam’s counterinsurgency efforts, as well as efforts to overcome civil wars in Central America in the 1980s.

The closest and most recent use of the term, of course, is a plan for addressing violence in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro since 2008. The plan called first for the intervention of militarized Police Special Operations Battalions (BOPE) which would go into a particular favela to rid it of criminals. Then the community was to be occupied by Pacification Police Units (UPP), a civil police force accompanied by a series of social services.

While the plan seems to have reduced violence in the areas in which it is implemented, recent analyses (here and here) question its sustainability and suggest it might have simply pushed crime into other areas or other modalities.

Of course vocabulary is not destiny and it is the content of the plan that will determine its impact. But the increasing role of the military in citizen security in the past year, as well as the government’s portrayal of this week’s protests as a far-reaching conspiracy, raise concern that “pacification” could justify a further militarization of Venezuelan society.