Venezuela’s New Citizen Security Initiative Causes Confusion

On July 16 president Maduro announced a new citizen security initiative called “Great Socialist Mission Quadrants of Peace” (Gran Misión Socialista Cuadrantes de Paz). “Mission” is the term used for the government’s social welfare programs, and “Great Missions” are umbrella programs grouping several Missions.

The announcement was made during a graduation ceremony for police officers from the National Security University (UNES). The President explained that this new Great Mission responded to the need for “articulating a new security system, [because] we know there is a problem with crime and violence–this is an old issue which is the consequence of the anti-values of capitalism, drug addiction, and drug trafficking.”

“I believe,” said the President, “that after experimenting with all these policies the time has come to create and summarize it all in a new Great Mission, all of these security policies, so that not one deviates and we all know the direction of the main effort. I have decided to create a Great Mission for security: the “Great Mission Quadrants of Peace” for the people, through which we will strive, as never before, with all our experience, to build a public security system for our people.”

But the announcement of this “new” initiative could lead to some confusion as there is already a “great mission” that exists since 2012 with precisely this goal: to bring together the government’s various citizen security policies: The Great All Life Venezuela Mission. Furthermore, the “quadrants of peace” were part of previous security initiatives. So, does this new Great Mission supplement or replace the previous Mission? Does it mean a new direction in citizen security policies by the government?

The first peace quadrants were originally established in 2013, as part of the Safe Fatherland Plan (Plan Patria Segura.) The quadrants were to be limited spaces of two to five square kilometers which would incorporate GPS technology for surveillance and patrolling. “These quadrants [will have] police force, with intelligence, patrolling and immediate action and reaction capacity,” explained Maduro at the time. The idea of the police quadrants has been applied in other Latin American countries, such as Colombia, Costa Rica, and Chile, where they also imply the organization of urban territories into more easily controlled and monitored spaces.

But in Venezuela critics have argued, not against the notion of quadrants itself, but that they are ineffectual and hard to replicate unless there is a previous study for the geographical delimitation of such spaces, which should include things such as the population and crime rate. The government however insists its security programs, including the quadrants, are working. In December 2017, the President announced that 2,119 such quadrants had been created in 79 municipalities of the country and asked that they be replicated and extended all over the country. Recently the Director of Venezuela’s Investigative Police (CICPC) declared that homicide rates had decreased by 27% during the first semester of this year.

From the latest President’s announcement, it is now apparent that the Great Mission Quadrants of Peace is simply the new name for the overarching security structure of the government, substituting for the previous Great Mission Socialist Justice. For example, the “new” Mission now includes, according to the President, seven “vertices” with ever more overlapping names: 1) the Movement for Peace and Life, 2) “effective patrolling,” 3) the peace quadrants themselves, 4) the controversial Operations for the Liberation of the People (OLP), 5) the “system for the popular protections for peace,” 6)  “justice” (unexplained) and 7) a “plan to fight against drug trafficking, paramilitarism, and organized crime.” The most important and concrete of these “vertices” ­–the peace quadrants and the OLPs­– were originally sub-parts of the previous initiative, the Great Mission Socialist Justice, which also came after Great All Life Venezuela Mission without ever replacing it.

On July 29, Minister of Interior Relations, Justice and Peace, Nestor Reverol, gave an interview to a local news-paper explaining why this latest Mission really amounted to something new and not simply to a name reshuffling of previous security initiatives. Reverol said that the quadrants would be part of an integral structure in which State presence would be felt. “We find the people [in those spaces] have a set of needs; education, sports, health, and also more than 700 institutions responsible for taking care of those needs, but we haven’t found a way to articulate them. This can be done by the chief of the quadrant” said the Minister.

The chief of each quadrant is a National Bolivarian Police officer, thus adding to the confusion of overlapping names and competences of different welfare and security plans, and furthering fears of militarization of civilian life.

The Minister was also asked what had happened to the previous two Great Missions: “Socialist Justice” and “All Life Venezuela” (A Toda Vida Venezuela). He answered that they still exist, but they are now part of the “security doctrine” of citizen’s security as they are “part of the Chavez’ legacy.”

The new Mission seems to be still open for discussion as president Maduro has called for a “national consultation process” about the new Mission. “Technical Roundtables” have started in several states in order to discuss proposal for the new initiative. Minister Reverol himself lead the roundtables established in the state of Zulia. So far, these roundtables only include several government security bodies, such as the National Bolivarian Police, the Bolivarian National Guard, and local police forces.