Category Archives: Anarchy in life

Venezuela: Anarchy in a prison reflects general weakness of institutions and rule of law

(Brooklyn, New York City)  This is my first blog here.  It will be short and rather disturbing.

The topic is the decline of institutions, especially state institutions, and of the rule of law in Venezuela.  I study especially the oil sector and the national oil company, PDVSA, and its relation to the rest of society.  It is not easy to see inside PDVSA, but here we have a rare window into the state of affairs in another Venezuelan state institution: a prison.

A Venezuelan friend sent me this video link  to the NY Times story filed by Simon Romero about the prison on Margareta Island.  

In passing this on to me, she drew two larger societal lessons from this report:

  • When thre is no the rule of law someone will surely impose rules (in this prison, it is El Conejo)
  • This lack of a rule of law–and of the institutions it requires–has fostered a culture of anarchy in personal life, in all social classes
  • I would add that this “anarchy” undermines trust between not only the state and citizens, but between individuals as well.  It undermines civil society and personal life.  It is part of what makes everyday life often so very wearing in Venezuela, despite the beautiful natural surroundings.

For example, take the insecurity and violence that citizens face. Venezuela appears to have the highest national homicide rate inthe Western Hemisphere,  about 75 per 100,000 persons are now murdered annually according to Roberto  Briceño-Leon, director of the Venezuelan Observatory on Crime, and professor at Oxford U. and UCV in Caracas.  This rate has shot up since 2002.  I have been reading a collection of essays by Venezuelan experts edited by Professor Briceño-Leon et al,  Inseguridad y Violencia en Venezuela, Informe 2008, and I will soon post notes and commentaries on this serious sociological work.  I must say, in a society where there is such extreme stress on individual lives, it is understandable for people to despair and of course this increases tension and polarization between and within all social classes.  To break out of these cycles it is necessary not only for the experts, but for civil society at all levels to reach a consensus on what can be done, and to support politicians who have the will and stamina to implement these policies over the long run.  Anyone who does not believe that Venezuela’s demoralizing decline of the rule of law and institutions, and the growth in anarchy this reinforces for everyone can be reversed, needs only look at neighboring Colombia, where a similar crisis in the 1980s and 90s has now been decisively reversed.    Briceño-Leon draws important lessons from Colombia´s experience for Venezuela, and I promise to discuss these here soon.