Maduro proposes arming civilians to combat crime

Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro announced a new package of anti-crime measures that includes giving arms to civilians and charging supervised groups within neighborhoods with gathering intelligence, raising concerns over possible human rights abuses and arbitrary actions on behalf of the state.

"Only the people can save the people… I call on everyone, with all the strength of Venezuela, with all our abilities, to rise up," the president said in a radio and television broadcast.

The call for Venezuelan citizens to rise up in hopes of eradicating crime in the country is nothing new. The government already has so-called "colectivos" - armed pro-regime civilian groups that have taken over urban communities and violently disrupted anti-government demonstrations.

These groups, who claim to be protecting communities, actually “exert violence, threaten, extort and intimidate the population,” as Insight Crime explained in a report. “Given this precedent, it's possible that the president's new plan will strengthen these groups and promote the creation of new ones, possibly increasing violence.”

In the past, Chavismo executed similar plans without having any lasting results. In their end-of-year report, the Venezuelan Violence Observatory estimated that there were 28,479 "violent deaths" in 2016, accounting for a violent death rate of 91.8 per 100,000 people. The world’s average is 8.9 per 100,000.