Crime is the issue Venezuelans are most worried about. It's also the issue where they rate Chavez's performance worst. Here's Keller's June 2006 Performance-by-Issue slide:
[Click to expand. Red=Problem is getting worse. Yellow = Problem is the same as ever. Blue = Problem is getting better.]
Somehow, though, the opposition can't get any traction on it. The problem is that, today, crime is just not a politicized issue. That's because Chavez just won't join the fray. The most amazing thing about Chávez's line on the crime epidemic is that he doesn't have one. And when the other side fails to acknowledge the issue, it's impossible to establish a discussion.
How does the opposition change this dynamic? It's tough. But one possible avenue is to talk about crime as a social and economic issue. This is something Tony Blair managed to do with his now famous "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" campaign line. By underlining the links between poverty, exclusion and urban violence, the opposition can use the sharp rise in crime to tell a story about the overall social failure of the regime - who's ever heard a country where rapid poverty abatement and social inclusion go hand in hand with an unprecedented crime wave? The story doesn't hang together.
The opposition badly needs to make the December election about its strongest issue. It needs to grab control of the agenda, something it's catastrophically failed to do since 2003. The protests surrounding the deaths of the Fadoul brothers showed that there's an substrate of anger around insecurity, that crime is politicizable. Time to move on this.
Venezuela's Murder Rate: Click here to expand
Addendum: Some of the crimes being reported these days are just jaw-dropping in their audacity. On Wednesday, at 5 a.m. in Guatire, a group of thugs held up fourteen buses in one go in a commando-style operation.