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Poverty seen behind Venezuela's rising youth crime

  |   Sept. 19, 2013 at 8:37 PM
CARACAS, Venezuela, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says imports of U.S. comics and television cartoons are to blame for a continuing upsurge in youth crime, but analysts say evidence suggests otherwise.

Venezuelan youth grew up on a diet of revolutionary rhetoric under President Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer in March. His hand-picked successor Maduro is under pressure from Chavist power centers in the political establishment and the military to keep up the populism of Chavez's Bolivarian revolution, analysts said.

The government's revolutionary preoccupation won't matter so much if at the same time oil-rich Venezuela's economy could be ticking over. But that isn't happening. Venezuela is in a third year of recession that the flow of oil earnings hasn't managed to end.

Shortages of consumer goods, power outages and unemployment have combined with everyday urban violence to create a potent mix in which millions of unemployed youth are drawn into anti-social and criminal activities, official data analyzed by advocacy groups indicates.

Maduro said imported popular culture from North America, in particular the United States, created false idols for youth. And he singled out Spider-Man as a major culprit in the corruption of the nation's youth.

Pursuit of imagined superhero figures from television programs fostered violent tendencies among youth who appear to have little problem obtaining firearms, Maduro aides say.

The government has yet to announce a credible policy for controlling proliferation of weapons. Settling of minor scores routinely results in homicide. Police data indicate Venezuela's homicide rate of more than 71 per 100,000 is three times the rate in Mexico.

At least 21,692 people died in murders last year, the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence advocacy group said.

Unlike Mexico, though, Venezuela doesn't have a serious drug war on, but grinding poverty among the vast majority of Venezuelans is seen behind the spiral of crime, U.N. data show.

The Venezuelan Observatory on Violence cited figures that showed Venezuela trailed behind El Salvador and Honduras in violent crime, most of it resulting from youth discontent.

Maduro told Bolivian newspaper La Opinion he saw a distinct correlation between youth violence and superhero idolization that negates cherished values.

He arrived at the conclusion, he said, after watching "Spider-Man 3," a 2007 movie directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Topher Grace and Thomas Haden Church.

"From the beginning until the end there are more and more dead," Maduro said. "And that's one of the series small children love most ... because it's attractive, it's from comics that are attractive, the figure, the colors and movements ... so much so that we finished watching it at four in the morning."

Criminal violence has come dramatically to the forefront in contemporary Latin America, to the extent it is widely considered the critical social concern of the present day, a 2009 study by Gareth Jones and Dennis Rodgers says.

"Youth are among the principal victims but also the primary perpetrators of this new panorama of brutality," says the study.

"At the same time, the youth violence phenomenon remains profoundly misunderstood, as sensationalist myths and stereotypes abound."

Venezuelans have been voicing frequent protests, including street marches, over youth violence that exacerbates suffering under shortages of consumer goods.

The government this week countered criticism over shortages, saying it was fighting an "economic war" being waged by the business community, El Universal reported.

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