Crime in Venezuela

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Murder rate (1 murder per 100,000 citizens) from 1998 to 2013. Source: Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia, Fusion TV

Crime is a pervasive issue across Venezuela. Venezuela was ranked the most insecure nation in the world by Gallup in 2013 with the United Nations stating that such crime is due to the poor political and economic environment in the country.[1][2] The country's murder rate is also one of the highest in the world.[3][4][5] In 2008, polls indicated that crime was the number one concern of voters.[6] 2014 Gallup polls showed that only 19% of Venezuelans felt safe to walk alone at night with nearly one quarter of respondents stating that they or a household member had money stolen in the past year.[1] The U.S. State Department calls Venezuela "a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor".[7] Crime rates are higher in 'barrios' or 'ranchos' (slum areas) after dark.[citation needed] Petty crime such as pick-pocketing is prevalent, particularly on public transport in Caracas.[citation needed] As a result of the high levels of crime, Venezuelans were forced to change their ways of life due to the large insecurities they continuously experienced.[8]

In 2009 the Venezuelan government created a security force called the Bolivarian National Police and a new Experimental Security University. Human rights groups suggest that the government's policing efforts are too "timid".[9][10] In May 2013, President Maduro initiated Plan Patria Segura to reduce crime and provide security throughout the country.[11] According to the United Nations, the Venezuelan government is lacking 20,000 investigative police.[12]

Drug trade[edit]

Further information: Illegal drug trade in Venezuela

Venezuela is a significant route for drug trafficking, with Colombian cocaine and other drugs transiting Venezuela towards the United States and Europe. Venezuela ranks fourth in the world for cocaine seizures, behind Colombia, the United States, and Panama.[13]

Senior Venezuelan government officials have been known to associate with the narcotic terrorist organization FARC and "armed, abetted, and funded the FARC, even as it terrorized and kidnapped innocents".[14] In 2007, authorities in Colombia claimed that through laptops they had seized, they found that Hugo Chávez allegedly made payments of as much as $300 million USD to the FARC.[15]

There have been several incidents involving drugs being trafficked from Venezuela with supposed aid from corrupt officials. In September 2013, an incident involving men from the Venezuelan National Guard placing 31 suitcases containing 1.3 tons of cocaine on a Paris flight astonished French authorities.[16] According to former Venezuelan Supreme Court Justice Eladio Aponte, he was forced to acquit an army commander who had connections with a 2 metric ton shipment of cocaine. Aponte also claimed that Henry Rangel, former defense minister of Venezuela and General Clíver Alcalá Cordones were both involved with the drug trade in Venezuela.[16] Venezuelan officials have also been allegedly working with Mexican drug cartels.[16]

On 15 February 2014, a commander for the Venezuelan National Guard was stopped while driving to Valencia with his family and was arrested for having 554 kilos of cocaine in his possession.[17]

Murder and violent crimes[edit]

The murder rate in Venezuela is the subject of some dispute according to the Associated Press, since Venezuelan government has slowly denied access to homicide statistics.[18] According to the Venezuelan government, the homicide rate in 2013 dropped 50 to 39 per 100,000.[18] A non-governmental organization known as the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (OVV), which collects crime data from seven different universities around the country, also provides data of homicide rates in the country.[19] The OVV puts the homicide rate for that year at approximately 79 per 100,000[19] and the murder rate in the capital Caracas at 122 per 100,000 residents.[5] In 2010, Simon Romero of the New York Times stated that Venezuela's body count of the previous decade mimics that of the Iraq War and in some instances had more civilian deaths.[20] The OVV's methodology has come under scrutiny in a blog by a Political Science student Dorothy Kronick,[21] and, in the case of the Iraq statistics, the group Iraq Body Count, which some say is an inaccurate measure of the murder rate in Iraq.[22][23] The World Health Organization, for example, estimates that the death toll in Iraq is three times higher than the numbers provided by the Iraq Body Count.[24]

In a 2014 UNICEF report titled Hidden in Plain Sight, it was stated that in Venezuela, along with other Latin American countries, the leading cause of death for males between 10 and 19 is murder.[25]

Corruption[edit]

Further information: Corruption in Venezuela

Corruption in Venezuela is high by world standards, and was so for much of the 20th century. The discovery of oil had worsened political corruption,[26] and by the late 1970s, Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonso's description of oil as "the Devil's excrement" had become a common expression in Venezuela.[27] Venezuela has been ranked one of the most corrupt countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index since the survey started in 1995. The 2010 ranking placed Venezuela at number 164, out of 178 ranked countries.[28]

According to some sources Venezuela's corruption includes widespread corruption in the police force.[29] Many victims are afraid to report crimes to the police because many officers are involved with criminals and may bring even more harm to the victims[30] with a 2013 Gallup study showing that only 26% of Venezuelans have faith in their local police.[1] Human Rights Watch claims that the "police commit one of every five crimes" and that thousands of people have been killed by police officers acting with impunity (only 3% of officers have been charged in cases against them).[10] The Metropolitan Police force in Caracas was so corrupt that it was disbanded and were even accused of assisting some of the 17,000 kidnappings.[31] Medium says that the Venezuelan police are "seen as brutal and corrupt more likely to rob you than help".[32]

Kidnappings[edit]

In 2013, consulting firm Control Risk ranked Venezuela 5th in the world for kidnappings, only behind Mexico, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. The report stated that 33% of kidnappings occurred in the capital city of Caracas and that hundreds of kidnappings happen every year.[33] In 2011, the Venezuelan government's statistics reported an average of two kidnappings per day, while other estimates showed 50 kidnappings per day. According to the BBC article, 4 of 5 kidnappings are express kidnappings which are not included in government statistics. The article also explains the problem of police involvement with kidnappings, with the Venezuelan government admitting that 20% of crimes involve authorities and criminologist Mármol García stating that 90% of kidnappings go unreported in Venezuela.[12]

Human trafficking[edit]

According to the Trafficking in Persons Report 2014 by the State Department of the United States, "Venezuela is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor". The State Department also states that the "Government of Venezuela does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking" explaining that Venezuelan authorities trained government officials about trafficking, but the Venezuelan government "did not publicly document progress on prosecutions and convictions of trafficking offenders or on victim identification and assistance". Due to the Venezuelan government not complying to the standards of stopping human trafficking, the State Department placed Venezuelan on its "black list" as a Tier 3 country, which opened the possibility of Venezuela facing sanctions.[7][34][35]

Foreign Visitors[edit]

Venezuela is especially dangerous toward foreign travelers and investors who are visiting.[citation needed] This is due to Venezuela's economic problems.[citation needed] The United States State Department and Government of Canada has warned foreign visitors that they may be subjected to robbery, kidnapping for a ransom or sale to terrorist organizations and murder, and that their own diplomatic travelers are required to travel in armored vehicles.[36][37] The United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all travel to Venezuela.[38] Most visitors have been murdered during robberies and criminals do not discriminate against their victims. Recently, former Miss Venezuela 2004 winner Monica Spear and her husband were murdered with her 5 year old daughter being shot while visiting, and an elderly German tourist was murdered only a few weeks later.[39][40]

Crime Prevention[edit]

Prisons[edit]

In the World Report 2014 by Human Rights Watch, the organization stated that "Venezuelan prisons are among the most violent in Latin America". They explained that "Weak security, deteriorating infrastructure, overcrowding, insufficient and poorly trained guards, and corruption allow armed gangs to effectively control prisons". They also mentioned that hundred of violent deaths occur at Venezuelan prisons each year.[41]

Lack of state authority[edit]

In Venezuelan prisons, there are reports of prisoners having easy access to firearms, drugs and alcohol. Carlos Nieto, head of Window to Freedom, alleges that heads of gangs acquire military weapons from the state saying, “They have the types of weapons that can only be obtained by the country’s armed forces. ... No one else has these.” Use of internet and mobile phones are also a commonplace where criminals can take part in street crime while in prison. One prisoner explained how, “If the guards mess with us, we shoot them” and that he had "seen a man have his head cut off and people play football with it.”[42]

In a Journeyman Pictures documentary titled Venezuela - Party Prison, a reporter visits San Antonio Prison on Margarita Island. The prison is described as a "paradise", with a community including pools, bars, a boxing ring and many other accommodations for any visitor of prisoners who can stay the night at the prison for up to three days per week. San Antonio Prison is controlled by El Conejo (The Rabbit), a powerful jailed drug trafficker who makes his "enforcers" patrol the prison. In an interview with Prison Minister Iris Varela, the minister explained how all prisons were under her control and that there was no anarchy. Varela was also known to be acquainted with El Conejo, as critic Carlos Nieto showed the reporter a photo of Varela with El Conejo on his bed. Professor Neelie Perez from the University of Caracas explained how it is difficult for the government to control prisons without resorting to violence, therefore recognizing and legitimizing high ranking prisoners as heads of prisons. Perez also states that evidence shows that crime is organized from within these prisons.[43][44]

Edgardo Lander, a sociologist and professor at the Central University of Venezuela with a PhD in sociology from Harvard University explained that Venezuelan prisons are "practically a school for criminals" since young inmates come out "more sort of trained and hardened than when they went in". He also explained that prison are controlled by gangs and that "very little has been done" to control them.[45]

"El Coliseo"[edit]

In Venezuelan prisons, inmates partake in gladiatorial matches to settle disputes. In 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States denounced the practice of "The Coliseum" saying "The Commission reiterates to the State the need to take immediate and effective steps to prevent such incidents from happening again" after 2 inmates died and 54 more were injured from these practices.[46]

However a year later, one "Coliseum" in Uribana left 2 dead and 128 injured. Those injured had to be assisted by a church in the area.[47][48]

Overcrowded facilities[edit]

Venezuelan rights groups report that the 34 prisons in Venezuela hold 50,000 people but are only supposed to hold about one-third of that. In 2012, La Planta, a prison built in 1964 with a capacity of 350 inmates, held almost 2,500 inmates with most armed with heavy weapons.[49]

State crime prevention initiatives[edit]

Ley contra el Secuestro y la Extorsión[edit]

In 2008, the National Assembly passed the Law Against Kidnapping and Extortion (Ley contra el Secuestro y la Extorsión), a law that penalties of up to 30 years in prison to address a kidnapping situation that was not covered by a specific law. Despite the introduction of the new law, the majority of cases are not resolved and only received the Venezuelan government's attention in high-profile cases.[12]

Plan Patria Segura[edit]

On 13 May 2013, President Nicolas Maduro initiated Plan Patria Segura saying "we have decided to fight to build a secure homeland".[50] The plan included the placement of 37,000 authorities throughout the country. The goal of Plan Patria Segura to disarm, prevent organized crime and drug enforcement. The methods of accomplishing these tasks were through surveillance, checking documents, verification checkpoints and to help guide communities.[51]

See also[edit]

General:

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

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