One of the effects of Venezuela’s economic chaos is the increasing breakdown of law and order. The scarcity of basic products has led to a thriving black market. Meanwhile, lack of resources means that police and law enforcement forces find themselves virtually powerless to prevent serious crimes, especially homicide. In fact, the country’s police are too often themselves complicit in these crimes, fueling a highly dangerous lack of public security.
Anarchy rules in parts of Venezuela
Such is the impotence of the Venezuelan security forces, that there are reports of vigilante gangs enforcing curfews on local residents in several parts of the country. In the capital Caracas, some local residents and businesses have turned to private security firms or formed their own security groups, rather than rely on police.
Organized criminal gangs are capitalizing on the absence of law enforcement, increasingly using kidnappings and extortion to assert control and aid drug trafficking. Venezuela is a major transit country for Colombian cocaine and the US federal Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that around 200 tons of cocaine passes through Venezuela each year.
Meanwhile, in rural areas, farmers increasingly find themselves the victims of armed robberies. And recently, more than two dozen gold miners went missing in a remote town, thought to have been slain by a local gang.
Spiralling murder rates
Although the government refuses to release official statistics, it is widely recognized that murder rates are skyrocketing in Venezuela. Statistics published by an independent monitoring group indicate that homicides in Caracas have increased from 37 per 1,000 people in 2004 to 82 per 1,000 people in 2014. A study named Caracas as the world’s murder capital. Meanwhile, it is estimated that countrywide, 90 per cent of murders go unpunished.
It is estimated that a child or adolescent is murdered every ten hours in Venezuela. At the same time, children themselves are becoming increasingly caught up in criminal activity themselves. The number of crimes committed by minors under the age of 18 rose by 70 per cent in 2014.
Police targeted and aiding organized crime
Police are also victimized by criminals, while often complicit in crime themselves. It is thought that more than 1,000 police officers have been murdered during the past five years. They are often targeted for their weapons, appropriated by criminal gangs, which are themselves often much better armed than the police. However, the average police salary of between $15 and $25 dollars per month means that too many officers are corruptible, easily induced to help facilitate the crimes that they themselves are meant to prevent. This has left Venezuelans with a chronic sense of insecurity and deep lack of trust in the law enforcement services.