Crime wave worsens Venezuela’s already shaky telecom service

The clanging sound of collapsing metal shook awake the residents of Guayabal, an industrial zone in the outskirts of Venezuela's capital, last October.

Then they watched a 40-meter (131 feet) telecom tower tumble after thieves had stripped even the screws holding up the installation, which was owned by state telecom provider CANTV and rented out to Movistar, Spain’s Telefonica private operator in Venezuela.

The theft, which also included copper cables and a generator, was the latest of six at that station this year and one of the hundreds worsening crime-rife Venezuela's already shaky telecoms, where scarce industrial materials can fetch a tall price.

Movistar, Venezuela's second-biggest telecoms company, has suffered 636 thefts this year, up 179 percent from 2015, with losses ranging from big electricity generators and batteries to copper cables and screws that are resold on the black market.

“Everything can be sold now and people are doing anything to survive,” said Victor Martinez, manager of Movistar Venezuela, speaking next to another station whose batteries and compressors were stolen. “We'd like to invest in modernizing the network, not in protecting these stations as if they were war bunkers,” said Martinez.