Venezuela's spiraling violence
By Martin Rodil
Venezuela is once again a world leader. Unfortunately we are not a leader in oil revenues, nor do we have the most miss universe winners, nor is our soccer team surging up the world’s rankings.
As we begin 2017, Venezuela is, however, a true global leader in violence. Shootings, stabbings, grenades, bombs, tear gas, kidnappings, gang violence, extortion; you name it, we’ve got it.
According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, Venezuela is now the second most violent country in the world. In 2016, the country suffered from 28,497 violent deaths, that is almost 100 homicides per 100,000 people. When we think of the most dangerous cities in the world, we consider Harare, Baghdad, Fallujah and Kabul. Yet, somehow, Caracas is leading the pack as the most dangerous city (120 homicides per 100,000 people) and is joined by two other Venezuelan cities in the world’s top-ten most violent cities.
With the regime of the dictatorial socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, creating anarchy infused with dangerously rife corruption, sophisticated weaponry has turned entire areas of the country into war zones. Senior Venezuelan officials traffic drugs and weapons throughout the Americas with bedfellows Iran and Hezbollah. While at a lower level, regime cronies and corrupt law enforcement agencies serve as local arms dealers, and soldiers supplement their wages through the sale of all sorts of weaponry and military materiel. It is therefore no surprise when criminal bands use grenades and automatic rifles to assert their authority, and exert revenge.
And why not? They can get away with it. Impunity is the name of the game in Venezuela. Over 90 percent of cases are never tried. And when impunity and injustice pervade throughout a quasi-anarchical society, the people inevitably take the law into their own hands. In recent years there has been a distinct rise in street trials, public lynching, and revenge killings involving blood and guts worthy of an episode of Game of Thrones, not a modern country. There was a whopping 650 percent increase in such incidents during 2016.
When Chavez took power in 1999, the annual figure of violent deaths was 6,000. Chavez, as was his way, did not do things by halves. His legacy reflects that, with violent deaths since 1999 exceeding a quarter of a million (an average of 15,000 a year). As with his (mis)management of the economy and the health system, President Nicolas Maduro has only made matters worse. No less than 24 security plans have been tried. They’ve all been complete and utter failures.
Maduro and his allies have even created pro-government militias called “colectivos”. This is neither fighting fire with fire, or water. In fact the government is pouring gasoline on the flames, as these thugs are empowered both to “run security” in low-income communities, and at the same time “mobilize people to vote”! Opposition leaders have understandably and vocally criticized these groups as illegal paramilitary bands armed by the government to suppress legitimate protests and dissent.
In fact, the Venezuelan opposition has, quite literally, felt the full force of these ‘colectivos’. The militias turn up heavily-armed at peaceful demonstrations, beating, and maiming. When Venezuelans have had the opportunity to place their vote at the ballot boxes, the ‘colectivos’ intimidate opponents at voting stations, often on motorcycles, and always well-armed. Instead of providing security for the average citizen, they serve as yet another layer of state-sponsored brutal oppression.
And as the economy continues to collapse, inflation becomes hyperinflation, and anarchy reigns, poverty has driven the desperate into new and creative forms of violent crime. "Express kidnappings” are now petrifyingly common.
One known example in Venezuela, missed by the international media, is of Juan Manaure, a Venezuelan basketball player whose 14 year old son was kidnapped on Dec. 23, 2016. The last time they spoke was on that day: “Dad, help me, they want to kill me”.
There have been no signs of Juan’s little boy since then, and it’s been 45 days.
According to Fermín Mármol García, a lawyer specializing in criminal affairs (the government doesn’t publish figures as part of their censorship efforts), there are over 3,000 kidnappings in Venezuela every year, and 2016 saw a 170 percent increase in kidnappings.
Kidnappers, often young and desperate, sometimes with no previous criminal record, are abducting the most vulnerable – not necessarily because they want to punish them, or to hurt them – but because they have no money, no food and no hope.
This lack of hope, which saturates Venezuela’s violent society, has unfortunately left Venezuelan blood worth just about as much its currency.
Martin Rodil is President of the Washington based Venezuelan American Leadership Council