Caracas – A new study shows that, in Venezuela’s larger cities, the line between street crime and organized crime is turning increasingly blurry.
About 40 percent of all murders in the country are now caused by clashes between organized bands, according to a report issued last month by the Organized Crime Observatory, an NGO funded by the European Community.
Luis Cedeño, one of the study’s authors, said Venezuela has become a haven for organized crime in recent years, fueled by a widespread scarcity that often stirs chaos and despair.
“We found that the most common crime in Venezuela is organized crime,” Cedeño told Fox News Latino.
Venezuela currently has one of the world’s highest murder rates, 25,000 homicides per year in 2014 - a fourfold increase in 16 years.
Other crimes have also spiked, Cedeño said, like the number of smartphones stolen per year – 1.2 million on average – and the proliferation of pirate DVD’s and other copyrighted material.
“That is organized crime also,” Cedeño said. “It’s extortion, kidnapping, murder for hire, but it is also pirate DVD’s and, of course, stolen smartphones.”
Bands of criminals are very much exploiting the scarcity problem too, with 51.7 percent of Venezuelans saying they believe organized crime is “very much present” in the smuggling of food and basic goods now rampant in the country, more so than in drug trafficking (43.6 percent).
Reports of gangs looting supermarkets that carry price-controlled foodstuffs abound, sometimes consisting of regular citizens getting organized and populating the food lines to acquire a large amount of items and then resell them — creating long lines and more scarcity.
A NAMELESS MOB
While Colombia and Mexico have the cartels and El Salvador has the “Maras,” Venezuelan criminal organizations do not have a formal name.
In the Observatory study, some respondents blame the criminal activities on the “colectivos” (“collectives,” a type of social organization often affiliated with left-wing grassroots initiatives), while others speak in a hush voice about “prans,” jailhouse bosses who orchestrate all types of crimes inside and outside prisons.
But it is the military the entity most people identify organized crime with, according to Cedeño. A clear majority of people surveyed, 62 percent, said they thought that the military are involved in drug trafficking.
“People believe that the military, a segment of the military, not all, are becoming increasingly corrupted, that Venezuela is now the bridge for a large amount of dope” into Europe and other parts of South America.
“Venezuela is in the middle of everything, geographically and otherwise, and the incentives [of the drug trade] are very high,” Cedeño said. “Venezuela nowadays is a transshipment country, not yet a producing country, with a growing drug use problem.”
Carlos Camacho is a freelance writer based in Caracas. You can follow him @carloselpana.