Assault, robbery, rape, kidnapping, homicide: Although most of us are rarely affected by such crimes, they occur on a daily basis nonetheless. All over the world, countries face crime and try to fight it, be it individual law-breakers or entire criminal networks. It seems that only in our dreams would we be able to live in a society where crime rates drop to 0%. Governments generally take significant measures to keep violence to a minimum, however, when crime rates skyrocket and corruption reels out of control, even the police cannot do much to alleviate the unrest. In South America, multiple countries currently struggle to maintain stable environments for their citizens, but one especially concerning case is Venezuela. Currently, it is considered to be the most dangerous country of its continent and its capital, Caracas, has the highest murder rates in the world. Crime and corruption have been plaguing the country for several years, but the crisis is worsening now that the failing economy is raising hunger and inflation rates. But how badly is the country really affected and what caused the significant increase in crime? This I intend to explore in the following.
It is difficult to trace the cause of an act of violence back to one single moment and it is even harder when it is not one act of violence, but many, and not one perpetrator, but hundreds. Currently in Venezuela, statistics are displaying an overwhelmingly high occurrence of murder, assault and robbery, putting civilians all around the country in danger every day. But what I have found in my research is that it is not the violence which appears to be the problem, but the circumstances surrounding it. Essentially, a majority of Venezuelan citizens are currently facing poverty, food shortages and corruption. In Seeker Daily's video "What Life is Really like in Venezuela?" summarizes the country's economic crisis.
The video mention how plummeting oil prices severely affected the country's economy. But why exactly was the country so severely impacted? During the first half of the 20th century, oil exports made up only a fraction of Venezuela's economy, along with agriculture, fishing, and forestry. But as the demand for oil increased, oil exports became increasingly beneficial to the economy, decreasing the importance of other modes of income. According to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Venezuela's oil revenues now account for 95% of the country's export earnings. Thus, the country became so reliant on its petroleum exports that when oil prices and demand dropped during the last two years, so did the government's revenues drastically. Because the country was already marked by poverty and corruption and the government now has even less money to spend on its infrastructure, the country is falling into a crisis.
The video touched on a few aspects of the country's poor conditions, including inflation and an immense scarcity of resources. These effects combined lead the government to develop a rationing system. Public groceries sell price-controlled goods, a measure taken in an attempt to prevent inflation from making basic goods unaffordable to citizens. However, citizens are only allowed to visit state-run stores twice a week and even then, can only purchase two of each item. This process is controlled by each citizen's ID card number and is meant to prevent them from hording food or reselling items for profit. In turn, this causes lines of people waiting outside of stores, often for hours and not always successfully, desired groceries are frequently sold out. At the same time, products are available in private grocery stores or on the black market, but since there is no price control on those, items are usually sold at drastically higher prices. Author Margarita Maya describes this situation as a “revolutionary atmosphere introduc(ing) a logic of improvisation, provisional measures, and emergency operatives that has increased inefficiency", in the article, "Venezuela: The Political Crisis of Post-Chavismo." This concept is highlighted in the following video published by BBC News, early last year.This concept is highlighted in the following video published by BBC News, early last year.
In addition to food shortages, another source of dissatisfaction which the nation is suffering from a severe lack of clean drinking water due to droughts, as well as a nearly 85% decrease in available medications (Manuel Rueda, Fusion News). And not only medication is scarcely available, but also treatment is becoming more difficult as well. Hospitals lack staff and appropriate equipment. This is also known as Venezuela's healthcare crisis. The Venezuelan Health Observatory, a research centre at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas, estimates that less than 10% of intensive care units, emergency and operating rooms are fully functional. According to its statistics, 76% of hospitals suffer from a scarcity of medicines, 81% lack surgical equipment and 70% complain of intermittent water supply. In an interview conducted by Jonathan Watts for The Guardian, Dr. María Gonzalez, a hospital staff member in Venezuela's coastal city, Barcelona, mentioned that is feels as though they "have returned to the last century. Everything is going backwards.” When asked why she feels that way, she explained how "it may have been during a surge in cases of scabies, a skin infection that ought to be easily prevented with soap, water and disinfectant. It could have been her first sight of an emaciated child, something she had only previously seen in medical books or documentaries about famines in Africa. Or perhaps it was when she found herself prescribing a 40-minute cold shower because the pharmacy had run out of anti-fever drugs" (Watts, Like Doctors in a War).
In fact, citizens have repeatedly protested against the government's alarming lack of solutions to the economic crisis. The picture below shows one of these protests in Chacao, Caracas but is only one of many demonstrations of the nation's dissatisfaction. While little has been done to solve the drought and medical crisis in the country, government officials are leaning on the rationing system which was developed as a means to reduce widespread hunger. However, as mentioned earlier, this system gives black market and private seller an incentive to resell products at unusually high prices. Paralleled with inflation rates ranging anywhere from 400-800%, average citizens are indirectly becoming more poverty-stricken by having to make up for the rise in prices of goods. This concept is similarly applicable to the scarcity of medicine and clean drinking water. Earlier this year, Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro, declared a state of emergency in his country. And while the rationing system was implemented as an effort to help, it does not appear to be particularly efficient. In fact, some argue that the government is not producing sufficient solutions to the crisis. When a humanitarian crisis was declared in Venezuela in January of 2016, Maduro rejected the offer of receiving international aid in form of supplies and funding. Citizens and organizations are still attempting to to convince the government to accept international aid.
To top these already horrifying circumstances off, reports also show that much of the violence originates not only from civilians, but also the local police forces. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Venezuelan Human Rights Education-Action Program (PROVEA) conducted research into this. They discovered that 245 people were killed to police-related operations and that discrepancies between the number of civilians killed and the number of law-enforcement agents wounded or killed, suggest that not all killings "took place when criminals violently confronted the police" (Business Insider, April 2016). At least 20 of those killings occurred during a series of operations known as the “Operation to Liberate and Protect the People” (OLP) which was conducted during the last six months of last year (2015) and thousands of people were reportedly evicted from there homes. In addition, the report mentions that over 14,000 Venezuelans were detained during this time period "to 'verify' if they were wanted in relation to any crimes" (HRW/PROVEA report). However, less than a hundred of them were ultimately charged with an offense. These statistics suggest that law-enforcement agencies are detaining, evicting and using force on civilians at seemingly unnecessary times, adding to the violence, corruption and unease which already exists in the country.
Ultimately, the country is falling into turmoil, as its economic profit can now barely support all Venezuelans and crime is reaching an all-time high. Anti-governments protests have become increasingly frequent over the last few years and political unrest has been dramatically increasing over the last few months. So perhaps it is not the violence which lies at the heart of Venezuela's crisis, but the causes of the crisis itself. An entire nation is lacking resources to food, water, a sufficient health care system and citizens are suffering from diseases which could normally be treated. It is unsettling enough when such circumstances affect a fraction of a community which is particularly poverty-stricken, but when this affects nearly an entire nation, it should be reason for concern. Sadly, with the amount of corruption and denial seemingly inherent in many state and government officials, this issue is likely to continue for quite a while before finding resolution.