Government institutions are becoming increasingly weakened in Venezuela, with President Nicolas Maduro’s price control efforts making way for criminals to smuggle even basic goods like rice and cooking oil.
According to a study conducted by Paz Activa, a local civil-society group, corrupt officials have joined hands with organized crime syndicates, some through fear of attack and some through desire to make more money.
Many gang leaders are running lucrative businesses — from paid killings to smuggling – from their prison cells.
Despite being rich in oil, Venezuela has the second highest murder rate in the world after Honduras with 54 homicides per 100,000 population, according to the World Bank.
Police too have become the victims of violence. According to local media reports, about 260 police officials were killed last year. Some of them were killed for their weapons.
Luis Cedeño, director of Paz Activa, says impunity is the major factor contributing to the rise in crime. “People can commit crimes without any consequences,” he writes on his website.
The lack of deterrent only encourages further killings. “Therefore, they are becoming more violent,” he added.
There is little or no official data on organized crime in the country. Therefore, the civil society group relies on street interviews to measure the crime rate.
In 2002, according to Cedeño, government enacted a disarmament law in an attempt to disband organized crime syndicates. However it has never seriously attempted to enforce the law.
“Public safety has never been a priority for the current government. Public security does not even represent 1 percent of the national security. While he was president, Hugo Chavez almost never talked about it, and Nicolas Maduro did a bit at first, but quickly stopped it,” Cedeño added.