A recent report sheds light on the level of control that some Venezuelan gangs wield over their territory, and is also indicative of how some gangs may continue to receive local support in the face of police violence in certain communities.
According to Spanish news agency EFE, 2016 has seen at least two cases of criminal bands enforcing a curfew and ordering local residents to stay home.
At least one of those cases was apparently prompted by the alleged killing of a youth at the hands of Venezuela’s investigative police (Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas – CICPC), EFE reported. On February 4, fliers appeared in parts of Maracay, Aragua, warning residents to stay home and close their shops in protest of the killing. The flier was attributed to a local gang leader, alias “El Chino Pedrera.”
The flier also accused security forces of being corrupt. “We are doing this publically because they call us delinquents, when many officials from supposedly moral institutions don’t act morally,” the flier stated.
A similar incident took place on January 25 in the city of Porlamar, located on Margarita Island. After a prominent prison gang leader was killed, his allies issued an order that city residents stay inside while his funeral procession moved through the city, EFE reported.
Roberto Briceño León, director of the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia – OVV) told EFE that “the level of criminal organization in Venezuela is replacing the state in some areas.” According to Briceño León, the ability of criminal groups to amass significant financial resources has allowed them to obtain powerful weaponry, take over territory, and control local populations.
The cases described by EFE illustrate the amount of power wielded by gangs in parts of Venezuela. However, part of the reason criminal bands have come to control swathes of Venezuelan territory is the failure of officials and police to provide adequate security for communities. This is especially true in Caracas, where some residents have turned to private security or vigilante groups to help offset Venezuela’s current security crisis.
Exacerbating the issue is the Venezuelan police’s frequent use of excessive force, fomenting distrust within communities exposed to abuses at the hands of government officials. For instance, allegations of extrajudicial killings by police have frequently surfaced, contributing to a cycle of retaliatory violence between criminals and security forces that catches innocent bystanders in the crossfire.
An OVV survey also suggests many Venezuelans believe security forces themselves are involved in criminal activity, fueling an increasing sense of insecurity among citizens. Indeed, that criminal bands have become so well armed is partly due to corruption among security officials. For instance, two Venezuelan soldiers were recently arrested for partaking in the criminal theft of over 20 firearms and 2,400 bullets from a military arsenal in Aragua state.