Monday, February 15, 2016

Venezuela: A Security Overview

Originally Published on 29 December 2015

Summary: Venezuela, by most international security standards, is considered a high- risk destination for business travel. Violent crime including kidnapping, armed robbery, and murder by street gangs and organized crime groups remain the largest threats to physical security in Venezuela. Recent reports indicate that the country has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, averaging 90 deaths per 100,000 people in 2015. Ongoing economic and political factors fuel the increasing violence, especially in the capital Caracas.

Economy: Venezuela’s economy is a key factor to the country’s rising crime rates. Venezuela is largely dependent on oil revenues from its national oil company. The lack of diversification has strained its economy in recent years, with the government often placing the blame on the private sector and Western capitalism. Additionally, the country’s poverty rate increased to over 30% in 2014. Violent crime is most active in poverty-stricken areas, or “barrios,” but many criminal groups operate outside of those areas. Foreigners have been targeted by violent criminal activity for their perceived wealth, most notably in 2014 when the home of a U.S. diplomat was robbed by armed gunmen while the occupants were forcefully restrained.

Government: The political situation also factors into Venezuela’s violence and unrest. Protestors and police violently clashed throughout much of 2013-2015 after the ruling party arrested opposition party leaders, and when the government faced shortages of essential products such as toilet paper. In December 2015, President Nicolas Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) lost the majority seating in parliament to the opposition party, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). Many street gangs form pro-PSUV militias, and attempt to intimidate voters by attacking polling centers during various local and national elections. Furthermore, many Venezuelan police forces are poorly equipped to tackle crime and are often accused of corruption.

Pro-PSUV militia intimidating citizens weeks before parliamentary elections (via Twitter Henrique Capriles)  

Final Assessment: Unrest and violence will likely remain high in Venezuela throughout 2016. The recent parliamentary win by the MUD promises to address economic issues, but many supporters of the PSUV, including President Maduro, are likely to oppose reform policies and fuel further unrest. International businesses operating in Venezuela are unlikely to be targeted specifically by violent crime, but Venezuela remains a high-risk destination nevertheless.  

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