HomeNewsAnalysisRecent Arms Seizures Underscore Risks of Venezuela’s Political Tension
ANALYSIS

Recent Arms Seizures Underscore Risks of Venezuela’s Political Tension

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 14 FEB 2019 BY VENEZUELA INVESTIGATIVE UNIT EN

Three recent seizures of military-grade weapons in Venezuela provide evidence that such arms are circulating and in demand precisely as Venezuela is suffering a violent political crisis.

The first seizure of military weapons and equipment occurred at the Arturo Michelena International Airport in Valencia, the capital city of Carabobo state on the Caribbean coast. Ender Palencia Ortiz, who is deputy minister of Prevention and Citizen Security as well a general in the country’s national guard (Guardia Nacional Bolivariana – GNB), reported that authorities seized 90 BT-150 radio antennas, 19 rifles, and six telephones labeled with military acronyms.

Palencia Ortiz added that the weapons arrived in Venezuela on February 3, and that they came from Miami, Florida. Although no arrests were reported, the deputy minister made assurances that investigators would “find those responsible for financing terrorist groups that intend to undermine the peace of the Venezuelan people.”

SEE ALSO: Venezuela Govt Proposes Arming Civilians to Combat Crime

The second seizure occurred February 4 when the GNB detained one of its own sergeants, along with his wife and two daughters, ages four and seven, in the western state of Barinas. While the family was detained, the GNB seized seven light-weight automatic rifles that the sergeant allegedly intended to sell.

Then on February 9, the GNB arrested two men at a checkpoint in Sucre state and seized four 7.62-caliber light-weight automatic rifles, 3,000 rounds, 24 magazines, 12 portable radios, and a cell phone.

Additionally, in an unusual operation during the same week, the police's scientific investigations unit dismantled a “laboratory” for military-grade ammunition in Carabobo state. Two men were arrested. The police report stated that the ammunition “was marketed and distributed to criminal gangs operating throughout the nation’s territory.”

These weapons captures come amid considerable political tension between the government of President Nicolás Maduro and its opposition. While Maduro has warned of imminent military intervention “orchestrated” by the United States, the opposition, led by National Assembly president Juan Guaidó, is actively seeking the military's support.

InSight Crime Analysis

The unchecked circulation of illegal weapons has become widespread in Venezuela in recent years. In 2012, the Presidential Commission for Arms and Ammunition Control and Disarmament estimated that there were between 1.2 and 1.5 million unregistered weapons in the hands of civilians nationwide. Some studies have found a relationship between Venezuela’s high homicide rate -- 81 per 100,000 inhabitants -- and the fact that 89 percent of homicides are committed with firearms.

SEE ALSO: Disarmament Law in Venezuela Yields Near Zero Results

It is common for criminal gangs to possess grenades and weapons of war, often stolen from military barracks. Some Venezuelan security experts estimate that 85 percent of the bullets the gangs use come from the country’s state-owned firearms manufacturer. And this information comes from an unpublished report conducted in 2015 by the government itself.

But these weapons are not only in the hands of criminal groups. The governments of both late President Hugo Chávez and current President Nicolás Maduro have armed both the country’s “colectivos” -- civilian paramilitary groups -- and “milicias,”  groups of uniformed civilians who are receiving military training.

Maduro appears to be preparing for an eventual conflict with the United States, ordering military exercises; sending 700 officers from the infamous Special Action Forces (Fuerzas de Acciones Especiales – FAES) to the border with Colombia; mobilizing the National Bolivarian Militia and relying on groups of armed civilians to keep him in power. And he has stated clearly that he will use his weapons against a supposed foreign invasion.

Disarming the civilian population has been an ongoing challenge for the Venezuelan government. Neither the country’s 2013 disarmament law nor the incentives promoted by the Maduro administration to strip criminal gangs of their arsenals have garnered results.

Media investigations have already established the existence of a large black market for weapons in Venezuela. What's more, security officials often are the source of such weapons, selling them even via social networking applications.

What is most concerning about the three recent seizures, which captured at least 30 rifles, is that this high-powered weaponry is clearly available at a time when Venezuela's long-simmering political tensions have reached a boiling point.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

PIRACY / 8 JUL 2015

Pirates are reportedly attacking fishermen in Venezuelan waters, a striking illustration of the many ways various criminal actors make a…

VENEZUELA / 25 NOV 2011

The demand for bodyguards has surged by 70 percent in Venezuela in recent years, according to a bodyguard association, with…

CARTEL OF THE SUNS / 9 NOV 2013

In Venezuela the drug traffickers wear camouflage. On the Colombian border, Colombian and Venezuelan guerrillas and the army fight for…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…

THE ORGANIZATION

Informing US State Department and European Union

1 APR 2022

InSight Crime Co-director McDermott briefed the US State Department and other international players on the presence of Colombian guerrillas in Venezuela and the implication this has for both nations.  McDermott…