A new survey in Venezuela paints a picture of the ways in which insecurity affects the lives of ordinary citizens, and also highlights certain issues in critical need of more attention from the government.
The survey was carried out by the Observatory on Organized Crime, and is one section of a broader study on insecurity in Venezuela that was funded in part by the European Union.
Some 385 people were interviewed in various cities across the country, an effort coordinated by non-governmental organization (NGO) the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (OVV), and research group the Social Science Laboratory (LACSO).
Some of the survey results highlight the extent to which violence has afflicted urban Venezuela. As indicated in the chart below, in response to one question about how easy it is to order someone killed, 22 percent of respondents said it was "very easy" to do so in their neighborhood, while 24 percent said it was "very easy" to get a gun.
Meanwhile, 54 percent of respondents said that they observed gang activity in their neighborhood, while 52 percent said they heard frequent gunshots, and 51 percent said that homicides had taken place near where they lived.
The report stated that fear of reprisals may have influenced the high number of respondents who replied "I don't know" to certain questions.
Other survey questions focused on public perceptions of the security officials. While the survey showed that the military remains one of the most trusted institutions in Venezuela -- far above the courts or the state and municipal police -- 52 percent of respondents nevertheless said that they believe the military has been corrupted by organized crime.
In another apparent contradiction, 55 percent of respondents said that they believe police are involved in criminal activity, but the majority said they did not know whether dirty cops were present in their neighborhood.
InSight Crime Analysis
Official security statistics in Venezuela are notoriously hard to come by. Due to this lack of official information, the OVV releases its own estimates for the national homicide rate. Occasionally, government reports leaked to the press offer another look at the official homicide numbers. Additionally, government officials -- including members of the opposition -- sometimes release public statements about what they claim are the "official" security statistics, but given Venezuela's highly politicized environment, such statements need to be heavily scrutinized. Otherwise, Venezuela is a bit of a black hole when it comes to this kind of data.
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This new survey by the Observatory on Organized Crime is obviously meant to help fill the void when it comes to qualitative research on Venezuela's security issues. The Observatory's findings are backed up in part by surveys carried out by Vanderbilt University in the US, which also show that perceptions of insecurity are steadily increasing in Venezuela, and are currently the highest in the region, even though other countries -- such as Peru -- have more respondents who report personally experiencing a crime. Ironically, the poor perceptions of citizen insecurity made clear in these studies helps feed the government's argument for not releasing more information on the problem: the claim is that it will only make things worse, and allow opponents of the government to misuse such figures.
The report by the Observatory on Organized Crime also inadvertently highlights other areas of research where there's a broader lack of understanding in Venezuela. The report's introduction asserts that it is "valid to think that Venezuelan organized crime is less sophisticated and developed than in other countries," due to the lack of well-organized, large street gangs such as the MS13 and Barrio 18 in Central America. This may be true, but it is also evident that Venezuela has organized criminal networks -- made up of current and ex-security officials -- deeply involved in the transnational drug trade. The lack of street gangs with a national reach shouldn't necesarily be taken as evidence that Venezuelan organized crime is "less developed" compared to other places -- there are plenty of examples that sophisticated, transnational crime crime networks are alive and well in Venezuela, and in serious need of further investigation by the government.