Criminal groups are reportedly terrorizing a Venezuela highway that runs through so-called "peace zones," in an ironic manifestation of how ungoverned areas -- in this case fostered by government policy -- could be facilitating crime in that country.
Venezuela's police have identified five criminal groups who have established themselves along the "Troncal 9" thoroughfare that crosses the subregion of Barlovento in the northern state of Miranda, reported El Nacional (see El Nacional's graphic below).
These groups reportedly engage in kidnappings and even homicides, but authorities are unable to intervene since many of the crimes occur in government-designated "peace zones." The peace zones are areas in which police are only permitted to enter if they have a warrant; security in these zones depends on private militias.
The insecurity on the Troncal 9 has reduced the number of public transport vehicles to one-third the amount that operated on the highway in 2013, according to El Nacional. One bus driver told the Venezuelan newspaper criminal groups solicited 10,000 Bolivars ($1,438 using official rates; $25 using the black market rate) per month in extortion payments.
Foreign businessman and diplomats have also begun avoiding the highway at night, preferring to travel by plane rather than risk being robbed or kidnapped. Police in Barlovento have registered 14 kidnappings so far this year and 73 homicides during March and April.
InSight Crime Analysis
The take-over of a highway is another demonstration of how criminal groups exploit a weak or absent state in Venezuela. Political and economic crises have likely exacerbated the situation. A recent survey conducted by Venezuela's Observatory on Organized Crime found 36 percent of urban residents consider it either "easy" or "very easy" to order someone killed in their neighborhood.
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Unlike some other cases, it appears the lack of a state presence on the highway was due in large part to Venezuela's controversial "peace zones." The impunity with which these criminal groups reportedly operate may validate fears previously voiced by Venezuelan security experts that peace zones could serve to strengthen existing criminal networks rather than thwart them. In 2014, peace zones within Miranda registered a homicide rate of 105 per 100,000, compared to just 67 per 100,000 outside these areas.