Pirates are reportedly attacking fishermen in Venezuelan waters, a striking illustration of the many ways various criminal actors make a profit by taking advantage of a weak state presence and a troubled economy.
Armed groups of marauding pirates shot and injured 11 Venezuelan fishermen in June alone, reported El Universal. The assaults are reportedly occurring on Lake Maracaibo, which is connected to the Gulf of Venezuela, and the coastal waters off the northern state of Vargas. A member of a fishermen's union in Vargas told El Universal four fishermen have gone missing as a result of the pirate attacks.
These criminal groups are allegedly involved in a wide range of criminal activities. An anonymous government official said the pirates "have committed looting, mass assaults, drug trafficking, rapes, kidnappings, and homicides."
In response, Venezuelan authorities have initiated a security offensive against the pirates, but none have yet been detained, according to El Universal.
Fishermen are reportedly clamoring authorities for permission to carry guns on their boats in order to defend themselves. Private gun ownership is illegal in Venezuela, although that hasn't lessed gun violence in the country.
InSight Crime Analysis
The pirate attacks are just one example of how various criminal actors in Venezuela are exploiting weak state presence in order to generate income. Such "raids" don't only happen at sea: there have also been reports of criminal groups seizing control of a Venezuelan highway, in order to demand extortion payments from the public transportation sector.
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Civilians have found other ways to manipulate Venezuela's financial turmoil and food shortages for personal gain. Luis Vicente Leon, director of polling firm Datanalisis, recently said close to 70 percent of those who wait in line for basic products are "bachaqueros," a term used to describe people who stock up on limited supplies and later resell them on the black market at significantly higher prices. While it is difficult to judge the veracity of Leon's claims, it is clear the smuggling of ordinary food products has become big business in Venezuela. Authorities recently arrested a man for possession of 20 tons of contraband cornmeal and over 4,000 kilos of refined sugar.
Criminals operating on a much bigger scale have also found ways to take advantage of Venezuela's economic instability. In April, US authorities arrested a man for allegedly laundering up to $100 million in drug profits via currency exchanges on Venezuela's huge black market for dollars.