The economic crisis in Venezuela has seen criminal gangs find ways to turn chaos into opportunity. But the situation has now become so severe that gangs are also facing leaner times, which has led to a notable drop in violence.
For example, hyperinflation has severely reduced the income of the "Crazy Boys," a gang operating in the notoriously dangerous Caracas neighborhood of Petare, their leader explained to AP in an interview.
Known as "El Negrito," he told the agency that firing a gun in Venezuela had become a luxury. The bullets are sold in US dollars and robberies have become unprofitable, due to a shortage of cash and people no longer carrying valuables with them.
"If you empty your clip, you're shooting off $15 (...) You lose your pistol or the police take it and you’re throwing away $800," said the criminal who was identified only by his alias and photographed with a hood covering his face.
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El Negrito told the AP that his gang commits approximately five kidnappings a year, a figure which is considerably down than in previous years. Like many of his associates, he has considered abandoning crime in Venezuela and emigrating. He stated that "some people have quit the world of crime and sought more honest work abroad, fearing stiff penalties in other countries where laws are more enforced."
Another member of the Crazy Boys added finding ammunition on the black market is not a problem. Paying for it, in a country where the average person earns $6.5 a month, is the challenge.
InSight Crime Analysis
Tf crime in Venezuela has led to a reduction in homicides, armed robberies and kidnappings, since criminals do not have enough bullets and firearms to carry these out. However, this rising tide has not sunk all boats. Certain organized crime groups have emerged strengthened from this shift.
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The director of the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (Observatorio Venezolano de la Violencia - OVV), Roberto Briceño León, confirmed to InSight Crime that the economic crisis had had an impact on crime reduction.
"Bullets are no longer being wasted as they were in previous years. There has been a reduction in several crimes. We have noticed since 2018 that criminal groups, especially those in poorer neighborhoods, can no longer recover their investments in weapons and ammunition through criminal activities. Costs have increased and their crimes are becoming less profitable. A local gang member might previously have stolen a smartphone but he now steals food as he is in survival mode," explained Briceño León.
However, this evolution in areas of the country with higher crime rates, such as Caracas or the state of Miranda, has seen criminal groups migrate to regions where they can profit from other economies, such as drug trafficking and illegal mining.
"The neighborhood gangs that had to make money from their criminal activities to avoid losses have seen their power drop. But the more powerful organized crime gangs have more men and more weapons and have remained strong," concluded the OVV director.