Venezuela kidnappers are now demanding ransom payments in US dollars rather than the local currency, according to a new report, revealing how even criminal groups are not immune to the country's deepening economic crisis.
The tumbling value of Venezuela's national currency, the bolivar, has compelled kidnap groups to change their modus operandi, reported Sumarium. Relatives and associates of kidnap victims told Sumarium their captors had demanded between $7,000 and $10,000 in ransom.
"They grabbed my wife... when they called me the first thing they demanded of me was dollars," one individual said.
An unidentified police official explained kidnappers only start demanding bolivars after the ransom sum passes the $10,000 threshold.
"The family members of the captives collect their savings in dollars or euros when the ransom does not surpass $10,000," the official said. "When they ask for more, the kidnappers agree to negotiate in bolivars."
Kidnappers are not the only criminal networks ditching the bolivar in favor of US or European currency. Sumarium noted a recent media report by La Vanguardia in which an inmate states that he pays bribes to military officials in euros in order to obtain weapons inside the prison facility. Criminal bosses in Caracas have also reportedly offered to pay their henchmen up to $1,000 for every intelligence officer they kill.
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Venezuela's economy is in free fall. And if the ghastly figures -- a projected 500 percent inflation rate in 2016 and the value of the US dollar quadrupling over the past year on the black market currency exchange -- are hard to conceptualize, reports such as Sumarium's drive home that point. Drug traffickers across Latin America have long dealt in US dollars, of course, but the spread of this practice to local criminal industries like kidnapping is a striking illustration of oil-rich Venezuela's crumbling economy -- and the government's woeful management of fiscal policy.
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Venezuela is also facing a breakdown of law and order in the country, which in turn has caused a rise in vigilante-style justice as crimes go unpunished by law enforcement. An angry mob recently beat a man they believed had stolen five dollars, before dousing him in gasoline and burning him alive.
"We wanted to teach this man a lesson," a young man told the Associated Press. "We're tired of being robbed every time we go into the street, and the police do nothing."
The worsening situation in Venezuela may be providing criminal groups an opportunity to grow their ranks and expand their operations. In July 2015, the Venezuelan Organized Crime Observatory noted with alarm the rise of so-called "mega-gangs" across the country.