Venezuela's embattled president is increasing his own security and that of his close associates, digging in as the country faces worsening levels of violence and economic uncertainty.
President Nicolas Maduro has created ten new security force battalions that will be responsible for protecting him, his family, and close associates, according to an investigation by the Venezuelan civil society organization Control Ciudadano (Citizen Control) and its Venezuelan Security and Defense Observatory (Observatorio Venezolano de Seguridad y Defensa).
(Source: Citizen Control and the Venezuelan Security and Defense Observatory)
The decision to create the new battalions, made in late December, is attracting scrutiny in the face of increasing crime, violence, and the vulnerability faced by the general population.
Rocio San Miguel, director of Control Ciudadano, said that Maduro's decision to create ten new battalions, "...does not correspond to the economic emergency he has declared, nor does it appear ethical in light of the enormous vulnerability that millions of Venezuelans suffer daily when it comes to matters of security."
Adding to security woes, the country is also facing a severe economic downturn. The Financial Times published an op-ed this week speculating that "it could be too late to avoid catastrophe" in Venezuela noting the possibility of default on debts. News also broke this week that for the first time in its oil-producing history, Venezuela is importing fuel from the US. The country sits astride some of the biggest oil deposits outside of the Middle East but lack of investment and mismanagement have severely curtailed production.
InSight Crime Analysis
Maduro's decision to increase his own security only highlights the crisis-like conditions affecting Venezuela that are fueling criminality and insecurity while creating near-perfect conditions for the proliferation of organized crime.
Amid these deteriorating conditions, the loosely constituted Cartel of the Suns (Cartel de los Soles)--made up of corrupt elements of the security forces engaged in drug trafficking and contraband -- only seems to be growing in power and influence.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Cartel de los Soles
Based on recent fieldwork long the Colombian-Venezuelan border, InSight Crime is able to report that coca crops, the raw material for cocaine are reaching record production levels. Corrupt Venezuelan national guardsmen have also been seen feeding pipes across the border to pump contraband fuel into Colombia for sale on the black market.
As InSight Crime has previously suggested, Maduro appears to find himself increasingly without cash or political allies, a situation which could fuel even deeper state involvement in illicit activities.