Recent copper seizures in Venezuela show that basic supplies continue to seep out of the country as its economic crisis deepens, and people take desperate measures to earn extra cash.
Venezuela's investigative police have seized 7.5 metric tons of copper pipes and arrested over 100 people during various operations against illegal contraband, El Nacional reported.
The copper mainly originated from the capital city Caracas and the nearby states of Carabobo and Aragua, and was destined for other countries in the region, according to authorities. Some of it was seized on a ship heading from the coastal state of Falcón to Caribbean islands.
The police stated that several groups were responsible for copper theft across the country, and that they mainly target electricity contractor companies. These groups apparently consist of "expert" cable thieves and hire homeless people to carry out activities. The thefts have left several areas without electricity.
InSight Crime Analysis
As Venezuela’s people grapple with a dire economic crisis, chronic inflation and shortages, and a lack of basic public services, metal smuggling into other countries has apparently gained popularity. Bronze, aluminium and copper and other metals are smuggled on both a large, organized scale, and by individuals seeking some extra income.
A kilogram of copper can reportedly be sold in the Colombian border town Cúcuta for around 36,000 Venezuelan bolivars, which is worth just over $1 today. Given that Venezuela’s minimum monthly wage is around $5, this represents a significant income on the other side of the border.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Contraband
People have reportedly been breaking into and stealing kilometers of copper electricity wires from public and private infrastructure, including schools, health centers, briquette factories, traffic lights and lampposts. In some cases, residents take cables from their own houses to sell them as scrap to dealers. Those dealers go on to sell the copper to legal foundries and manufacturers in Venezuela, or smuggle it across the border to sell to scrap dealers in Colombia.
As with other forms of contraband, this practice feeds the cyclical deterioration of public services and infrastructure throughout Venezuela. The theft of cables has left neighborhoods and universities without electricity, internet or telephone services. The same happens with other vital services. For example, while Venezuela’s healthcare system cries out for the most basic supplies, hundreds of pharmaceuticals continue to flow illegally into the neighboring country.
Criminal markets other than contraband are also thriving in Venezuela, and Caracas is one of the most violent cities in the world. The military, high ranking members of President Nicolás Maduro's government as well as his own family have been implicated in the transnational cocaine trade.