The arrests of three people in Venezuela for Facebook Marketplace posts in which they allegedly offered kidneys for sale have raised questions about the illegal organ trade in a country with a thriving online black market for medical products.
Reports of the posts were first published in mid-April, when news outlet El Pitazo and a local journalist flagged them in several Venezuelan states, including Falcón, Lara, Bolívar and Vargas. Prices for the organs ranged from $20,000 to $100,000, according to the review of the posts. One post offered the kidney of a 15-year-old girl "in perfect condition."
Three people were later arrested in connection to the posts. Venezuela's chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab announced the April 17 arrest of a woman in Caracas who was suspected of being behind the post about the 15-year-old girl.
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Days later, a 41-year-old man and a 16-year-old girl were arrested in Bolívar state for attempting to market organs.
When InSight Crime contacted Meta, the parent company of Facebook, about the posts, a spokesperson said that the content had been removed and that the company uses a combination of people, artificial intelligence and user reports to combat such abuses on its platforms.
Posts involving organ trafficking in Latin America have appeared on Facebook's platforms in the past. A Mexico public Facebook group called "buying and selling of organs GDL" was discovered in 2017. Several posters said that economic problems had forced them to attempt to sell their kidneys.
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While Venezuela has seen a thriving black market in medical care emerge amid the country's health system collapse, transplant surgeons say that it's unlikely the Facebook posters had the expertise and wherewithal to carry out their alleged organ-selling schemes.
The specialized nature of the illegal organ trade makes it a criminal economy that is very hard to assess, requiring not only willing buyers and sellers but shady surgeons and hospitals.
Kidney specialist Luis Hernández told La Patilla that there are currently few transplant surgeons in Venezuela.
With the suspension of the country's organ transplant programs, transplant surgeries are expensive, can only be performed privately, and donors must be family members, according to La Patilla.
“I do not believe that there are clandestine transplant centers here in Venezuela," Hernández said, adding that he believes the posts are scams.
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Facebook Marketplace and other peer-to-peer platforms, which allow users to connect to buy and sell items, have become targets of scammers and criminals in Venezuela, where US dollars have become the preferred currency.
Buyers lured by false online car sales became prey to criminal gangs last year. According to Venezuela's criminal investigation unit (Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas – CICPC), 70 percent of short-term kidnappings between January and April 2021 were connected to false online car sales.
To keep both buyers and sellers safe, CICPC's top official has offered police stations as a space to finalize transactions initiated online.