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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Venezuela 2019 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela.

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Venezuela at Level 4, indicating travelers should not travel to the country.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Caracas does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Venezuela-specific webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is serious risk from crime in Venezuela, but no evidence to indicate criminals specifically target U.S. citizens.

As in years past, Venezuela remained one of the deadliest and most violent countries in the world in 2018. The crime that had previously concentrated in some municipalities now exists throughout the entire country. The Government of Venezuela often attempts to refute claims of high crime and murder rates; however, independent observers widely reject such claims. Venezuela does not release official crime statistics. In 2018, the estimated rate of 81.4 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants (based on 23,047 total homicides) represented a slight decrease from 2017.

The majority of Caracas’s crime and violence remains attributed to mobile street gangs and organized crime groups. Caracas is notorious for the brazenness of high-profile violent crimes like murder, robbery, and kidnapping committed in neighborhoods across the city, at all hours of the day and night. Because of the sociopolitical and humanitarian crisis, the impoverished are resorting to crime as a means of survival.

In addition to homicide, the crimes of greatest concern in Caracas are kidnapping and robbery, including carjacking, street robbery, and home invasion. Kidnappings and robberies often become homicides, as criminals routinely kill victims who resist. Do not resist attempted robberies or kidnappings; doing so can result in severe injury or death. Robberies occur throughout Caracas at any time of day or night. Armed criminals target pedestrians (standing or walking along the side of a road) and motorists (parked or stopped in traffic) alike.

Other Areas of Concern

Due to security concerns and continued FARC and ELN activity along with the presence of fuel smugglers and other organized criminal groups, U.S. Embassy employees may not travel within 50 miles of the 1,000-mile Venezuelan-Colombian border without prior authorization.

Because of safety and security concerns, the following neighborhoods of Caracas are off-limits to U.S. employees of the Embassy unless they have special permission:

 

·         In the western part of Libertador municipality: El Retiro, 23 de Enero, Blandin, La Vega, La Rinconada, Las Mayas, Tazon, Oropeza Castillo, Lomas de Urdaneta, Propatria, Casalta, Lomas de Propatria, Carapita, Antimano, Tacagua, Ruiz Pineda, Caricuao, La Quebradita, El Atlantico, Sarria, La Candelaria, San Martin, Coche, El Valle and La Yaguara.

·         In the Eastern part of Sucre municipality: Barrio Piritu, Barrio La Rubia, Barrio Altavista, Petare, Caucaguita, La Dolorita, Paulo Sexto, and El Llanito.

·         In Baruta municipality: Las Minas, Santa Cruz del Este, Ojo de Agua, La Naya, and Las Minitas.

 

The Embassy mandates that all U.S. employees travel in an armored vehicle to and from Maiquetía “Simón Bolívar” International Airport (CCS). The Embassy judges the airport road especially dangerous after receiving numerous reports of robberies and murders in the areas around the terminal (e.g. on the street, in parking lots).

Criminal activity at CCS is significant. Both arriving and departing travelers are sometimes victims of personal property thefts and muggings. The Embassy has previously received credible reports that individuals in official uniforms or bearing realistic (or real) credentials have been involved in the facilitation and perpetration of these crimes. For this reason, be wary of all strangers, even those who represent themselves as airport officials. Do not to pack valuable items or documents in checked bags; instead, store such items in carry-on luggage. The Embassy has also received occasional reports of airport officials (or individuals representing themselves as airport officials) attempting to extort money from travelers as part of the check-in or boarding process for departing flights.

In Venezuela, it is illegal to take pictures of sensitive buildings, including the presidential palace, military bases, government buildings, and airports. For more information, review OSAC’s report,

Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving regulations in Venezuela are similar to those in the United States, although drivers seldom obey them. It is common practice to ignore red traffic lights, especially after dark. Motorcyclists frequently weave in and out of lanes, passing on the right and the left, and driving into the oncoming lane to get around traffic congestion. Traffic in Caracas is heavy at most times of the day, as an abundance of vehicles running on heavily subsidized gasoline (ten gallons cost less than twenty-five U.S. cents), continue to fill the aging infrastructure of the capital city beyond capacity.

Venezuelan traffic law mandates that individuals involved in a traffic accident not move their vehicle from the roadway until the traffic police arrive on the scene. Due to the lack of availability, police can sometimes take several hours to arrive, those involved in an accident may just negotiate a settlement among themselves, or simply leave the scene, rather than wait for the police to arrive. If you are involved in an accident, remain at the scene unless you feel your life may be in danger.

Checkpoints are a common sight on Venezuelan roads, especially during inter-city trips. Officers from local police or Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) generally staff the checkpoints. Stopping at checkpoints is mandatory; prepare to show vehicle registration paperwork, along with proof of insurance and an identity document (cedula or passport). Police or guardsmen may search vehicles stopped at checkpoints.

Public Transportation

Do not use buses, even though they are plentiful and inexpensive, due to the high levels of criminal activity.

Aviation Concerns

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a notice prohibiting all flight operations in the territory and airspace of Venezuela at altitudes below FL 260 by all U.S. air carriers and commercial operators. The FAA previously assessed the government of Venezuela’s Civil Aviation Authority as compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Venezuela’s air carrier operations. However, the FAA notice, released based on the current situation, takes precedence. Find further information on the FAA’s safety assessment page.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has suspended all nonstop flights between the United States and Venezuela, after the Department of Homeland Security concluded that conditions in Venezuela threaten the safety and security of passengers, aircraft, and crew traveling to or from the country.

Drug traffickers use the Maiquetía airport as a transit point. CICPC and ONA frequently arrest travelers attempting to smuggle illegal drugs out of the country. For this reason, among others, do not accept packages from anyone, and keep your luggage with your at all times.

Transit to and from the Maiquetía airport is risky. Avoid using airport taxis; taxi drivers and their accomplices have robbed or kidnapped a number of passengers, even when going from the international terminal to the domestic terminal and vice versa. There have also been occasional instances of armed individuals robbing airport shuttles operated by local major hotels. For all these reasons, the Embassy requires its U.S. direct-hire employees to travel to and from the airport in an armored vehicle. Private travelers should prearrange airport pickup or drop-off with reputable companies. When arriving on an incoming flight, set up a meeting place inside the terminal where you can safely connect with the driver. Arrive and depart during daylight hours when possible.

Maritime Concerns

Exercise a heightened level of caution in Venezuelan waters. Incidents of piracy off the coast of Venezuela remain a concern. Anchoring off shore is not safe. Marinas, including those in Puerto la Cruz and Margarita Island (Porlamar), provide only minimal security.

Terrorism Threat

There is a moderate risk from terrorism in Caracas. The Embassy is unaware of any large-scale terrorist attacks or actions recently carried out in Venezuelan territory. Prior reporting indicated that Venezuela maintains a permissive environment that has allowed for support of activities that benefited known terrorist groups. While individuals linked to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and Hizb’allah supporters and sympathizers were all present in Venezuela, U.S. citizens in country are not targets of these groups.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is considerable risk from civil unrest in Caracas. Civil disruptions are common in Venezuela in general, and particularly in Caracas. Demonstrations tend to occur at or near university campuses or gathering places such as public squares and plazas. In Caracas, the occasional unscheduled march through a busy thoroughfare causes major traffic disruptions, and can bring traffic to a near standstill. Candidates for political office call supporters to marches and public gatherings during national and municipal elections. Venezuela experiences protests and work stoppages by unions across both the public and private sectors. Use extreme caution, and avoid large gatherings and demonstrations wherever they occur.

In 2018, Venezuela experienced a marked increase in civil unrest and spontaneous protests because of the lack of food and/or basic services, including the lack of electricity/public transportation, poor working conditions, and increased criminality.

One major area of concern is the continued prominence of pro-government gang-militias known as colectivos. These gangs (e.g. “La Piedrita,” Los Tupamaros,” and “Alexis Vive”) self-identify as socialist, anti-capitalist, “anti-imperialist,” and Chavista. They are armed and have expressed a willingness to use weapons to “defend Chavismo,” a radical left-wing ideology based on the personality of former President Hugo Chavez; it is not always clear what they identify as the threats facing Chavismo, or how they would seek to defeat the threats. In recent elections, media outlets reported incidents where pro-Chavista gangsters on motorcycles (known by the Spanish word in Venezuela for motorcyclist, motorizado) would surround voting centers in opposition-leaning neighborhoods to intimidate voters. Clashes between these groups and local law enforcement are rare.

Religious and Ethnic Violence

There are no reports of religious violence in the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country; however, there are occasional reports of violence against Venezuela’s small indigenous population. These incidents are sporadic and unsystematic.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Venezuela is prone to earthquakes and landslides. Several small seismic readings registered throughout Venezuela in 2018. The most significant recent incident was a 7.3 earthquake that shook the northern coast of Venezuela on August 21, 2018. Its epicenter was in the Yaguaraparo area in Sucre state, but shaking occurred throughout the region, including parts of Colombia, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Guyana, Barbados, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, and Suriname. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning for a radius of 300 kilometers around the epicenter of the quake, but none materialized.

Critical Infrastructure

Caracas is the economic and commercial center of Venezuela, as well as its most populous city. As such, the city sees its share of industrial and transportation-related accidents. Although vehicle accidents involving the transportation of hazardous chemicals are rare, when they occur, roadways can close for significant periods for cleanup activity. Because of the mountainous terrain, tunnels are an essential way to navigate the city of Caracas.

In general, Venezuelan infrastructure suffers from years of neglect and is deteriorating across the country. Bridges occasionally collapse, and roads sometimes crumble or wash away, creating major traffic disturbances in the affected region.

Economic Concerns

You will likely encounter individuals in Venezuela willing to exchange bolivars for U.S. dollars at a rate significantly more favorable than the official exchange rates. These black market currency exchanges are illegal under Venezuelan foreign exchange controls. Authorities may detain and charge travelers involved in such activity with criminal penalties

The World Economic Forum’s 2017-2018 World Competitiveness Report ranked Venezuela 127 out of 138 countries in intellectual property protection. Venezuela again remained on the Priority Watch List in the U.S. Trade Representative’s 2018 Special 301 Report. Key concerns cited in the report relate to questions about the consistency of domestic laws and international obligations resulting from the 2008 reinstatement of the 1955 Industrial Property Law; the status of trademarks registered under the Andean Community law prior to Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Andean Community; and lack of enforcement against counterfeiting and piracy, both physical and online.

A lack of adequate resources for the Venezuelan copyright and trademark enforcement police (COMANPI) and for the special prosecutor's office hinders Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) protection. Because of a shortage of personnel, limited budget, and inadequate storage facilities for seized goods, COMANPI has had to work with the Bolivarian National Guard and private industry to enforce copyright laws. COMANPI can only act based on a complaint by a copyright holder; it cannot carry out an arrest or seizure on its own initiative. In the past, the Venezuelan government’s tax authority (SENIAT) has been more successful at enforcing IPR laws. It has taken action against some businesses importing or selling pirated goods based on presumed tax evasion. While such actions on the part of SENIAT have decreased over the past few years, SENIAT does continue to take action against pirated goods.

Copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting remain widespread, however, including piracy over the Internet. Pirated software, music, and movies are readily available throughout the country.

Kidnapping Threat

There is a significant risk of kidnapping in Venezuela, especially in the border region between Venezuela and Colombia where the FARC and the ELN operate with impunity. The State Department recently added a kidnapping risk indicator to Venezuela’s Travel Advisory. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Personal Identity Concerns

There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organization of LGBTI events in Venezuela.

Venezuela does not have national standards for accessibility. Most buildings lack accommodations for those with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

Drug trafficking is a serious problem in Venezuela and treated as such by Venezuelan authorities. Convicted traffickers receive lengthy prison sentences of usually eight to ten years. Lack of international counternarcotic cooperation in Venezuela, along with a shift in trafficking patterns in the region has made Venezuela one of the biggest drug-transit countries in the region.

The continued presence of the ELN and FARC in the border region between Venezuela and Colombia continues to be a serious concern. Along with kidnapping and smuggling operations, both the ELN and FARC use the drug trade to finance their operations. Groups not affiliated with the FARC or ELN also engage in drug trafficking and other illicit activities.

There is also evidence of involvement in the drug trade by some high-level Venezuelan government officials. Throughout 2018, several military officers were involved in drug traffic. Although the press regularly reports on drug seizures, large quantities of illicit drugs continue to flow through Venezuela to markets in the United States and Europe.

Police Response

Police attempt to patrol most of Caracas, but are unable to provide the coverage necessary to deter violent crime, especially at night, and in the poorer areas of the city. While investigative police follow-up is intermittent and they rarely catch perpetrators of crimes, officers will generally respond to ongoing emergencies. Police response is generally slow to crime scenes and traffic accidents; they often do not arrive until many hours after the initial call.

Corruption, inadequate police training and equipment, insufficient central government funding, and rapidly deteriorating economic conditions dramatically reduce the effectiveness of the security forces. Media reports often identify police abuse and police involvement in crimes, including illegal and arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and excessive use of force. The extrajudicial actions of the police coincide with an increase in the lethality of the police action and a lack of professionalism. Deaths of people at the hands of the police or military authorities under the argument that they resisted authority increased in a remarkable and worrying way.

Venezuelan government officials have previously proposed increasing the budget for the military and local police in an effort to combat the rapidly rising crime rate. Government critics remain wary that it can deliver on the promise to better fund the military and police, especially in a time when the Venezuelan economy continues to undergo rapid inflation and an inability to secure foreign currency in order to import goods.

Police and Security Agencies

The Bolivarian National Police (PNB) answers to the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace, and is responsible for general crime prevention and patrolling around government buildings and diplomatic facilities. Although it technically is a national police force, outside of Caracas the PNB currently only operates in a few cities across six states: Anzoátegui, Aragua, Carabobo, Lara, Táchira, and Zulia. Where it operates, the PNB is the first responder for major demonstrations and riots, as well as being responsible for traffic safety and patrolling major roads and highways. The government plans to increase the size of the PNB so that it can operate all across the country, but there is no clear timeline for the proposed expansion.

The Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) is part of the Venezuelan armed forces and reports to the Defense Ministry. GNB provides support for drug investigations and anti-drug operations while also providing security at Venezuela’s borders, ports, and airports.

The Scientific, Penal, and Criminal Investigations Corps (CICPC) is part of the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace. As Venezuela’s main national investigative body, CICPC is roughly equivalent to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is responsible for investigating most crimes (e.g. property crimes, violent crimes, fraud, and kidnapping). CICPC has specialized units, similar to SWAT, responsible for dangerous arrests and hostage situations. It also serves as Venezuela’s representative to INTERPOL.

The Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) investigates crimes against the government and provides protective details for government officials. SEBIN has specialized tactical units, as well as an explosive ordnance disposal capability. SEBIN also serves as the Venezuelan government’s civilian intelligence and counterintelligence agency.

The National Anti-drug Office (ONA) reports to the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace, and provides counter-narcotics intelligence and analysis support to various other Venezuelan law enforcement agencies. It also supports drug rehabilitation centers and coordinates the government’s anti-drug campaign.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Limited reports of harassment of U.S. citizens by Venezuelan airport authorities and some segments of the police do occur. Report any incident to the American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá at ACSBogota@state.gov.

Crime Victim Assistance

If you are the victim of a crime, contact local police using the designated emergency response number, 911. Operators speak Spanish.

Medical Emergencies

The medical infrastructure is quickly deteriorating in Venezuela and, as public facilities fail, private clinics have become severely overtaxed and crowded. Seeing a physician can be a trying experience, often requiring a minimum of several hours in a waiting room. The government strictly controls medical supplies; medicines and medical equipment availability at local facilities is unpredictable at best and completely absent at worst.

There are many U.S.-trained and/or English-speaking physicians available in Venezuela. Unfortunately, their staffs often do not speak English. Private clinics/hospitals are the only recommended facilities. For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Strongly consider supplemental insurance to cover medical evacuation (medevac). Serious medical conditions will require medevac to the United States. Ensure you have sufficient quantities of all medications for the duration of your stay. Always carry your prescription medication in original packaging with a doctor’s prescription.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Tap water in Venezuela is not potable. Use bottled water for drinking and brushing teeth. Avoid fruit you cannot peel, and all raw vegetables.

There is an outbreak of measles in Venezuela. Venezuelan authorities have reported confirmed cases of measles in nine states: Bolivar, Capital District, Miranda, Monagas, Delta Amacuro, Apure, Anzoátegui, and Vargas. Immunization levels among the local population have deteriorated seriously and all travelers should ensure that they have received full series of all childhood immunizations before arrival in Venezuela. Children who will be staying for prolonged periods should have all immunizations up to date, as availability of immunizations in Venezuela is sporadic. The CDC recommends that travelers to Venezuela have the following up-to-date vaccinations at least four weeks before traveling to Venezuela: measles/mumps/rubella (MMR); diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT); polio; hepatitis A; hepatitis B; typhoid; rabies; and yellow fever (for travelers over nine months of age. See CDC’s website for more information).

Mosquito control measures have also deteriorated, and malaria cases have returned to areas that had not had cases for many years. Check with CDC or other sources for the need for malaria prophylaxis in the areas you are visiting. Other mosquito borne diseases such as chikungunya, dengue, and Zika virus are highly prevalent. Purchase CDC-recommended topical repellants before arrival in Venezuela.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Venezuela.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Caracas Country Council meets regularly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Latin America team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

The U.S. Embassy in Caracas suspended operations on March 13, 2019 and therefore cannot provide protection or consular services to U.S. citizens in Venezuela.

U.S. citizens in Venezuela in need of assistance, or those concerned about a U.S. citizen in Venezuela, should email ACSBogota@state.gov or VenezuelaEmergencyUSC@state.gov; or call 1-888-407-4747 (from the U.S. & Canada) or +1-202-501-4444 (from Overseas).

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens should register in the Smart Traveler's Enrollment Program (STEP). All travelers should check the State Department's Travel Advisory for up to date information.

Additional Resource: Venezuela Country Information Sheet

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