Venezuela 2013 Crime and Safety Report
Murder; Theft; Stolen items; Kidnapping; Surveillance; Burglary; Carjacking; Transportation Security; Narco-Terrorism; Separatist violence; Religious Terrorism; Riots/Civil Unrest; State-led violence; Earthquakes; Landslides and mudslides; Aviation; Information Security; Intellectual Property Rights Infringement; Counterfeiting; Drug Trafficking; Bribery; Travel Health and Safety; Disease Outbreak; Fraud
Western Hemisphere > Venezuela > Caracas
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Department of State rates the criminal threat level in Caracas as “Critical.” Much of Caracas’s crime and violence can be attributed to mobile street gangs and organized crime groups. A number of factors explain the pervasive criminality in Caracas, including criminals’ disdain for official reprisal; a poorly paid, under-armed, and sometimes corrupt police force; an inefficient and politicized judicial system; a system of violent and overcrowded prisons, frequently managed with impunity by prison gang leaders themselves; and (according to some sources) as many as six million illegal weapons spread out across the country.
Violent crime is the greatest threat in Caracas, affecting local Venezuelans and foreigners alike. There is no evidence to indicate criminals are specifically targeting U.S. citizens. Caracas is notorious for the brazenness of high-profile violent crimes--murder, robbery, and kidnappings--committed in neighborhoods across the city, at all hours of the day and night. Even the relatively affluent residential neighborhoods in Chacao, Baruta, and El Hatillo (where government leaders, professionals, businesspeople, and foreign diplomats reside) see regular incidents of kidnapping, home invasion, and armed robbery.
Venezuela remained one of the deadliest countries in the world in 2012, with a record number of homicides reported by both official and non-official sources. Reliable official statistics are hard to come by, but since 2005, the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (VVO), a non-governmental organization (NGO), has tracked violence. In its annual report (published on December 27, 2012), VVO states that Venezuela had approximately 21,692 homicides in 2012, a rate of 73 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. This number is up from VVO’s reported rate of 67 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011. In Caracas, the rates were even higher, with VVO reporting a rate of 122 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in the Capital District (made up of the municipality of Libertador), and a rate of 100 per 100,000 inhabitants in Miranda state, which incorporates most of the greater Caracas metropolitan area (including the municipalities of Sucre, Chacao, Baruta, and El Hatillo). By comparison, Colombia reported a homicide rate of 31 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012, and Mexico reported a homicide rate of 24 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011, five years into its “drug war.”
After homicide, the crimes of greatest concern in Caracas are kidnapping and robbery (carjacking, street robbery, and home invasions). Because criminals do not fear official reprisal, kidnappings and robberies sometimes become homicides, as victims who resist are simply killed. A victim’s best option is to get away, if possible, but once the criminals “have” their victim, resisting or struggling can very likely prompt more violence.
Robberies are known to happen all across Caracas, and at any time of day or night. This is especially true of street robberies. Armed criminals rob pedestrians (standing or walking along the side of a road) and motorists (parked or stopped in traffic) alike. Often the criminals operate from a motorcycle, pulling up alongside their victim before brandishing a firearm and demanding valuables such as a visible cell phone or purse. Robberies (and scams) are also common at public ATMs.
Home invasions remain worryingly common. Home invaders primarily use one of two tactics. In the first tactic, an individual or small group targets a house or apartment, convincing the doorman (“vigilante”), maid, and/or resident that they are coming to perform some service, such as a home goods delivery or a telephone installation. Once inside the home, the criminals brandish weapons, threaten the occupants, and steal valuables. This tactic sometimes involves an insider who tips the criminals off to the presence of valuables and/or helps them to “scam” their way into the home. The other tactic involves larger groups of heavily armed criminals forcing their way into a house or apartment. This approach can be achieved by threatening the doorman, accosting the victim as s/he waits to enter the building, or “piggy backing” behind the victim, following close behind as the victim drives into his/her protected garage or parking area. Home invasions are occasionally accompanied by gratuitous violence. Victims appear to be selected because of their perceived wealth, either from the home or neighborhood where they live or the car they drive. Home invasions have occurred in the buildings where diplomats live.
The poorest areas of Caracas (“barrios”) frequently provide safe havens and a base of operations for criminal gangs. A majority of violent crimes occur in these barrios, but criminal “ownership” of some of these neighborhoods often prevents police from patrolling. Widespread vehicle ownership and inexpensive gasoline also allows criminals the mobility to operate in the more affluent areas where wealthier victims can be targeted.
Overall Road Safety Situation
Because roads are poorly maintained and roadside assistance in inter-city areas is extremely limited, travelers should ensure that their vehicle is in good working order before departing on a trip, paying special attention to their engine, brakes, tires, head and tail lights, horn, and fluid levels. Additionally, those planning an extended road trip should travel with a cellular phone (and charger), drinking water, non-perishable food, tools, a first-aid kit, jumper cables, a spare tire (with jack), flares or road reflectors, and a flashlight. Gasoline is heavily subsidized and is extremely inexpensive. However, specific gas stations are occasionally without fuel or unexpectedly closed. Drivers should plan ahead and not let their vehicle get too close to “empty.” Drivers may want to consider bringing along some extra fuel, in case of emergencies, but should investigate the safest way to transport extra fuel. For all these reasons, plus increased criminal activity after dark, the Embassy strongly recommends against inter-city travel during hours of darkness.
Venezuelans travel in great numbers before, during, and immediately after their major civil and religious holidays (including Carnival, Easter, Christmas, and New Year’s Day). Roads are more congested, and travelers should anticipate increased delays.
Checkpoints are common, especially during inter-city trips. They are generally operated either by local police or by the National Guard. Stopping at checkpoints is mandatory, and drivers should be prepared to show vehicle registration paperwork, proof of insurance, and an identity document (national “cedula” or passport). Police or guardsmen may search vehicles stopped at checkpoints.
Driving regulations are similar to those in the United States, although drivers frequently do not obey them. Defensive driving is an absolute necessity. 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 jams. They also frequently drive between the lanes on the freeway, especially when the cars around them are stopped in traffic. Traffic in Caracas is heavy at most times of the day, as an abundance of vehicles, running on heavily subsidized gasoline, fill the aging infrastructure beyond capacity. Such overuse produces wear-and-tear on roads and freeways that authorities are often slow to fix. Road damage is often marked by passersby with a pile of rocks over a pothole or a stick protruding from an uncovered manhole. Given the poor state of the roads and local aggressive driving habits, it is unsurprising that traffic fatalities are a common occurrence.
Venezuelan traffic law mandates that those involved in a traffic accident do not move their vehicles from the spot of the incident until the traffic police arrive on the scene. Police can take several hours to arrive, and those involved in the accident have been known to negotiate a settlement among themselves or simply flee the scene rather than wait for the police. Nonetheless, it is strongly recommended that people involved in an accident not leave the scene unless they feel their life may be in danger.
If possible, drivers should avoid parking on the street. Where possible, drivers should park inside a residential compound or attended parking lot or use valet parking. Where these options are not available, drivers should park as close to their destination as possible. Keeping your vehicle within your line of sight should deter potential car thieves, and the less time spent walking from a car to the destination, the less chance criminals will have to target the pedestrian. In 2012, several prominent victims of kidnappings were attacked while walking from their vehicle to their destination. When you leave your vehicle, ensure that all bags, purses, and/or valuables are out of sight. This is true even when parked in ostensibly secure locations, as thieves have been known to enter protected parking garages and break into parked vehicles.
Carjackings are another concern. According to government statistics, in 2012 Caracas saw more than 3,300 carjackings and 2,800 forcible motorcycle robberies. These numbers are in addition to the approximately 2,800 cars and 2,900 motorcycles that were surreptitiously taken. Carjacking victims in 2012 have included business executives and foreign diplomats in Caracas. Carjackings are more likely to occur during evening and nighttime hours, and carjackers seem to prefer newer SUVs, especially ones with four-wheel drive capacity. However, carjackings are committed at all hours of the day and against a full range of vehicles. Many carjackings are committed by specialized gangs.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
The Embassy is unaware of any large-scale terrorist attacks or actions in Venezuela.
The continued operation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by their initials in Spanish, FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) along the Venezuelan-Colombian border remain the greatest terrorist threats in the region. Both groups have been designated by the Secretary of State as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, and media reporting indicates both use the Venezuelan side of the border as a safe haven. They both operate with near impunity in the region and are known to be involved in various criminal enterprises, including kidnapping, drug trafficking, and murder-for-hire.
Venezuela has also been accused of harboring members of the Basque terrorist group Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA). In October 2010, the Spanish government requested the extradition of a Venezuelan citizen in connection with a Spanish investigation into links between ETA and the FARC. The government denied that ETA members had been receiving training in Venezuela and refused to extradite the suspect on constitutional grounds.
Inquiries by the U.S. Congress have revealed that, as recently as 2011, Lebanon-based terrorist organization Hezbollah was conducting fundraising operations in in Margarita Island. Venezuela and the United States have not exchanged financial intelligence information since 2009; this has made tracking terrorist financial operations more difficult. Additionally, reports in Venezuelan press suggest that Hezbollah may have been or continues to be engaged in training operations, money laundering, and arms trafficking from within Venezuelan territory.
Civil disruptions are common. Demonstrations tend to occur at or near university campuses or gathering places, such as public squares and plazas. Also, in Caracas the occasional march through a busy thoroughfare causes major traffic disruptions and can bring the city to a near standstill. Candidates for political offices also called supporters to marches and public gatherings during the electoral campaigns of 2012.
Venezuela experiences protests and work stoppages by unions across both the public and private sectors. Sporadic union protests (in some cases violent) have disrupted operations at some companies since 2009, including auto assembly plants, and forced the temporary shutdown of various oil drilling operations and oil service companies. Recently, union protests in Bolivar state have stopped operations at several large state-owned industrial companies. In addition, the government has delayed negotiations over collective bargaining agreements for workers in the public sector.
One major area of concern is the continued prominence of pro-Chavez gang/militias, known as “colectivos.” These colectivos (such as “La Piedrita” and “Alexis Vive”) self-identify as socialist, anti-capitalist, and “anti-imperialist.” They are armed and have expressed a willingness to use their arms to “defend Chavez,” although it is not always clear what they identify as the threats facing Chavez or how they would seek to defeat them. In previous elections, pro-Chavez gangsters on motorcycles (known by the Spanish word for motorcyclists: “motorizados”) have been present among opposition supporters standing in line to vote, presumably to threaten or discourage them.
In 2013, questions about the health of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez caused uncertainty about the country’s political future. On December 8, 2012, Chavez for the first time acknowledged that he might not survive his battle with cancer and asked his supporters to rally behind Vice President Nicolas Maduro.
Religious or Ethnic Violence
Approximately 92 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic. There are occasional reports of violence, however sporadic and unsystematic, against the small indigenous population.
Venezuela is prone to both earthquakes and landslides. More information about earthquake and landslide preparation can be found at www.ready.gov.
In September 2009, an earthquake near Caracas (that registered 6.3 on the Richter scale) injured 14 people and damaged many buildings. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many buildings lack the necessary reinforcements to withstand a serious earthquake. Also, an earthquake would likely cause widespread damage to the poorly maintained infrastructure. A medium- to large-scale earthquake would likely overwhelm local emergency response services.
In order to prepare for an earthquake, the embassy recommends residents:
Develop an earthquake safety action plan for your family, identifying places that can provide the highest amount of protection during an earthquake, as well as an escape route and off-premises meeting place. Teach family members how to shut off water, gas, and electricity to the house. Prepare an emergency supply kit, including a three-day supply of drinking water and non-perishable food, a first-aid kit, a flashlight, a battery-operated radio, and extra batteries for both the flashlight and the radio. Secure heavy objects (e.g. televisions, stereos, computers, dressers, armoires) to walls with brackets and/or safety straps. Secure picture frames, bulletin boards, and mirrors to the wall using closed-eye screws into wall studs. Anchor large appliances to walls using safety cables or straps. Tack down glassware, heirlooms, and figurines with putty. Install latches on kitchen cabinet doors to prevent items from falling out.
During an earthquake:
If you are indoors, stay indoors. Do not run outside unless the building you are in is determined to be unsafe. At the first sign of an earthquake, drop and take cover under a sturdy piece of furniture, underneath a door frame, or against a sturdy inside wall, away from windows, shelves, furniture, or other objects that may fall on you. Stay on the floor and use your arms to cover and protect your head and neck. Stay inside until the shaking has stopped and you are sure it is safe to exit. If you are in a high-rise building, stay away from the windows and the outside walls. Do not use the elevator. If you are outdoors, quickly move to the nearest open area, as far as possible from buildings, electrical lines, walls, and trees. If you are driving, pull over to the side of the road and stop. If you are on an elevated or raised road (e.g. a bridge or an overpass), continue driving until you can get down to solid ground. Do not stop under an overpass and try to avoid stopping near electrical lines. Stay inside your vehicle until the shaking has stopped. If you are in a crowded public place, do not rush for the doors. It is likely others will and you risk getting injured by a mass of panicking people. Instead, crouch up against a wall or under a sturdy piece of furniture and use your arms to protect your head and neck. If you are in a mountainous area or near unstable slopes or cliffs, be alert for falling rocks or other debris. Earthquakes often trigger landslides.
After an earthquake:
Monitor local radio and television stations for emergency instructions and the latest information. Aftershocks occur minutes to months after an earthquake. Aftershocks are sometimes more powerful than the earthquake. Get everyone outside if your building is unsafe. Do not use elevators; exit using the stairs. Aftershocks can cause additional damage, occasionally collapsing already unstable buildings. Be aware that fire alarms and sprinkler systems often activate in buildings during an earthquake, even when there is no fire. Check for and extinguish small fires. In the case of a larger fire, exit the building using the stairs. Fire is the most common hazard following an earthquake. Clean up spilled chemicals, gasoline, or other flammable liquids as soon as it is safe to do so. Where such a cleanup would be unsafe, evacuate the building using the nearest stairs. Open closets and cabinets cautiously, as contents may have shifted and could fall, causing further damage or injury. Check your telephones. Cellular telephone infrastructure may be damaged, and cellular networks will likely be experiencing greatly increased call volume in the hours after an earthquake, which may make it difficult to send or receive calls. Fixed-line telephones may still function. Look for damaged utilities. Avoid loose or dangling electrical power lines, smell for any signs of a gas leak, and report all problems to the proper authorities. Where possible, turn off any utilities (electricity, gas, water) that you suspect to be damaged. Check for fire hazards, and use flashlights instead of candles or lanterns. Look for injured victims and administer first aid.
Landslides are common during major rainstorms. One of the deadliest landslides in Venezuelan history occurred in December 1999 in Vargas state (near Simón Bolivar International Airport). The number of dead was never confirmed, as bodies were buried under tons of earth, but estimates range between 10,000 and 30,000 victims. Although there has not been a major landslide tragedy since then, landslides continue to kill, and the unrestricted and uncontrolled nature of development in some parts of the country seems likely to exacerbate the risk.
Although it is difficult to predict when a landslide may occur, the following are some warning signs of a possible imminent landslide:
Changes occur in your landscape such as patterns of storm-water drainage on slopes (especially the places where runoff water converges), land movement, small slides, flows, or progressively leaning trees. Doors or windows stick or jam for the first time. New cracks appear in plaster, tile, brick, or foundations. Outside walls, walks, or stairs begin pulling away from the building. Slowly developing, widening cracks appear on the ground or on paved areas. Underground utility lines break. Bulging ground appears at the base of a slope. Water breaks through the ground surface in new locations. Fences, retaining walls, utility poles, or trees tilt or move. A faint rumbling sound that increases in volume often indicates that a landslide is approaching. The ground slopes downward and may begin shifting in that direction under your feet. Unusual sounds, such as trees cracking or boulders knocking together might indicate moving debris.
Once a landslide has begun:
Move away from the path of a landslide or debris flow as quickly as possible. The danger from a mudflow increases near stream channels and with prolonged heavy rains. Mudflows can move faster than you can walk or run. Look upstream before crossing a bridge and do not cross the bridge if a mudflow is approaching. If you are near a stream or channel, be alert for any sudden increase or decrease in water flow and notice whether the water changes from clear to muddy. Such changes may mean there is debris flow activity upstream, so be prepared to move quickly. Curl into a tight ball and protect your head if escape is not possible.
After a landslide:
Stay away from the slide area. There is frequently danger of additional slides. Monitor local radio and television stations for emergency instructions and the latest information. Watch for flooding. Floods sometimes follow landslides and debris flows because they may both have started by the same event. Check for injured and trapped persons near the slide, without entering the direct slide area. Direct any rescuers to their locations. Look for and report broken utility lines and damaged roadways and railways to appropriate authorities. Reporting potential hazards will get the utilities turned off as quickly as possible, preventing further hazard and injury. Check the building foundation and surrounding land for damage. Damage to foundations or surrounding land may help you assess the safety of the area. Replant damaged ground as soon as possible since erosion caused by loss of ground cover can lead to flash flooding and additional landslides.
Industrial and Transportation Accidents
On August 25, 2012, an explosion at one of Venezuela’s main refineries in Falcón state killed at least 48 people. It took emergency services almost three days to control the resulting fires.
Caracas is the economic and commercial center of Venezuela and its most populous city. As such, Caracas 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 be shut down for significant periods while clean-up takes place. Tunnels are an essential way to navigate Caracas. When accidents occur inside these tunnels, the flow of traffic can be blocked or severely restricted for hours. In general, infrastructure has suffered years of neglect and is deteriorating. Bridges occasionally collapse, and roads sometimes crumble or are washed away, creating major traffic disturbances in the affected region.
Pursuant to U.S. law, the Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) is required to conduct technical security visits to all international airports from which U.S. and foreign airlines provide direct service to the United States. TSA last visited the Caracas airport in January 2005 and those of Maracaibo and Valencia in November 2004. In September 2008, the Department of Homeland Security decided to post public notices at U.S. airports stating that TSA had been unable to assess the safety and security standards of Venezuelan airports. Passengers flying directly from Venezuela to the U.S. must also pass through an additional security screening immediately before boarding the airplane.
Though the government has recently announced a goal of improving Venezuelan civil aviation, the sector remains deficient. The average age of its domestic fleet is 25, and there have been several aviation accidents in recent years. For example, in 2010, 15 people were killed when an airplane operated by Conviasa crashed six miles from the airport in Puerto Ordaz. On August 23, 2011, a Laser Airlines flight was forced to return to the airport due to electrical problems in the cabin. On September 26, 2011, an Aeropostal passenger plane sustained substantial damage, breaking both engine mounts off the fuselage in a hard-landing accident in Puerto Ordaz. The European Union prohibits the Venezuelan state airline, Conviasa, from flying to Madrid due to substandard safety findings. The government announced the goal of reducing the average age of the domestic fleet to 10 years, but currency controls may make it difficult for airlines to purchase new planes.
Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Thefts
The World Economic Forum’s World Competitiveness Report 2012–2013 ranked Venezuela 143 out of 144 countries in strength of IPR protection. Venezuela was also listed on the Priority Watch List in the U.S. Trade Representative’s 2012 Special 301 Report. Key concerns cited in the report relate to the deteriorating environment for the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR). IPR protection is hindered by the lack of adequate resources for the Venezuelan copyright and trademark enforcement police (COMANPI) and for the special IPR prosecutor's office. Due to a shortage of personnel, limited budget, and inadequate storage facilities for seized goods, COMANPI has had to work with the 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. The 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, it 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.
The Embassy is unaware of any confirmed cases of industrial espionage.
The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the home and personal privacy, but in some cases, government authorities infringe on citizens’ privacy rights by searching homes without judicial authorization, seizing properties without due process or interfering in personal communications.
Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones
Due to continued FARC and ELN activity, along with the presence of fuel smugglers and other organized criminal groups along the 1,000-mile border between Venezuela and Colombia, Embassy employees are prohibited from traveling within 50 miles of the border without prior authorization.
Because of safety and security concerns, the following neighborhoods of Caracas are off-limits to American 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, 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 now mandates that all employees travel in an armored vehicle to and from Simón Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetia. The Embassy judges the airport road especially dangerous after receiving numerous reports of robberies and murders in the areas around the terminal (street, parking lot, etc.).
The continued presence of the ELN and FARC 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. Lack of international counter-narcotics cooperation, along with a shift in trafficking patterns in the region has made Venezuela one of the biggest drug-transit countries in the region. There is also evidence of involvement in the drug trade by some high-level Venezuelan government officials: in 2008 the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated three high-level Venezuelan officials (including two who were elected to state governorships on December 16, 2012). Although the press regularly reports seizures by law enforcement, large quantities of illicit drugs continue to flow through Venezuela out to markets in the United States and Europe.
Kidnapping remains a major criminal industry. Kidnappings in Caracas happen primarily during the nighttime hours, but no time of day can be considered “safe.” The government does not track total kidnappings but has stated that in 2012, 583 kidnappings were reported to the authorities. At least one prominent criminologist has estimated, however, that 70 percent of kidnappings in Venezuela go unreported. Approximately 40 percent of reported kidnappings took place in Caracas. Recent investigations by the Criminal, Penal, and Scientific Investigation Bureau (a Venezuelan analogue for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, known by its initials in Spanish, “CICPC”) have identified multiple, heavily-armed criminal gangs specializing in express kidnappings, operating in the wealthier neighborhoods of Caracas. CICPC’s specialized unit aimed at combating kidnapping has had limited successes but has failed to reduce the number of kidnapping incidents significantly. Kidnappers operate with little fear of incarceration or repercussions.
A majority of kidnappings are “express,” lasting less than 48 hours (sometimes as short as a couple of hours). Previously “express kidnappings” involved the victim being driven around and forced to withdraw money from various ATMs until all his cards had been emptied or locked out. However, changes in Venezuelan law and banking practices have restricted daily withdrawal amounts, making the old practice less lucrative. In recent years, it has become more common for kidnappers to drive their victims around for several hours, disorienting them and giving the victim’s family and friends time to gather a ransom payment. Paying ransom for kidnapped victims is against Venezuelan law.
Kidnappings frequently happen in front of victim’s homes, as they are leaving hotels, when using unauthorized taxis, when taking taxis from Simón Bolivar International Airport, and when walking in wealthier areas with limited vehicle and foot traffic.
The Embassy also has had reports of “virtual kidnappings” and “inside kidnappings.” “Virtual kidnappings” are where family and/or friends are persuaded to a pay a ransom by scammers using information about a “victim” whom they supposedly kidnapped. “Inside kidnappings” are when an insider, usually a domestic employee, is paid a large amount of money or promised a share of the proceeds and provides keys or information to facilitate a kidnapping.
Although ineffective policing is often cited as one of the primary factors behind the high numbers of violent crimes, frequently police themselves are the victims. Criminals frequently kill police officers just to take the officer’s firearm. VVO judged violence against police was greater than ever in 2012, with more than one police officer killed every day, either in the line of duty or while going about his daily life.
Police attempt to patrol most parts of Caracas but are unable to provide coverage to deter violent crime, especially at night and in the poorer parts of the city. While investigative follow-up is intermittent and perpetrators of crimes are rarely caught, the police will generally respond to ongoing emergency situations. Police are generally slow, however, to respond to the scene of a crime (or to a traffic accident) and on occasion do not arrive until many hours after they are called.
Corruption, inadequate police training and equipment, and insufficient central government funding, particularly for police forces in states and municipalities governed by opposition officials (which includes Miranda), reduces the effectiveness of the security forces. Media report occasions of police abuse and involvement in crime, including illegal and arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and excessive use of force. The public defender’s 2011 annual report noted complaints that agents of the former Metropolitan Police were involved in kidnappings and robberies at fraudulent police checkpoints. Also, on September 10, 2012, the Public Ministry charged one member of the National Guard, along with four others, for allegedly kidnapping a 10-year old in Barquisimeto, Lara state.
The government’s budget in 2013 cut funding for public safety and internal security by 38 percent and for the judicial system by 17 percent, and it includes plans to lay off over 3,100 of the national police officers employed by the Ministry of Interior and Justice, a 36 percent reduction in staffing. This last figure is especially significant because, although municipal police are generally the first to respond to crimes, it is the national police who have responsibility for criminal investigations and prosecutions.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Harassment of U.S. citizens by airport authorities and some segments of the police is limited but does occur. Any incident should be reported to American Citizen Services (ACS) at the U.S. Embassy. ACS can be reached at (+58) (212) 907-8365 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime
If you are the victim of a crime, contact local police using the designated emergency response number, 171. These calls will not be answered by English speakers; Venezuela’s national language is Spanish.
Various Police/Security Agencies
The PNB (Bolivarian National Police or Policia Nacional Bolivariana in Spanish) answers to the Ministry of Interior and Justice and is responsible for general crime prevention and patrolling around government buildings and diplomatic facilities. Although a national police force, outside of Caracas the PNB only operates in a few cities across six states: Anzoategui, Aragua, Carabobo, Lara, Tachira, and Zulia. Where the PNB operates, it is the first responder for major demonstrations and riots and is responsible for traffic safety and patrolling major roads and highways. The government plans to grow the PNB to operate across the country, but there is no clear timeline for the proposed expansion.
The National Guard (Guardia Nacional in Spanish) reports to the Ministry of Defense. They provide support for drug investigations and anti-drug operations and security at borders, ports, and airports.
The CICPC (Scientific, Penal, and Criminal Investigative Body or Cuerpo de Investigaciones Cientificas, Penales, y Criminalisticas in Spanish) is part of the Ministry of Interior and Justice. As the main national investigative body, it is sometimes thought of as a Venezuelan equivalent to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations. It is responsible for investigating most crimes (property crimes, violent crimes, fraud, kidnapping, etc.). The CICPC has specialized units, similar to SWAT, responsible for dangerous arrests and hostage situations. It also serves as the representative to Interpol (the International Criminal Police Organization).
SEBIN (Bolivarian National Intelligence Service or Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional) serves as a “political” police force, investigating crimes against the government and providing protective details for government officials. The SEBIN has specialized tactical units and an explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) capability. The SEBIN also serves as the government’s civilian intelligence and counter-intelligence agency.
The ONA (National Antidrug Office or Oficina Nacional Antidrogas in Spanish) reports to the Ministry of Interior and Justice, providing 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.
Medical care at private clinics is generally considered to be good. Public hospitals provide a lower standard of care and are often both overcrowded and understaffed. At times, they also suffer from shortages of basic medical supplies.
Cash payment in advance is normally required for medical care at private facilities.
Long-term visitors or residents should consider private ambulance insurance, as public ambulance response can be unreliable. Two of the most well-known private ambulance insurance companies in Caracas are:.
Telephone: (+58) (212) 610-4040
Telephone: (+58) (212) 731-5286
Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics
Urológico San Roman
Calle Chivacoa, Sección San Roman
Telephone: (+58) (212) 999-0111 and 992-2222
Centro Medico Docente La Trinidad
Av. Intercomunal La Trinidad
Telephone: (+58) (212) 949-6411
Clinica El Avila
Av. San Juan Bosco and 6ta. Transversa
Telephone: (+58) (212) 276-1111 and 276-1052
Instituto Medico La Floresta
Av. Principal de la Floresta and Calle Santa Ana
Telephone: (+58) (212) 209-6222
Hospital de Clinicas Caracas
Av. Panteon and Av. Alameda
Telephone: (+58) (212) 508-6111
Centro Medico de Caracas
Av. Eraso, Plaza el Estanque
Telephone: (+58) (212) 555-9111
Recommended Air Ambulance Services
Av. Libertador, Edf. 75 Ofic., PH-2B
Telephone: (+58) (212) 761-6998
Av. Venezuela, Edf. EXA, PB Local 17
Telephone: (+58) (212) 953-1195
Av. Orionoco and Calle Mucuchies Centro Medico
Telephone: (+58) (212) 992-3665
CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC recommends that travelers to Venezuela ensure they 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 and B, Typhoid, Rabies, and Yellow Fever (only for travelers over nine months of age, not recommended for travel to states of Aragua, Carabobo, Miranda, Vargas, Yaracuy, Distrito Federal, Falcón, Lara, Margarita Island).
Travelers should also be aware that dengue fever and malaria are endemic in some parts of Venezuela. Both are transmitted through mosquito bites. Travelers to malarial regions will want to procure antimalarial drugs before arriving. There are not any vaccines to prevent infection by the dengue virus. In the case of both dengue and malaria, the most effective protective measures are those that prevent mosquito bites.
The CDC’s maintains a webpage with health information for travelers to Venezuela: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/venezuela.htm.
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Criminal activity at the Simón Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetia is significant. Both arriving and departing travelers are sometimes victims of personal property thefts and muggings. The Embassy has 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. Travelers should be wary of all strangers, even those who represent themselves as airport officials. Travelers are urged not to pack valuable items or documents in their checked bags. 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.
Drug traffickers use the Maiquetia airport as a transit point, and CICPC and ONA frequently arrest travelers attempting to smuggle illegal drugs out of the country. Travelers should not accept packages from anyone and should keep their luggage with them at all times.
Transit to and from the Maiquetia airport is risky. The use of airport taxis is strongly discouraged, as a number of travelers in airport taxis have been robbed or kidnapped by drivers and their accomplices. Travelers have been robbed when taking a taxi from the international terminal to the domestic terminal and vice versa. There have been instances of airport shuttles operated by local major hotels being robbed by armed individuals. The Embassy requires its American employees travel to and from the airport in an armored vehicle. Private travelers are encouraged to prearrange airport pickup or drop-off with reputable companies. Travelers should also set up a meeting place inside the terminal where they can safely connect with their driver. The Embassy encourages travelers to arrive and depart during daylight hours.
Areas to be Avoided and Best Security Practices
The Embassy prohibits American employees from traveling to certain neighborhoods (“barrios”) without special permission, including Petare, 23 de Enero, and Las Minas. These neighborhoods are some of the highest crime areas of the city, and law enforcement is known to patrol these areas less.
Pickpockets and grab artists operate throughout the greater Caracas metropolitan area but are especially active at bus and metro terminals, in the historic downtown city center, in the area of Plaza Simón Bolivar, the Capitolio, the Sabana Grande neighborhood, and Parque Los Caobos.
Make sure your entire family is aware of the security threats and is prepared to act appropriately in case of an emergency. Do your best to maintain a low profile, avoiding activities or actions that would unnecessarily draw attention to you. Where possible, vary daily departure times and routes used to get to and from work. Avoid setting a regular pattern that can be used against you. Keep friends and colleagues apprised of your daily plans, and ensure they have a way of reaching you in an emergency. Remain alert to what is going on around you whenever you are in public. Avoid suspicious individuals who may be looking for potential victims. If possible, seek a safer location, like a nearby store or bank. If there are no safe locations nearby, cross the street and alter your route. Do not carry or wear valuable items like jewelry or watches that will attract the attention of thieves. Keep valuables (such as iPods, cellular phones, etc.) out of sight, especially when traveling around Caracas. Do not physically resist any robbery or kidnapping attempt. While this is a personal decision, statistics show that victims who resist are more likely to be injured or even killed by their attackers.
Do not use international credit cards, except in an emergency situation. Credit card fraud has been reported even at respected local restaurants and major hotel chains in Caracas. ATMs inside hotels and banks are considered safer, though ATM users should always be aware of their surroundings when withdrawing money.
Keep the doors and windows closed and locked at all times in both your residence and your vehicle. Check your vehicle interior and exterior for irregularities and abnormalities before getting into your vehicle. When stopped in traffic, leave space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you to allow you to maneuver in an emergency situation. When driving at night, use well-traveled, well-illuminated streets. Plan your route before you leave. Only use legitimate radio-dispatched taxis at designated taxi stands or have your hotel call a reputable taxi company directly. Most mall (centro commercial) taxis have generally been reliable. Do not hail a taxi off the street.
The Embassy recommends that all family members, domestic staff, and doormen be instructed not to open doors or accept deliveries from unknown or unexpected strangers. The Embassy also recommends that all houses and apartments have a working alarm system and solid external doors installed with a deadbolt-type lock.
Travelers are advised to take common-sense precautions, avoiding large gatherings and demonstrations, wherever they occur.
U.S. Embassy/Consulate Location and Contact Information
Embassy/Consulate Address and Hours of Operation
Calle F and Calle Suapure
Urbanizacion Colinas de Valle Arriba
Baruta, Miranda, Venezuela
The Embassy is open Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except for Venezuelan and American holidays.
Embassy/Consulate Contact Numbers
Regional Security Office (RSO): (+58) (212) 907-8403
Embassy Operator: (+58) (212) 975-6411
ACS: (+58) (212) 907-8365
Marine Post One: (+58) (212) 907-8400
The after-hours ACS Duty Officer can be reached by calling Marine Post One.
OSAC Country Council Information
Venezuela has an active OSAC Country Council that meets on a monthly basis. The local point of contact is:
Oscar D. Trujillo
Telephone: (+58) (212) 957-2222 ext. 6002
Fax: (+58) (212) 957-6204