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In Venezuela, criminals feel an economic crisis

The dreaded street walker El Negrito sleeps with a gun under his pillow and says he has lost his murder count. But in spite of his tough behavior, he is quick to address how Venezuela's failing economy cuts his profits.

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Shooting a gun has become a luxury. Bullets are expensive at $ 1 each. And unless money is circulating on the street, he says robberies just don't pay as they used to.

For the 24-year-old, everyone has given way to a simple fact: Even for Venezuelan criminals it has become more difficult to get past.

"If you clear your clip, you shoot $ 1

5," said El Negrito, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition that he was identified only by his street name and photographed wearing a hoodie and face mask to avoid attract unwelcome attention. "You lose your gun or the police take it and you throw away $ 800."

Officials of President Nicolás Maduro's Socialist Administration stopped publishing statistics that charted crime trends long ago.

But in some of the unexpected silver lining of the country's demanding economic crisis, experts say armed assaults and killings are falling in one of the world's most violent countries. At the Venezuelan Observatory for Violence, a caracas-based nonprofit group, researchers estimate that murder disorders have risen up to 20% over the last three years based on media and local morning figures.

The decline has a direct link to the economic tailspin who has helped spark a political struggle for control of the once rich oil nation.

Increasing inflation rose by 1 million percent last year, making local bolivar almost useless, even though ATMs have not been able to dispense more than one dollar worth of scrip anyway. The serious lack of food and medicine has driven approx. 3.7 million to look for better prospects in places like Colombia, Panama and Peru – most of the young men from whom gangs recruit. And working days are often limited due to nationwide strikes.

But when the country goes down into a lawless state, many Venezuelan criminals are exposed to the same chaos that has led to wider political and social melting. [19659005] Critics owe 20 years of the Socialist Revolution, launched by the late President Hugo Chavez, who once expropriated thriving companies that today produce a fraction of their potential under government leadership.

Earlier this year, opposition leader Juan Guaidó launched a bold campaign with support from the United States and more than 50 nations to derive Maduro, who succeeded Chávez. But Guaidó has not yet made good on his promises to restore democracy, spark a robust economy and make the streets safer.

As a result of the chaos, the crime has not disappeared as much as just shaped. While attacks are down, reports of theft and pilfering of everything from copper telephone lines to livestock are rising. Meanwhile, drug trafficking and illegal gold mining have become standard activities for organized crime.

When night falls, the streets of Caracas are ready, as most residents observe a black curfew for fear of their safety. Despite the significant drop in killings, the Venezuelans tend not to stare at their cell phones on the streets. Many leave gold and silver wedding rings in safe places at home, while others are used to checking whether they are being followed.

"Venezuela remains one of the world's most violent countries," says Dorothy Kronick, who teaches political science at the University of Pennsylvania and has conducted extensive research in the slums of Caracas. "It has wartime heights – but no war."

El Negrito leads elevated hoodlums called Crazy Boys, a band that forms part of an intricate criminal network in Petare, one of Latin America's largest and most feared slum. The gangster, who advocated an interview with two contributors on their hillside in Caracas, said his group is now performing about five kidnappings a year, significantly from previous years.

Such explosions are large companies. Typically, a victim is nabbed and held hostage for up to 48 hours, while the dear ones scramble to collect as much money as they can, with kidnappers focused on speed and quick return rather than on the amount of payout.

El Negrito said that ransom they lay down depends on what a victim's car costs, and an agreement can become lethal if claims are not met.

But like many of his employees, he has considered leaving the trade in Venezuela and emigrating. [19659005] He said that some people have interrupted the crime world and sought more honest work abroad and fear rigid penalties in other countries where the laws are more enforced.

When he explained that he was struggling to support his wife and his young daughter, El Negrito went to a silver gun between his hands. A Bible was open to sayings on a chest of drawers as a breeze turned the pages.

Robert Briceño, director of the Venezuelan Observatory for Violence, said the fall in killing is a matter of basic economy: as cash becomes scarce in Venezuela, there is less to steal.

"Today it does no good – not honest citizens who produce wealth or the criminals who bid on them," he said.

An associate of the Crazy Boys who only gave his nickname However, he did not have trouble finding ammunition for his weapons on the black market. He said the challenge pays for them in a country where the average person earns $ 6.50 a month.

"A gun is used to cost one of these bills," he said, crumbling a 10-bill that can no longer be used to buy a single cigarette. "Now it's nothing."

Scott Smith on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ScottSmithAP

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