Course:GEOG352/2019/Crime in Caracas

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In recent years, the capital of Venezuela has been portrayed in the media as a struggling city that is undergoing a large-scale crisis. Since the late 1990s, Venezuela has adopted Chavez’s socialist reforms that have been dubbed the Bolivarian Revolution, which focuses on social well-being through income and housing redistribution for the country’s most marginalized populations. However, due to the current government’s poor management of the economy and inaccessibility to resources, there has been widespread public distrust and resentment towards government actors and policies. As a result, crime has grown exponentially in the country, especially in Caracas. Overall, the Political transformation from the Bolivarian Revolution has had profound impacts on the capital.

Political transformation explores the idea of society being governed by different levels of politics. The northern ideals of government are problematic because it does not take into account the uniqueness of the local context of the Global South. Therefore, there is a need to explore political transformation from the perspective of the Global South, to challenge the hegemonic discourse of northern dominated notions of governance. In regards to the local context, the role of urban politics has major significance. Rather than only viewing governance from a top-down perspective, it is important to address political transformation as a whole in order to have a collaborative rapport between the state and its citizens. The state need to be able to address local issues and create spaces in which their citizens can actively participate. The case study of Caracas is used to exemplify the importance of the local context, in which governmental policies ignored the importance of collaborative relations.

Caracas, Venezuela


Political transformation is a change in any level of governance occurring at global to local scales. Large-scale Politics entails higher forms of government decisions and policies which establishes and regulates formal institutions. In addition to large-scale Politics, it is also important to recognize the significance of small-scale politics, or in other terms, urban politics. Urban politics can be defined as the everyday initiatives to get access to public services, or to protect those that already exist [in which] community organizing crosses the boundary between engagement with the state and opposition to state programs and policies.[1] This component of politics becomes pertinent to cities located in the global south and east because as they are growing exponentially, it is through the role of activism at grassroots-level that trigger change in formal governmental processes. The rise in civil society and participation stem from the government’s inability to address the needs and concerns of their citizens, shifting the social and political spheres in society. The lack of addressing the citizens’ demands and worries can lead to powerful and threatening behaviours. Thus, emphasizing the relationship between government and urban politics.

Evidently, the Pink Tide movement in Latin America demonstrates political transformation at a regional scale. The root of the Pink Tide movement stems from the Latin American Debt Crisis in 1980s. To combat rising debt, states adopted neoliberal strategies levied by the IMF and World Bank. However, beginning in the late 1990s/2000s, many countries – most notably, Bolivia, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela – strayed away from neoliberal models shifting to a left-wing model.[2] This left-wing wave that spread throughout Latin America deviated from decades of US hegemony and extreme inequality in the regions, transiting to more socialist policies. As a result of the Pink Tide, social services, wages and pensions all increased while regional cooperation grew and countries became more democratic.[3] Nevertheless, oppositions of the Pink Tide argue that its plans were poorly executed, corruption increased, and governments became more authoritarian.[4] [5] Beginning in the mid 2010s, the Pink Tide began receding while the neoliberal economic model slowly returned. One notable exception is Venezuela, where former President Hugo Chavez has been one of the largest proponents of the Pink Tide. His legacy is lived on through his successor Nicolas Maduro. Despite the government’s successful policies in addressing urban inequality, crime in Caracas has risen dramatically.

Crime can be a reflection of society as it is the violation of normalized behaviours, and is often committed as a last resort. Institutions dictate behaviours that are wanted and unwanted.[6] Desired behaviours are normalized, while unwanted behaviours are criminalized and punished.[6] These behaviours are a widespread societal agreement. When instability in society occurs, it can lead to conflicts thus resorting to the use of force to achieve goals and resolve conflicts. Therefore, increases in crime rate indicate poor governance as a result of political transformation in Venezuela.[6] Although crime is found throughout the world, crime in Caracas is amongst the highest, as a result of unique local contexts. Since the beginning of the Bolivarian Revolution, homicide in Caracas is almost risen 2 times higher than the national average.[7] The crime in Caracas is a result of the wider political transformation in Venezuela.

Case study of Crime within Caracas

Data extracted from National Institute of Statistics (2010, 115)

The capital city of Caracas has risen to become one of the most violent cities in the world,[2] where crime has increased by 838% from 1986 to 2012.[5] The city has been assessed and labelled as a critical location for crime,[3] in which over 73 Venezuelans die every day. Factors that contribute to crime include a lack of ill-equipped and corrupt police force,[4] accelerated and unplanned urban growth, [5] a polarizing judicial system, and access to a mass supply of illegal weapons.[3] Although, homicides still remain the biggest concern within Caracas, other methods of crime such as kidnapping [4]and robberies (e.g. carjacking,[6]street-robbery and home invasions) have begun to plague the city.[3] Notably, the demographic most involved in criminal activity are males aged between 15 and 24, situated in the middle and lower class.[5]Additionally, barrios or ranchos, the slums neighborhoods of Caracas[3] have become known as places of concentrated acts of crime. Slums have become safe havens for criminal gangs activities as police tend to patrol less frequently within those areas. Growth in crime can also be attributed to political opposition between the residents of Caracas. Colectivos are neighborhoods that house leftist supporters of President Nicolas Maduro, where residents believe and promote the Bolvarian ideals of the late President Hugo Chávez. Ultimately, the growth of opposing political supporters, the Chavistas (pro-Chavez) and Escualidos (anti-Chavez), has lead to physical altercations within the city.[7]


Violence used against a peaceful student protest.

One of the factors leading to increased crimes rates during the ongoing Bolivarian Revolution is the poor execution of government policies. Social spending doubled from 1998 to 2011, leading to dramatic decreases in unemployment, childhood malnutrition and increased rates of secondary school graduation.[8] Despite the government's successful policies in addressing urban inequality, crime still rose dramatically. Critics note that under Chavez, the government overspent on social programs.[9][10] Therefore, there was little economic security leading up the 2013 economic crisis (see Hyperinflation) .[10] It is argued that there was no competent crime policy in Caracas.[11][12] During Chavez’s fourteen years in power, there were twelve different Ministers of the Interior who are responsible of overseeing urban crime in Caracas. This constant change resulted in little-to-no continuity between the twenty-two different plans aimed at tackling urban crime.[11]

Under the Bolivarian Revolution, the government failed to provide a reasonable police force to address rising crime. In 2008, then Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, requested the national government to manage Caracas’ Metropolitan Police Force, as the city could no longer afford it.[12] As a result, the National Guard – a branch of the military – is now the police force in Caracas. However, crime did not decrease because the National Guard is heavily involved in criminal activity.[11] After the failed coups d’états attempts in 2002, the government advocated for the establishment of pro-government militias – known as the Colectivos – aimed to promote civilian participation in addressing crime.[11] Colectivos have been linked to assault and murder of civilians during anti-government protests.[11]

Additionally, even prior to the Bolivarian Revolution corruption has been an ongoing issue in Caracas, yet little has been done to address it. As of 2018, Venezuela is ranked as the 168th most corrupt country.[13] For example, the extension of the city’s metro, Line 5, was projected to be finished by 2010. However, the project currently remains unfinished due to government embezzlement.[14] Many political elites, including President Maduro, have been accused of receiving bribes in the Oderbrecht scandal.[15] The Venezuelan National Assembly has documented several cases of corruption involving Oderbrecht, but there have been no trials.[14] Ultimately, high levels of corruption have been known to spark crime in Caracas.


Venezuelans searching through garbage for food.

The effects of hyperinflation is jeopardizing Venezuelans’ economic and urban security forcing many individuals to engage in violent means of survival. Due to 83% of Venezuela’s population residing in urban areas,[16] hyperinflation in cities like Caracas, has lead to “[t]he breakdown of basic services reduc[ing] life to a daily struggle secur[ing] fundamental needs”.[17] The insecurity of food, the lack of access to electricity and water, and the inability to maintain a stable livelihood has fueled the citizens’ anger at the government [18] and heightened aggressive methods of accumulating resources.[19] In addition, the lack of government action in taming the economic crisis has sparked hostile protests and criminal behaviour.[20] Gangs and other violent non-state actors have also resorted to holding people at gunpoint for food rather than money because money holds no value.[20] Conversely, due to the lack of monetary value regarding the Venezuelan bolivar, Colectivos have started using illegal methods to create a new currency circulating internally among small black market communities.[21] Sadly, regardless of the individual's socioeconomic and employment status, millions are going through similar forms of suffering increasing the citizens’ violent tendencies.[20]

Spaces of Violence

Slums in Caracas.

Spaces of violence, which increases crime, have been linked to Chavez's promotion of violence. He has used stereotypes to embed hostile divisions and alter social rules, which created zones of violence where dangerous clashes of opposing perspectives regularly occur.[22][23] Chavez was able to take advantage of existing social frustrations experienced by marginalized people and gain their support. Before Chavez’s presidency, marginalized people were excluded from certain spaces such as gated communities, malls, and etc. due to their lower socioeconomic status and were restricted from participation (eg. voting). [24][23] His political agenda brought the marginalized into the spotlight, and framed it as a class-centered problem.[24] Those who opposed his political ideology are labeled oligarchs, devoid of morals and is against social justice.[23] Not only did this create fear of the rising marginalized class among the middle and upper classes, but it also fuelled hostility and increased violent clashes between the socioeconomic classes.These clashes occur between two political groups: Chavistas (pro-Chavez) and Escualidos (anti-Chavez).[11] The Chavistas are usually lower class and marginalized people, which mostly resided in downtown and shanty towns westward. On the other hand, Esculidos usually reside in the east and south-east, which are comprised of the middle to upper class residents. The ambiguous area in between the neighborhoods are more prone to conflict and physical confrontations, which escalated during 2002/2003 when political tensions were high.[11] A particular place of contention is Plaza Bolivar which is a symbol of Venezuelan independence and morality.[23] As of 2019, the Plaza is still claimed as Chavista territory, despite being formally acknowledged as a place for the public. Those in the opposition are still unable to access the Plaza due to the possibility of violent, thus reinforcing Chavez's desire for class conflict.[25]

Lessons Learned

As demonstrated above, Caracas is a paradoxical city that highlights a need for political transformation that incorporates all aspects of urban challenges within the local context. Despite massive improvements in universal indicators used to assess underdevelopment (ex. education, economic inequality, etc), crime still is increasing dramatically. The government has failed to create a credible Police Force to tackle rising crime. Corruption has been so abundant, many citizens has questioned the legitimacy of their governments. The inability to control inflation, has forced many residents to commit. Furthermore, the failureof the government to address the zones of violence in the city has allowed crime to intensify, thus, dubbing Caracas as on of the most dangerous cities in the world. The case study demonstrates that solutions should not be limited to small-scale economic and welfare changes, instead there is also a need to address wider social relations, economic and historical issues. Moreover, the case study highlights the importance of a cohesive society in improving the overall well being of its citizens. Rather than only implementing changes from the top-down and assuming the needs of citizens, there needs collaboration between bottom-up and top-down approaches.

It is clear that there has been short-term success, but it has not been a sustainable solution for a growing city. Chavez was focused on short-term solutions to gain popularity rather than meeting long term goals. He did not take into consideration that relying on a single resource for economic prosperity would lead and turbulent government. There is a fundamental need to develop long-term sustainable solutions based on the local context.

Ultimately, the case study of crime in Caracas cannot be generalized as the cause of crime in Latin America, as each region has its own unique contexts. Nor can it be used to completely dismiss socialism in favour of neoliberalism, as it is framed negatively in media of the global north. Instead, the failures and successes of the Venezuelan government should be examined rather than being dismissed as another failure of a corrupt and underdeveloped country.


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  2. 2.0 2.1 Pink Tide (2018). (4th ed.) Oxford University Press.
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