The Shady Side of Venezuela


The bordercrossing was done. The money was multiplied. Everything went according to plan. There were no incidents. A ten hour bus ride found its end. There was no kidnapping, no mugging, no theft. Maybe such concerns sound exagerrated to those who are unaware of the situation in Venezuela. Because indeed, our views on other countries can easily be distorted by many of those lurid reports in the news media that often tend to focus on the dangers of some third world countries, often giving us the perception that such dangers are to be found on a daily basis all over those places.

 

The slightest bit of research on this country, however, will show that in Venezuela such dangers unfortunately tend to be ubiquitous indeed. Already months before initiating the trip, while doing my research, I had noticed that the problems in this country were to be taken so seriously that I needed to take precautions like I have never done before in my journeys. The scenario of getting mugged and being threatened with a gun seemed so likely that I prepared myself accordingly. 

While the dangers tend to be ubiquituous in Venezuela, the highest crime rates are to be found in most of the Barrios
While the dangers tend to be ubiquituous in Venezuela, the highest crime rates are to be found in most of the Barrios

It is fair to say that Colombia is not the safest place either, to say the least. There is a reason why one of the first words that I had learnt in Colombia was the word "peligroso". Occasionally, armed masked men even storm hostels and rob all the visitors. But there is also a reason why - unlike in Colombia, where you at least have a backpacker community and an improving economy - in Venezuela, a country with exceptional economic problems, you barely even find any tourists, except for a few places such as the magnificent Canaima National Park.  

 

Even several Venezolanos, who are generally very hospitable and happy to receive the nowadays rarely seen foreigners, discouraged me to travel alone, all the more because I had almost no command of Spanish and planned to use public transport in Venezuela extensively. The only advantage that I had was the fact that I did not look like the typical Gringo (English speaking Western), reducing the attention of the Malandros (thugs) towards me, giving them less time to plan a setup, in which they are specialists. According to some reports, for instance, some of them orchestrate motorcycle accidents in a credible way, only to mug those who come to their rescue. 

 

It's not like I have not met locals in many other countries who have experienced or reported similar fates. But in Venezuela such cases are no exception, even on the contrary, they are prevalent, which I was aware of before the trip started, simply because even among the many Venezolanos that I had contacted in the virtual world, there was no single person who did not get mugged or who did not have close relatives or friends that were robbed or in the worst case murdered. 

 

If you remember some basic rules, however, unfortunate incidents can usually be avoided. First and foremost, one should make sure not to end up in the Barrios that are mostly located on the hills of Caracas, Valencia and Maracaibo. Due to the economic misery in those areas in particular, It is self-explanatory that the colorful slums have the highest crime and murder rate in the country. Moreover, for those who prefer to stay on the safe side, it is also recommended not to walk in the streets too much, especially not alone,  and especially not in less crowded areas. Walking in the usually empty streets at night is extremely dangerous, but one should also bear in mind that even at day time people often get mugged on open streets. 

 

In case that you do get mugged, running away can very well end tragically, and it is an even worse idea to resist. All valuables should therefore be kept in the hotel. But though the valuables are much safer in the hotel, one should also be aware that the foreigner's valuables are much much more valuable to the hotel staff. Nevertheless it is wiser to leave most of your cash money somewhere in your hotel room, because "in Venezuela, there are people that are ready to kill you for 1000 BsF", as a Ukrainian woman from Valencia warned. This is not more than 5$ in the black market. 

 

Venezuela has - among many other issues - one of the highest inflation rates in the world, while its government remains incapable of tracing those who arm the many gangs in the country. Ask professional baseball catcher Miguel Montero, who resides in the United States and recently visited Venezuela, intending to stay with his family during the off-season. Five days after arriving in Venezuela he had enough and left his country again. Montero complained about the big safety issues:

 

"I would go from the place where I was trying to get my passport to the house and back. That's it,'' Montero said. "You want to go to your country to relax and have a good time, not to be shut inside your house because you're afraid to go out. … There are safety concerns anywhere in the world, but you watch the news about Venezuela and more people have been killed there than in Afghanistan.' "

 

Yet, despite the exceptional dangers in Venezuela, it is a pity how in these times the exceptional assets of this country are rarely mentioned. A marginal and desperate group of thugs have scared off most tourists in times, when the Venezolanos need them the most. Several times I was asked if I would recommend Venezuela to anyone. It is a very difficult question. How can I say 'no' after having had so many exceptionally beautiful moments, meeting many great people in a country that has one of the most fascinating places I have ever seen? And as if this is not enough, how can I not recommend a country where you can enrich yourself by enriching its locals by exchanging money in the black market? On the other hand, how could I irresponsibly encourage people to travel to a country with the highest murder rate in the world, a country, where for many people it can be easier to find fire weapons than to find toilet paper? How can I not mention the more dangerous moments that I had experienced in Venezuela? 

 

This is why the above mentioned information, and some of the personal stories that will follow, should be stressed, instead of solely revealing the tremendous treasures of Venezuela. Though the dangers are to be found almost everywhere, no place in Venezuela has been regarded as more dangerous than what was scheduled to be my main destination in Venezuela, the capital Caracas and its surrounding area. Many travellers and observers, among them the late German journalist Peter-Scholl Latour, who had been to every country in the world, claimed that Caracas is "the most dangerous city in the world". Compared to Venezuela's capital, at least, my first destination was 'safe'. It was tuesday night in Merida, and my first night out in Venezuela.




A Venezuelan Hip Hop video about what has been referred to as Venezuela's most dangerous place. The Barrios of Petare, near Caracas.