The most violent city in the Americas
Caracas is the capital of Venezuela and a historic city dating back to 1567 when it was founded by Spanish Conquistadors. It is the home of the liberator of South America, Simon De Bolivar and has traditionally been an important center of the arts and education on the continent.
However, over the past decade, it has also seen a growth in violent crime which has made it one of the most dangerous cities in the world. In 2006 the city saw more than four thousand murders, making it per capita the most dangerous city in the world. Unfortunately for the city, this trend has escalated since then. Caracas has eclipsed the 2006 number in just the past three months, with 4,696 people being killed since February.
There are a number of factors that make the city so dangerous. A profound state of income inequality has resulted in massive expanses of slums around the city center which are difficult to police. In addition, the failed monetary policies of the government have sent inflation soaring and seen basic goods disappear from the shelves of local stores, creating a shortage of the necessities of daily life and a thriving black market.
In response to protests that food was becoming difficult to come by in the country, President Nicolas Maduro called on Venezuelans to grow their own crops in rooftop gardens, claiming that he himself had “over 60 laying hens” and “produced everything [he] eats.”
Of course, the egg-wealth of their president was likely of little solace to the people of the city, who are now forced to secure things as simple as toilet paper on the black market. So with desperation so rampant, it is easy to see why kidnapping, muggings, and other violent crimes are common in the city.
This sort of crime accounts for a large portion of the murder rate. Criminals are often armed and far from reluctant to shoot at the first sign of resistance, since there is the feeling that an ineffectual police force makes the chance of facing criminal charges unlikely.
And as with anywhere there is poverty and desperation, violence from organized crime has become a significant issue in the city.
Two days ago, an operation designed to root out organized criminal groups saw tanks rolling through the streets and thousands of armed military personnel conducting waves of arrests. Four people were killed in the crossfire and more than a thousand arrested.
The government blames much of the violence on organized paramilitary groups from neighboring Colombia who have joined with local anti-Maduro opposition. Meanwhile, all of this goes on while people are simply trying to live their lives in a city where the average weekend will see forty people murdered.
The situation has continued to deteriorate as the country with the largest oil reserves in the world is hurting from economic mismanagement and the decreasing price of its most valuable export.
Time will tell if the people of Caracas will one day be able to return to a normal life, free from the threat of violence, but it looks as though the situation is likely to get worse before it gets any better.