A friend who owns two successful restaurants in Caracas related this story:
The baker that supplies my friend’s restaurants with fresh bread every morning, seven days a week, didn’t show up this morning. My friend called the baker, whose business is located on Romulo Gallegos Avenue near Los Dos Caminos. The baker explained apologetically that the bread wasn’t delivered this morning because someone is harassing the baker by cell phone, threatening to kill him and his entire family if he doesn’t pay a large sum of cash immediately.
The baker has been receiving several calls daily for a week. The anonymous caller tells the baker what his wife and children did that day, where they went in the city and what type of vehicles they were in. This morning the woman at the bakery’s cash register took a restroom break. As soon as she disappeared into the back of the bakery, the baker’s cell phone rang. The anonymous caller asked, “Where did the woman at the cash register just go? Is she coming back soon?”
The baker called the CICPC, formerly the PTJ, which is Venezuela’s rough equivalent of the FBI. A team of detectives arrived at the bakery and interviewed the badly frightened man.
“What should I do?” the baker asked the CICPC detectives, who are supposed to be the crème de la crème amongst Venezuelan police agencies.
“Pay the money,” said one detective. “Or buy a gun and defend yourself,” said the second detective. “We cannot protect you,” the first detective added.
It’s the same everywhere in Caracas and the rest of Venezuela.
One of my security gigs involves supervising a security team at a hypermarket located at the foot of the hills where the Petare mega-slum is located. This hypermarket opens daily at 6:30 am and shuts at 9:00 pm. Muggers and armed robbers prey on the hypermarket’s employees, and on the members of my security team, every day as they walk roughly 300 meters from the bus stop to the market’s gate.
I spoke several weeks ago with the PoliSucre precinct commander responsible for the area where the hypermarket is located about assigning some of his officers to protect the people walking to and from their jobs. PoliSucre cops are always coming into the hyper-market and asking for donations of food, cash, etc. I figured a little quid pro quo was in order. But No can do, the precinct commander said.
“I don’t have enough officers, and anyway we can’t do anything unless we catch the crooks while they’re actually committing the crime,” he explained.
“So what do you suggest we should do?” I asked the precinct commander. He shrugged.
“Gather some men, capture the criminals yourselves and beat the crap out of them; or better yet, arm yourselves and kill whoever tries to rob you,” he replied.
“But if I kill someone, even a criminal, I’m going to be arrested and jailed possibly for weeks or months,” I said.
“Only if we catch you in the act of killing the crook,” he replied.
PoliSucre can’t protect honest citizens, but every payday (twice per month) one finds Polisucre checkpoints throughout La Urbina, Petare, Los Dos Caminos, La California, etc. where pedestrians and drivers are stopped by heavily armed cops, their documents are reviewed and anyone whose papers are not 100% in order gets shaken down for bribes.
CICPC detectives cannot help either, but if your vehicle gets stolen there’s a very good chance you can recover it by paying a “ransom” through certain officials connected with the CICPC’s stolen vehicles division. That’s how my neighbor next door recovered his SUV after it was stolen in Los Palos Grandes during December.
The baker’s plight is one faced increasingly by many extortion victims in Caracas and other cities. Organized crime gangs that began inside Venezuela’s prisons are heavily involved in this protection racket. They identify targets such as bakers, restaurant owners, anyone with a business that caters to the general public. The gangs then follow their intended targets for days or weeks, sometimes infiltrating gang members inside the target’s place of business.
Then the calls begin. Pay or you will be killed. Pay or your wife and children will die. Pay or your children will be kidnapped and tortured. And your daughters will be raped too. Pay or else.
It’s impossible for the intended victim to determine if the anonymous telephone threats are being made by criminals with the means and the will to commit murder, or if the callers are petty crooks running a protection scam against easily intimidated victims.
Many targets take the easiest way out and arrange to pay off whoever is threatening them.
A few choose to arm themselves, or if they have the resources hire armed private security escorts.
But no one who is targeted in this way is ever again the same person.
It’s pointless to ask the police for help. In fact, over 90% of the express kidnappings which occur in Caracas involve at least one active-duty official with Metropolitan Police (PM). Some of the PM’s top commanders have criminal records for offenses including assault, armed robbery and murder. Some senior PM’s also are associated with armed militant groups like the Tupamaros, a pro-Chavez gang which also controls the crack cocaine trade in most of Caracas. PoliCaracas, the Libertador Municipality’s police force, is also riddled with criminals.
Ergo the popular saying, “Que Dios me guarde y proteja de la policia, porque yo me las puedo arreglar con los choros.” (God protect be from the police, because I can work things out with the crooks.)