During first quarter 2009 a total of 4,659 homicides were recorded by crime statisticians at the Interior and Justice Ministry, compared with 3,562 homicides recorded during the first three months of 2008 by the ministry, an increase of 1,097 homicides (30.7%).
During the same period, the ministry recorded 844 homicides in “Caracas” compared with 654 homicides recorded in first quarter 2008, an increase of 190 homicides (29%).
However, the official data for Caracas is misleading, since it does not include homicides committed in the states of Miranda and Vargas, which territorially account for at least half of the Greater Caracas Metropolitan Area including the Petare mega-slum, Guarenas-Guatire, the Tuy Valleys and La Guaira, among other substantial concentrations of mostly poor Venezuelans.
At this pace, Venezuela easily will record over 15,000 homicides in 2009 compared with 14,400 in 2008, and around 5,000 in 1998, before Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela.
These are horrifying numbers, but they don’t provide readers a “feel” for what it’s like to live in Caracas nowadays.
Following are some very personal experiences of Caracas Gringo, his family and neighbors, on what used to be a quiet street in the upper area of Los Palos Grandes near the Cota Mil, described from most recent to oldest:
*Two nights ago, our upstairs neighbor’s youngest daughter, 24 years old, was being driven home by a friend at approximately midnight when the car she was riding in was intercepted, on the 9th Transversal of Los Palos Grandes, about two blocks from her home, by a black Ford Fiesta which cut in front and forced her friend to stop abruptly. A hooded man stepped out of the passenger’s side of the Fiesta with a pistol in hand. This is the tactic used by express kidnappers.
Fortunately, the person driving our neighbor’s daughter home had the presence of mind to shift into reverse immediately and back away at high speed about 100 meters to an intersection which allowed a fast turn and getaway. Fortunately, the would-be kidnappers did not pursue them.
*Eight nights ago at approximately 8 p.m., a pair of armed robbers on motorcycles roared down the 11th Transversal of los Palos at high speed, pursued by three Chacao police officers on motorcycles. As the criminals being pursued sped past the building where this blogger lives, they started firing semi-automatic pistols at the cops behind them. The gunfire continued past the Eduplin day care center, a total of nine shots fired in as many seconds over a distance of 75-100 meters.
Fortunately, the Chacao cops had the training and presence of mind to not return fire, which would have sprayed more bullets around the neighborhood. The criminals were captured at a police roadblock at the intersection of the 5th avenue of los Palos Grandes and the 9th Transversal.
*Ten days ago, another neighbor shared this tragic story: Her friend, a woman, was driving an SUV with her seven-year-old son in the back seat, when she was stopped by two armed carjackers on a motorcycle. The woman made the mistake of telling the carjackers that losing her SUV was not an irrecoverable loss. One of the carjackers replied, “It’s not a loss? How about this?” And he shot her seven-year-old son. We don’t know where this happened in the city, but our neighbor said she went to the boy’s funeral, so we know the story is not hearsay.
*Just over two weeks ago, our upstairs neighbor, who is Jewish, was warned by the Chacao police that since the beginning of 2009 a gang of express kidnappers has been targeting Jewish residents of Los Palos Grandes. He was advised to take immediate security precautions for himself and his family.
*Also some three weeks ago, Chacao police officials who patrol the street where this blogger resides confirmed that since the start of this year, express kidnappers have snatched unwary victims in the Santa Eduvigis area. The abductors, wearing police uniforms, set up fake checkpoints in Santa Eduvigis late at night near the home of former President Luis Herrera Campins. This area is right on the jurisdictional border between the municipalities of Chacao and Sucre.
*On 11 March, a Venezuelan-French resident of Caracas was kidnapped outside the Catalan Club at the corner of the 3rd Avenue of Los Palos Grandes and the 11th Transversal. He was held over 24 hours, until his wife paid the kidnappers a ransom of approximately $28,000.
The area where all of the above happened, except for the young boy’s murder, covers a linear distance of perhaps 1 to 1.5 kilometers, and proportionally is an infinitesimally small slice of Caracas in what is still considered one of the safest areas of Venezuela’s capital city.
However, recently it was reported that dozens of express kidnappings also have occurred since the start of this year in Santa Fe, Lomas de Valle Arriba and Colinas de Bello Monte – an area literally within 20 minutes’ easy walking distance from the US Embassy.
The barrios – Petare, El Valle, Catia and points west – are literal killing fields compared to what we have experienced in our tiny patch of Caracas. The Interior and Justice Ministry’s data says it all: 4,659 homicides in the first 90 days of this year nationally, or 51.76 homicides per day (2.15 homicides per hour).
Caracas Gringo knows a lot of Caracas cops. All the good ones have full-time gigs with private employees, guarding daycare centers and homes, chauffeuring businessmen and their wives/children, etc.
But there’s also a very substantial criminal element in forces like PoliCaracas and the Metropolitan Police. Our ex-Army intel colleagues in the private security sector say that many express kidnappings involve corrupt cops.