Separated from the Caribbean sea by an arduous mountain range, lies a city who’s population has grown vastly since the 1970’s, from just over 2 million, to now well over 3.5 million, forcing its less privileged out into the encompassing hills, largely known as the ‘barrios’ (slums), where crime is rife and poverty is high. The quality of life is ever decreasing, these barrios are now home to over 50% of Caracas continuously increasing population.
After dark in Venezuela’s capital city the streets are often bare. Night time curfews, when put in place, are largely observed. Travelling by armoured car on a night out would be considered normal, armoured guards will be standing at the entrance to malls – the only place you could find a bar. All this seems a little extreme but when you consider the murder rate per 100,000 citizens is almost double that of USA’s most dangerous cities, and in 2012 surpassed what is considered one of the most dangerous places on earth – Baghdad – then perhaps all this is not enough?
Caracas has been stamped the second most dangerous city in the world coming in just after drug stricken San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The Venezuelan government claim the murder rate fell by 18% in 2013, although this figure is widely believed to be much lower.
However, do not be fooled by the facts and figures, Caracas, located in the central north region of Venezuela, 25km from the port of La Guairá is a sophisticated city, home to millions of Mestizos (of mixed European, Indian and African ancestry) with a tropical climate, warm days and cold nights, throughout the year. The city has a feel about it that says we are unbreakable, it has a high moral, for a city with so many problems, and a reputation not to be desired, its residents are holding it together. Citizens of areas where crime is on the rise, are becoming more and more afraid of venturing out after dark due to the ever increasing risk or armed robberies and kidnappings. However a running group called Running Venezuela are fighting back. With well over 300 members, Running Venezuela runs all over the city throughout the night in a bid to take back the city after dark, and to urge people to show unity and gallantry in the face of adversity.
So why are the crime rates rising? The responsibility lies deep within the slums, high up in the hills, poverty stricken, with little opportunity, drug traffickers and armed gangs rule. Low level drug dealers are commanded by higher level cocaine traffickers from neighbouring Columbia. Selling and moving drugs is considered a sure way of making money in the barrios.
However they are not the only culprits that have made Caracas’s crime rate soar above the rest. It is commonly known, and even admitted by the Venezuelan government themselves, that approximately 20 percent of Venezuelan crime, is committed by the police themselves. Kidnappings have become an every day occurrence in the city, professional kidnappings, in co-operation with the police, or even committed by the police, are a fear for every foreigner who visits the city. Many go unrecorded simply because the police are not trusted. In 2012 alone there were 513 recorded kidnappings in the city, the true figure is believed to be in the region of over 2000, that’s 1500 unreported kidnappings in one year.
Statistics aside, I may have painted a somewhat, gloomy picture of one of Latin Americas most contemporary, cutting-edge cities. With a time-honoured charm and long established community spirit that is much to be desired. In the face of villainous treachery and deep rooted corruption a city flourishes, with an always increasing population. Museums, bars and restaurants, shopping malls and entertainment venue’s are becoming ever more popular, a city with many problems yet to overcome, perhaps the future is bright, brighter then it may seem on the outside.