An investigation into violence in neighborhoods in Venezuela's capital Caracas has highlighted how heavily armed and increasingly sophisticated youth gangs are taking advantage of an absent state and terrorizing residents.
According to the El Nacional report, residents of the Cerro Grande sector of the western Caracas municipality Libertador are imprisoned in their own homes as violent turf wars between the area's rival gangs, El 70, Carro Loco and El Lucifer, rage throughout the day.
Even police units in the 19 de Abril neighborhood, the lower part of which is controlled by Carro Loco, reportedly respect the territorial lines marked by graffiti on the bullet-riddled buildings.
The Carro Loco gang consists of around 50 youths armed with grenades, side arms and high caliber weapons, who coordinate activities with portable radios, reported El Nacional. The gangs also count on "gariteros", runners as young as 14, who patrol the area to warn of intrusions by rivals.
The director of the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (OVV), Roberto Briceño Leon, told El Nacional that the gangs have evolved over recent years. Where previously they dealt marijuana and fought predominantly with knives, now they have now moved into the market for harder drugs and are armed with increasingly powerful weaponry.
Over the last 10 years, Briceño added, the authorities have failed to contain street gang expansion.
InSight Crime Analysis
Caracas, by some estimates, is the second most dangerous city in the world, and according to the OVV, the municipality of Libertador is one of its most violent areas, with a homicide rate of 122 per 100,000 people in 2013.
The security situation in the city, and in Venezuela as a whole, has deteriorated significantly over the last decade, with factors such as easy access to weapons and corrupt and ineffective security forces contributing to an atmosphere of lawlessness and impunity, in which crimes such as robberies, kidnapping and drug trafficking have thrived.
It is unsurprising that such an environment has also seen the strengthening of street gangs, which often emerge in places with a weak or absent state. The situation described by El Nacional is reminiscent of some of the region's most gang-plagued regions, such as El Salvador, Honduras and Colombia, where ever-younger gangs are fighting with ever-more powerful weapons for control of territory and criminal revenues.