Amid Crisis, Venezuela Citizens Take Security into Own Hands

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Communities in Caracas are turning to private security and vigilante groups in response to the state failures behind Venezuela’s security crisis, but examples from around the region show this can be a dangerous path to take.

Several crime-plagued municipalities in the Caracas metropolitan area have taken to organizing security patrols mostly carried out by off duty or former members of the security forces, according to a report by El Nacional.

In some cases, local businesses, institutions and residents have combined to pay for private security services, while in others the communities themselves have formed security groups that work in conjunction with the police.

Residents say the patrols have reduced street crime, although some have opposed measures implemented by the groups, such as road closures and checkpoints, according to El Nacional. In addition, the groups operate in a legal grey area, especially with regards to the use of firearms and detaining suspects.

InSight Crime Analysis

Communities resorting to taking citizen security into their own hands is an understandable and perhaps inevitable consequence of the Venezuelan state’s failures to control the country’s security crisis. Venezuela is one of the most violent countries in the world, and crimes that affect the general population such as robberies, kidnappings and extortion have reached epidemic proportions.

The police have consistently proven to be incapable of meeting the challenges of these security problems. The force is seen as weak, ineffective and corrupt, and even when it has tried to lead an assault on criminal networks, those networks have shown themselves more than willing to fight back.

However, as numerous examples from around the region show, it can be hugely problematic when citizens start taking security into their own hands, as a lack of accountability and the temptations of corruption can often lead to abuses.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Vigilantes

In Brazil, vigilante security groups that, as in Venezuela, are composed of former or active security forces have evolved into criminal militias involved in everything from extortion to drug trafficking. In El Salvador, groups of off-duty security forces are believed to have formed anti-gang death squads. In even more extreme examples, vigilante groups in Mexico and Colombia have become powerful criminal organizations in their own right.

Despite these warning signs, the Caracas communities are far from alone in believing citizens should fill the gap left by state failures, and vigilante justice is proving popular in countries around the region that are plagued by insecurity and have weak and ineffective state institutions.

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