Business Insider Edition

Venezuela's economic crisis is now so bad that criminals can't afford to buy bullets

Beatrice Christofaro , Business Insider US
 May 28, 2019, 02:15 PM
PETARE, CARACAS, VENEZUELA - 2019/03/01: A man hol
Not the gang members in question.
  • Venezuelan criminals are among those feeling the effects of the country's crippling economic crisis.
  • Muggings have become rarer as gangsters struggle to pay for bullets and people don't carry cash or luxury items they can steal.
  • A gang leader told the Associated Press that it often does not pay off to use up a clip of bullets for $15 (R219).
  • Violent deaths have decreased as the economy started spiraling.
  • For more, go to Business Insider SA.

Venezuela's crippling economic spiral is having a negative impact on an unlikely group in society: criminals, who are struggling to afford bullets, and unable to find things to steal as the country's wealth declines rapidly.

The Associated Press (AP) spoke with two gangsters in Petare, a notorious slum in the outskirts of Venezuela's capital, Caracas, who said they now struggle to make a living off muggings, a previously lucrative source of income.

While bullets are widely available on the black market, many muggers cannot afford the $1 (R14) price tag anymore, a criminal known as "Dog" told the news organisation.

The average Venezuelan only earns $6.50 (R19) a month, according to the AP, and skyrocketing hyperinflation renders cash more worthless every day.

"A pistol used to cost one of these bills," Dog said as he crumbled up a 10 bolivar bill. "Now, this is nothing."

Another gangster, "El Negrito," who leads a gang called Crazy Boys, has found it increasingly hard to support his wife and daughter with assaults. Firing a bullet is a luxury now, he said.

"If you empty your clip, you're shooting off $15 (R219)," he told the AP. "You lose your pistol or the police take it and you're throwing away $800 (R11,000)."

Violent deaths have decreased since the Venezuelan economy started spiralling.

In 2015, the South American country had a homicide rate of 90 people per 100,000 thousand inhabitants, according to the Venezuelan Observatory for Violence. That rate went down by nearly 10% last year - though Venezuela remains one of the most violent countries in the world.

The non-profit, which aggregates the data from morgues and media reports, partly attributes this decrease to the reduction in muggings - because there is nothing to steal.

As many Venezuelans struggle to pay for basics like food, medicine, or clothes, there are fewer cars or luxury items that criminals can take from them. And most people barely use cash anymore because of soaring inflation.

Shoemaker Yordin Ruiz told The Washington Post: "If they steal your wallet, there's nothing in it."

Bank vaults are also mostly empty, the observatory's report said. Even if criminals were to steal cash from there, they would not be able to transport the mounds of bills it would take to get a substantial amount of money.

Another reason violence is decreasing, according to the non-profit, is that many Venezuelans are leaving the crisis-stricken country. More than three million people have emigrated.

Most of these migrants and refugees are young men, the AP said - gangs' key recruitment demographic. El Negrito told the news wire that he is also considering trying his luck abroad.

Robert Briceño, the observatory's director, said the economic crisis is affecting every part of society.

"These days, nobody is doing well - not honest citizens who produce wealth or the criminals who prey on them," he told the AP.

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