Murder in the Land of Grace

The Guardian's Rory Carroll wrote an outstanding article on crime in Caracas. Please, read it. Here I will present just some crude facts and wild hunches that still may serve as reference.
Near Maracaibo

Bloody numbers

On the United Nations Organization for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) you will find some outdated but still relevant information on the murder rate in Venezuela. The "official" murder rate for Venezuela in 2008 was around 47.2 murders per 100000 inhabitants. An older report from United Nations for the years 1998-when Chávez was elected-, for1999 -when Chávez started to rule- and 2000 tell you the murder rate went from 19.61 to 25.21 to 33.15 murders per 100 000 persons. The United States had a murder rate of 6.35 for 1999, 5.37 for 1999 and its murder rate has remained stabil since then. The murder rate in Western Europe is between 1 and 2 murders per 100000 aproximately.
Petare, formerly pro-Chávez, now Chávez says it's a posh area

In perspective, look at this data:

Total murder in Venezuela versus Germany
Total population Germany/Venezuela
What's going on? A lot of things. One of the issues, mentioned also in that article, is drugs. Venezuelans used to say our country was just a transit land for cocaine. Not anymore. Drug consumption has skyrocketed since the mid nineties. If you can, you should watch the Brazilian film Cidade de Deus. Venezuela's cities went through the same process as Brazil, but unlike Brazil, Venezuela stopped creating real jobs a long time ago and in spite of all the official stories about "eliminating illiteracy" (which was around 8.9% in 1998) and creating schools, education has only worsened. 

You are getting now more "bachilleres", but they don't know how to read or count and there are no jobs for them. They have drugs and they see lots of things bought with petrodollars.

Mind the Province

Rory's article was excellent. Still, there were a couple of missing points, which is normal as he would have had to write a treatise to just mention them all.

One of the missing points has been the migration to the cities and what social problems that has brought. This type of migration is a worldwide phenomenom, but it has been particularly dramatic in Venezuela. Rory did mention how a community like El Consejo grew from a small village of 2000 inhabitants to become an extension of Caracas with 50000 people. It would have been very interesting if Rory had asked people in that slum where their grandparents were born. Chances are most were not born there. Chances are most were born in the Llanos or elsewhere, far away.

Since the beginning of oil exploitation, farmers and other unskilled workers have migrated massively to Caracas, to Maracaibo and Valencia. They came from some villages around the area - from the Tuy Valley, from around the Maracaibo Lake, but above all from the Llanos. The Llanos is our real Wild West. Others are from Trujillo and rural areas of Lara, Falcón - and just then immigrants from other South American countries.

Let's look at the statistics from the Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas de Venezuela. Look at Barinas, a Llanos state where Chávez was born. If we believe what those statistics say, 50.1% of the working population in Barinas was working in the "informal sector". That means people are mostly selling Colombian panties, Mexican textiles, Chinese toys and even Nicaraguan black beans or driving pirate taxis. The official figure for Distrito Capital (Caracas) is about 27.3%. Caracas as well as Maracaibo and Valencia became magnets for those people for 50 years already. They got there, but most did not find their way up, particularly as they had no education.

Official unemployment in Venezuela is just about 8% to 10%, but that number is as meaningless as could be. European statisticians would not consider most of those working in the informal sector as anything but jobless who have to sell something to survive.

The incredibly high level of "informal unemployment" is not new and it is not exclusive to Venezuela. Other countries in Spanish America have similar figures. The problem is Venezuela has 1) a incredibly high urbanization level for an underdeveloped country and 2) a very high and increasingly higher dependence on petrodollars, a dependence that is destroying work possibilities and competitiveness.

There were lots of poor in and around the main urban centres before the oil boom. Still, many of them slowly climbed the social ladder and are now to be found in middle class areas and most of their children finish school. The ones who came from farther away did not.

I know one of the girls who came from the Llanos. She is one of 22 siblings. Most of her brothers and sisters are now in the main urban hubs of Venezuela. Most of them were voting for Chávez until now, even if she was not and now many are staunched opponent of Chávez. Still, Chávez has an appeal. Although he was not himself particularly poor - his parents had a finca that was several times the amount of land many had and his dad was a local leader of one of the IV Republic parties- he comes from the Llanos and he knows the talk.

In a following post I will take you to the Llanos, a key part of Venezuela. That's part of what many urbanites disdainfully call Monte y Culebras, Grass and Snakes.