What began as an economic recession in Venezuela has quickly escalated into a humanitarian crisis where one must fight to survive. Venezuela is steadily becoming the most violent country in the world. At least 28,479 deaths of a violent nature occurred in 2016, and the nation currently holds a homicide rate of 91.8 for every 100,000 people. The hunger crisis and the fact that 82 percent of its population is living in poverty could be linked with the growing rate of crime and violence in Venezuela.

Conditions Leading Up to the Violence

In 2014, Venezuela was struck by an economic recession caused by the decline in oil prices – Venezuela’s primary export. Its biggest shortfall came with the collapse of Venezuela’s currency when the price of imported goods swelled and the country was forced to limit the number of goods brought in. Staples like toilet paper or rice were often impossible to find, and when one did locate them, such essential products were often too expensive to buy. A shortage in even basic medicines and medical supplies began causing serious concerns.

The Borgen Project was fortunate enough to interview Venezuelan national and Ph.D. student, Maria Alemán. She described the scene, “Picture a supermarket or a grocery store when there is a snow storm in one of the southern states. You go in and everything is empty. There is nothing. That’s how it is there 24/7.” This lack of imported goods has created panic and a hunger crisis in Venezuela. With the widespread panic, Venezuela was faced with having to put strict regulations on many goods available for purchase. “If you get to the store and they are regulating an item, let’s say you want to buy two gallons of milk because you have a big family. Well no, if they are only allowing you to buy a gallon, then that is all you get,” Maria explains.

Lack of Jobs and Resources is Creating Chaos

The collapse of Venezuela’s economy affected the job market. Many businesses’ closed or took their business out of the country, leaving families to struggle with the cost of rising food prices with no source of income or not nearly enough income. “People are starving because the price of food is too expensive, even with a monthly salary,” Maria defends. As conditions grew dire and many were met with the challenge of feeding themselves and their families, crime in Venezuela rose at an epidemic rate. The Venezuelan Observatory on Violence (VOV) reported a 14 percent increase in violent crimes from 2012 to 2013. In 2015, 17,778 people were murdered in Venezuela; however, the VOV revealed that those numbers were as high as 27,875.

Maria recalls a shift in the nature of the crimes as desperation fueled robberies with the threat of violence. “Thieves started to go find knives and guns because there was no other way people were going to go and give them their stuff. People got so upset that they had no choice but to start killing people to actually feel threatened. It’s even worse now because people are having to kill to survive.” With no other resources available, the population turned to violence, either in an effort to attain resources or to protect oneself from others trying to take resources.

If things couldn’t seem any worse, the increase in crime and violence running rampant in the streets of Venezuela was a catalyst for the formation of several crime organizations who have taken to exploiting the hunger of young people to get them to participate in criminal activities, which is only adding to the rising crime rate.

Efforts to Decrease Crime and Violence in Venezuela

While Venezuela has implemented a subsidized food program that benefits 87 percent of Venezuelans, it hasn’t done much to slow the hunger-induced crime sprees. Maria says, “people receive boxes from the government with some food products like rice, flour, etc., but not everyone gets the same products in their boxes. The contents of a single box aren’t enough for a family of four.” Clearly, the government needs to find other solutions than providing a small amount of food per family.

Other attempts to alleviate the situation were raising the minimum wage to 34 times the previous amount and minting a new currency (the “sovereign bolivar”) to replace the “strong bolivar.” Unfortunately, new currency or no, businesses cannot afford to pay the new minimum wage set by the government and are laying off employees or, in the worst case scenario, closing down. There have been attempts by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to act as a mediator between the people and the government amidst the protesting, but no demands have been met. Although the situation is bleak, the hopes for successful negotiation may be the only way to end the crisis in Venezuela.

Although crime and violence in Venezuela have been commonplace in the past, current living conditions in Venezuela have escalated the crime to new heights, creating a harsh reality many are facing in order to survive. Without the basic means of survival such as a livable wage, job security and even access to basic resources, Venezuela will continue to see a steadily climbing crime and murder rate.

– Catherine Wilson

Photo: Flickr

Birthplace of the term “banana republic” and victim of the brutal fruit companies-led coup, Honduras is among the countries with the lowest incomes in Latin America, poverty is very pronounced problem in this Central American nation. Despite an economic growth of around 3 percent per annum, the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of the country remains stagnant.

This discrepancy could indicate that there is a widening disparity gap.

In fact, since the coup d’état in 2009, Honduras witnesses the most rapid rise in inequality in Latin America, a factor that contributes to prevailing climate of violence. Equally frustrating, the top 10 percent of the population also earns virtually all of the republic’s real income gains.

Furthermore, the 2009 coup d’état had increased the overall rates of poverty and extreme poverty. This climate of political crisis had reverted the economic advances that took place in the country. In addition, the government of President Porfirio Lobo, who came into power after the post-coup elections of 2010, had reduced social spending despite the boost in public spending.

It is estimated that 71 percent of the 8.3 million Hondurans live in poverty, a major problem that contributes to the frequent instances of violence that plague the nation. Because of this astronomic number of people living in poverty, a large sector of Honduras’ population is also deprived of education.

Only a lucky few can afford any education beyond sixth grade.

What’s more, Honduras has the highest rate of homicide in the world, with the average of 20 people murdered daily, 90 percent of whom are male victims. This frightening data stem from the burgeoning narcotic business, which has given rise to many organized crimes. This epidemic problem of homicides also takes away from the country’s meager income by necessitating the Honduran government to spend 10.5 percent of the national GDP in the combat of violence.

Due to Honduras’ constant history of political instability, there has always been very little opportunity for Honduras to develop democratic institutions to impose the rule of law. Instead, centuries of colonialism and decades of dictatorship have marginalized the poor, leaving them with minimal choices to make a living.

This scarcity of upward economic mobility and grinding poverty have driven many towards illicit ways of earning money.

In its attempt to encourage Honduras to alleviate poverty, the World Bank has suggested the country to support the stability and the growth of its macro-economy as well as to improve the quality of its education. But, these key options to improve the situation of the country are easier said (or suggested) than done. Development and democracy are not phenomena whose advent can be brought about at an instant.

Instead, they require years of institutional and systematic reforms for a society to have a functional democracy and a sustainable development.

 – Peewara Sapsuwan

Sources: El Pais Internacional, El Heraldo, El Heraldo, Los Angeles Times, World Bank, World Bank
Photo: Zimbio