Written by Venezuela Investigative Unit
More than ten percent of extortion and kidnapping cases recorded in Venezuela involve members of the police and military, demonstrating the country’s continuing struggle with criminality in the security forces.
Of the nearly 5,200 cases investigated during Attorney General Tarek William Saab’s two years in office, 559 security officials have been investigated for these crimes and 339 have been charged, Saab said in an October 23 news conference.
Saab said that 372 officials have been jailed, emphasizing that they were given no preferential treatment. He used the address to call on citizens to report such crimes.
The figures are similar to those given in a December 2018 overview, in which he announced that 463 police officials had been charged with extortion or kidnapping during his first 15 months in office, nearly 17 percent of the 2,749 total cases.
Venezuela has taken several recent measures to combat crimes such as kidnapping. Nearly 200 public forums were held on the issue during 2018. In August 2019, it was announced that an extra 600 officers would be deployed to tackle the problem.
Vice minister for the interior, Humberto Ramírez, claimed that such measures had achieved a 40 percent reduction in kidnappings from 2018. Yet there may also be fewer potential victims, due to the mass migration of Venezuelans fleeing the country’s economic collapse.
InSight Crime Analysis
Despite Venezuela’s well-publicized efforts to tackle kidnapping and extortion, the reports of progress belie the high numbers of public officials involved in such offenses.
Independent monitors suggest that kidnapping in Venezuela has increased 1,300 percent in the nearly two decades since late President Hugo Chávez came to power. During Chávez’s presidency, corrupt security officials began operating kidnapping gangs, using police intelligence to target, capture and extort their victims.
Following Venezuela’s economic collapse, officials have taken to partnering with criminal gangs in the commission of kidnappings. Frequently, the gangs commit the kidnapping itself, while policemen negotiate the ransoms.
Meanwhile, victims often don’t report such crime crimes, fearing corrupt police and security officials. Experts consulted by ABC report that victims frequently flee the country rather than go to authorities.
Kidnapping and extortion are not the only crimes to be exacerbated by official participation. A 2018 study by the Venezuelan Organized Crime Observatory suggested that 14 percent of all crimes in Venezuela involved public officials, primarily members of the police and military.
Drug trafficking, in particular, is facilitated by state corruption. In 2018, InSight Crime identified 123 senior officials with suspected links to drug trafficking. This impunity appears to run down the ranks.
In 2018, Saab reported that 105 security officials were under investigation for drug trafficking, of which only 12 had been convicted. His 2019 address did not include figures on the issue.