The gruesome discovery last Thursday, May 11, of the brutal murders of fashion designer Carolina Herrera’s 34-year-old nephew, Reinaldo José Herrera Sánchez, and his 31-year-old associate, Fabrizio Alberto Mendoza, just outside Caracas has given a high-profile face to the swelling incidence of gang violence and mass assassinations in Venezuela.
Venezuela, once known as the Land of Grace, now has one of the highest murder rates in the world, registering 70 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2016, making Caracas the deadliest city on Earth.
(As a point of comparison, the murder rate in United States is less than five per 100,000.)
Spiraling sky-high inflation (now at a whopping 500 percent), severe food shortages, the total collapse of the country’s health and education systems, mounting social unrest and political uncertainty have transformed the once-prosperous Latin American nation into a hornet’s nest of corruption and violence.
The indexes of lawlessness and organized crime are at the highest levels in the country’s history.
Entirely new forms of criminality have emerged in the country’s prisons, armed forces and street gangs since the communist shadow of Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro first darkened Venezuela’s social order in 1999.
Armed, paramilitary vigilantes known as colectivos that Chávez promoted to defend socialist values have since gone rogue and turned into roving bands of extortionists and racketeers demanding protection money from small businesses and individuals.
Rampant corruption has infiltrated every level of government and drained the nation’s public coffers to the paint that many government employees have not received pay checks in months.
Venezuela’s law enforcers have become lawbreakers, often masterminding the widespread kidnappings.
And the country’s military have taken on the role of government intimidators and coercers.
Nearly a dozen of Maduro’s cabinet members have been sanctioned or indicted by the U.S. government for their links to illegal drug trafficking.
Even the country’s new vice president, Tareck El Aissami, has been tied to international cocaine sales.
Looting and armed robbery are now commonplace and former upstanding citizens are turning to crime just to survive.
Nearly three-quarters of Venezuelans don’t know where their next meal is coming from, despite the fact that the country boasts the world’s largest proven oil reserves.
The last reported murder rate was equivalent to the civilian casualty rate in 2004 Iraq.
The streets of Caracas are now a lawless no-man’s bedlam, and anarchy and violence dominate every aspect of Venezuelan life.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected].