Thursday, September 11, 2014

Spate of Dismembered Bodies Sign of Prison Culture on the Streets

Violent crime in Venezuela has taken a gory turn as a spate of dismembered bodies has turned up around the country, their detached heads and limbs often scattered far away.

Forensics analysts say six victims' body parts have been found in the past two months, a disconcerting trend in a country that already has 70 murders a day, according to researchers -- one of the world's highest homicide rates.

Police have also registered a recent rash of other macabre crimes: women stabbed to death by their partners; a man shot in the face while walking with his baby; and a son who slit his parents' throats.

Edgardo Buscaglia, a social policy expert at Columbia University in New York, said the brutal violence is the product of a government that has been "paralyzed in its capacity to confront the criminal networks operating in the country." He said the weakness of the Venezuelan state mired in economic woes ranging from rampant inflation to chronic shortages of basic goods -- has enabled foreign criminal networks to infiltrate the country, including from Mexico and Colombia, two nations plagued by ultra-violent drug crime.

Even Venezuelan Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez has acknowledged the gravity of the problem, condemning the "Colombianization" of organized crime. Rodriguez said police had dismantled 255 criminal networks and captured 13,000 criminals from May 2013 to August 2014, but that 92 "highly dangerous" gangs remained.

One victim was Yesenia Mujica, a 22-year-old student, whose dismembered body was thrown in a trash can in Caracas, where a group of homeless people found it. No one has been arrested in the case.

Criminologist Fermin Marmol Garcia told AFP that dismemberment tends to occur in cases of drug addiction or crimes of passion. In Venezuela, the practice was "unusual" in the past, but has grown more common recently, he said. Killers have also begun dumping their victims in a widening range of sites. "Criminals feel confident that the likelihood of being detained by the authorities with a body in the car is very low," Marmol said.

One theory for the increase in dismemberment crimes is that prison culture has permeated the street, bringing with it a brutal code under which "pranes," or prison gang leaders, and their entourage can condemn opponents to death and dismemberment for breaking their rules, Marmol said.

An alternative theory is that new youth gangs are striving to make their mark on a crowded criminal market by demonstrating their brutality and fearlessness, he said.

According to government figures, Venezuela has 39 homicides a year per 100,000 inhabitants. But researchers put the rate -- 100 percent higher -- at 79.

President Nicolas Maduro's government has faced mounting anger over crime and chronic shortages, which exploded into violent protests earlier this year. The South American country has the world's largest oil reserves, but is struggling to sustain its lavish subsidy programs and rigid foreign currency controls.

Roberto Briceno Leon, the head of Venezuelan Violence Watch, said the government had left a vacuum in the fight against crime. "We have a society with much more violence, aggravated by the absence of a state response to the situation, tremendous impunity -- 95 percent -- and criminals' noticeable awareness that nothing is going to be done to them," he told AFP.

Maduro's government has unveiled plans in the past five months to increase police patrols in the most violent cities and break up organized crime networks. But the new policies have had little visible impact so far.

Thanks to Jamaica Observer.

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