Over the years it appears that various Latin-American countries have vied for the title of most violent. It used to be Columbia’s dubious title when the drug cartels were running things. The Medellín Cartel got more newscast mentions than any elected Columbian official. These cocaine dealers, driven by greed, were renowned for their cold-blooded approach to achieving their goal. More recently the drug cartels have moved north to Mexico and may have surpassed the levels of violence once found in Bogota and now infesting the towns right along the US border.
Savage though they may be in their activities, the reason for the violence is simple to figure out – money. The vast US drug market is within touching distance so it is only natural, certainly not nice, that this insidious business would take place so close to the border.
The latest country to be slapped with the ‘most violent’ moniker is Venezuela. The recent murders of former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear and her Irish ex-husband have focused the world’s attention on the skyrocketing levels of violent crime in the country. Interestingly arrests have been made in this high-profile case while hundreds of other violent crimes, including murders, are never solved (one wonders if they are even investigated).
Were Ms. Spear and her family (sadly her five-year old daughter was a witness to the murder of her parents) involved in some sort of illegal activity? Were they trafficking narcotics when they were shot? Had they started an Irish-Venezuelan cartel to import bootleg potatoes to spud-deprived Venezuela? Of course not, they were merely visiting family over the Christmas holidays when their lives were taken in a robbery gone bad.
By most accounts Venezuela is a beautiful country and Venezuelans are often described as being friendly, sociable, fun people who love their country but perhaps not its current leadership. Why would a country with vast reserves of oil, a member of OPEC in fact, become one of the most dangerous places?
The amateur sociologist in me believes the answer lies in the culture of corruption that has long gripped Venezuela. Corruption leads to short-cuts; why worry about renewing your driver’s license when you can just pay-off any cop who stops you. No need to spend a lot of time in school getting a degree when the guy down the street prints diplomas in his basement and sells them or when you can learn the tricks of the kidnap-express trade on the street in no time at all.
Am I implying that all Venezuelans are crooked? Nothing could be farther than the truth. But many of those who believe in the ‘normal’ way of life – getting an education or training, working for a living, even paying taxes – leave the country for places where this is the way to live.
When it comes to getting money, what’s the ultimate short-cut? Robbery of course; at gunpoint if necessary. And what if things go wrong and someone gets killed? Well, as one young Venezuelan ex-pat put it recently in this blog, life has become very cheap in his homeland.