Sunday, December 1, 2013

Venezuela: US Department of State Updates Its Travel Warning by Sharing Sobering Data

Effective November 22, 2013, The US Department of State has updated issued this Travel Warning to inform US citizens about the security situation in Venezuela.

For nearly 20 years, the capital of Venezuela, Caracas (population 2.1 million), The US Department of State has rated the criminal threat level in Caracas as “Critical,” its highest threat level on a four-tier scale of "Critical, High, Medium and Low." 

Much of Caracas’s crime and violence can be attributed to mobile street gangs and organized crime groups. A number of factors explain the pervasive criminality in Caracas, including a poorly paid, under-armed, and often corrupt police force; an inefficient and politicized judicial system; a system of violent and overcrowded prisons, frequently managed with impunity by prison gang leaders themselves; and (according to some sources) as many as six million illegal weapons spread out across the country.

Crime in Venezuela is pervasive, both in the capital, Caracas, and in the interior. According to the non-governmental organization, Venezuelan Violence Observatory (VVO), there were 21,692 homicides in Venezuela in 2012, amounting to a rate of 73 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, among the highest in the world. 

In Caracas, the homicide rate is even higher at 122 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.  

Kidnappings are also a serious concern throughout the country. In 2012, 583 kidnappings were reported to authorities, although unreported abductions are estimated to represent roughly 80%  the  actual reporting.

In addition, there is cross-border violence, kidnappings, drug trafficking, and smuggling along Venezuela’s western border.  

The Department of State considers the criminal threat to US government personnel in Venezuela sufficiently serious to require them to live and work under strict security restrictions. All US direct-hire personnel and their families assigned to the US Embassy in Caracas are subject to an embassy movement policy for their safety and well-being. The policy divides Caracas into three zones: Yellow, Orange and Red.  

Movements into the Orange Zone between the hours of 08oo hours and 0600 hours are not recommended. If US personnel choose to visit the Orange Zone during those hours, they must notify the Embassy when entering and upon departing the zone. In addition, US personnel must request armored vehicles to transit the Orange Zone between midnight and 0600 hours.

Unofficial (i.e., personal) visits to the Red Zone are prohibited, and US personnel are only authorized to transit the Red Zone on personal travel during daylight hours, provided they remain on one of the city’s highways. If a trip includes movement through the Red Zone, US personnel must notify the Embassy. Furthermore, U.S. personnel are required to leave public establishments, regardless of zone, by 0200 hours. These practices limit, and may occasionally prevent, access by US Embassy officials to certain areas of Caracas and the interior of the country.  

In addition, all US direct-hire personnel and their family members who are assigned to the US Embassy are required to take an armored vehicle when traveling to/from Maiquetía Airport.  

US citizens should be vigilant of their surroundings at all times and in all locations, especially when entering or exiting their homes, hotels, cars, garages, schools, and workplaces. Whenever possible, US citizens should travel in groups of two or more persons; avoid wearing jewelry and carrying large sums of money or displaying cash, ATM/credit cards, mobile phones, or other valuables; and avoid walking at night in most areas of Venezuela or walking alone on beaches, historic ruins, and trails. 

Incidents of crime along inter-city roads, including carjacking and kidnapping, are common in Venezuela. Motorists should avoid traveling at night and always drive with their doors locked to deter potential robberies at traffic lights and on congested city streets. 

For the actual text of the Department's updated travel warning, see: