A car crushed by a police tank during armed confrontations between gang members and police in Caracas, July 12, 2021.

Gun battles between police and gangs this month kept many Caracas residents sheltered in place for hours.
The violence comes amid a deep economic crisis and a protracted breakdown of the rule of law in Venezuela.
The rising insecurity in the capital city is another sign of President Nicolas Maduro’s eroding control over the country.

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CARACAS (Reuters) – “Leave the area! Get the kids out!” screamed gang members walking through western Caracas’ El Cementerio barrio with megaphones the morning of Thursday, July 8. The warning told residents in Venezuela’s capital shooting would not soon stop.

By then barrio residents had already been sheltering in place for more than half a day, whole families prone on the floor to avoid unrelenting gunfire. But for the next 48 hours, El Cementerio and five nearby neighborhoods were paralyzed by an unprecedented display of firepower by gangs, known by neighbors as “the boys.”

The pitched gun battles between police and a collection of gangs at least 300-strong based in a cluster of barrios in western Caracas are another sign President Nicolas Maduro is losing control over parts of Venezuela, which is suffering from a deep economic crisis and a protracted breakdown of the rule of law.

A similar process is taking place in border states, where Colombian rebels meting out justice in rural areas spent weeks battling Venezuelan troops in standoffs that killed a dozen of soldiers and forced thousands of residents to flee. In Venezuela’s interior local gangs also control territory and set laws.

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“It is becoming more evident that Maduro is losing control in and out of Caracas,” said Alexander Campos, a researcher at the Central University of Venezuela who studies violence and politics. “The capacity and ambition of criminal groups from gangs to guerrillas is growing.”

Wanted posters for members of El Koki’s criminal gang seen after armed confrontations in Caracas’ Cota 905 neighborhood, July 12, 2021.

Security experts say violent police operations that Maduro launched in 2015, dubbed “Operation Liberation of the People,” helped consolidate groups of rival gangs initially operating out of the Cota 905 neighborhood and nearby areas by giving them a common enemy. Rights groups said it led to hundreds of extrajudicial killings. Violence persisted.

In 2017 the gangs struck a deal with the government to operate without police in certain sectors in exchange for lowering violence. Streets became safer, residents said.

But the gangs became even more powerful through increased drug trafficking and targeting children as recruits, according to residents, who say the gangs are now armed with grenades and assault rifles.

Gang members curried favor by handing out food and hosting parties with slaughtered pigs and live music amid the country’s devastating economic crisis, residents say.

Teenagers outfitted with short-wave radios earn about $100 a week – more than 30 times the minimum wage – to man checkpoints on most corners of the neighborhood, said Jose …read more

Source:: Business Insider

      

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