Is Venezuela a safe place to visit?
Venezuela and its capital, Caracas, have among the highest per capita murder rates in the world. According to the VVO, a rate of 122 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in the Capital District and a rate of 100 per 100,000 inhabitants in the state of Miranda, which incorporates most of the greater Caracas metropolitan area, were recorded in 2012.As noted above, the vast majority of murders and other violent crimes go unsolved. Armed criminal gangs often operate with impunity throughout the urban areas. Poor neighborhoods that cover the hills around Caracas are extremely dangerous. These "barrios" are seldom patrolled by police and should be avoided. They are off limits to U.S. Embassy employees.Armed robberies are common in urban and tourist areas throughout Venezuela, even areas presumed safe and visited by tourists. Crimes committed against travelers are usually economic crimes, such as theft and armed robbery. Incidents occur during daylight hours as well as at night. Many criminals are armed with guns or knives and will use force. Jewelry of all sorts, even inexpensive but flashy jewelry, and expensive electronics attract the attention of thieves. Travelers are advised to leave jewelry items, including expensive-looking wristwatches, at home. Gangs of thieves will often surround their victims and use a chokehold to disable them, even in crowded market areas where there is little or no police presence. Theft from hotel rooms and safe deposit boxes is a problem, and theft of unattended valuables on the beach and from cars parked near isolated areas or on city streets is a common occurrence. A guarded garage or locked trunk is not a guarantee against theft. Pickpockets concentrate in and around crowded bus and subway stations in downtown Caracas. Subway escalators are favored sites for "bump and rob" petty thefts by roving bands of young criminals. Many of these criminals are well dressed to allay suspicion and to blend in with crowds using the subways during rush hour. Travelers should not display money or valuables.
Kidnappings: Kidnappings, including "express kidnappings" in which victims are seized in an attempt to get quick cash in exchange for their release, are a serious problem. One common practice is for kidnappers to follow potential victims into building garages and kidnap them at gunpoint, although the majority of kidnappings occur while traveling in vehicles. Kidnappings of U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals from homes, hotels, unauthorized taxis and the airport terminal do occur, and are more frequently being reported to the embassy. As a recent example, in March 2012, a U.S. citizen, currently residing in Caracas was traveling home in his vehicle when he was overtaken and then blocked by a single vehicle. Several armed men exited the blocking vehicle and forced the victim out of his car and into a separate vehicle. The kidnappers held the victim while driving throughout Caracas conducting other kidnappings and robberies. The victim was eventually released unharmed.“Virtual kidnappings,” in which scam surveys are conducted to collect contact information on minors, which is then used to call parents for ransoms without the children being taken, and “inside kidnappings,” in which domestic employees are being paid large sums of money for keys and information in order to enter and kidnap children for ransom, have also been reported to the embassy. U.S. citizens should be alert to their surroundings and take necessary precautions.
The Embassy also has received reports of robberies during nighttime and early morning hours on the highways around and leading to Caracas. Reports have specifically involved cars being forced off the La Guaira highway leading from Caracas to the Maiquetía International Airport, and the "Regional del Centro" highway leading from Caracas to Maracay/Valencia. Once the victims are stopped on the side of the road they are robbed. The Embassy recommends avoiding driving at night and in the early morning when possible.
Police responsiveness and effectiveness in Venezuela vary drastically but generally do not meet U.S. expectations. U.S. travelers have reported robberies and other crimes committed against them by individuals wearing uniforms and purporting to be police officers or National Guard members. Police investigations into kidnappings have revealed that police officers have been involved, and corruption within police forces is a concern. U.S. citizens are encouraged to stay away from police activity, as they may be handling an investigation of a crime.
The Embassy is aware of several instances where women lured U.S. men to Venezuela after establishing “relationships” with them over the Internet. Some of these men were robbed shortly after they arrived in Venezuela. Others were recruited to act as narcotics couriers or “drug mules.” In three instances, the U.S. citizens were arrested at the airport with narcotics in their possession and served extended jail terms in Venezuela.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, you may be breaking local Venezuelan law, too.
Incidents of piracy off the coast of Venezuela remain a concern. While the majority of reports involve local fisherman, foreigners have been targeted in previous years. Some of these attacks have been especially violent, including the murder of a U.S. citizen on his boat in November 2008 and the killing of a French yachter in September 2008. Previous violent attacks include the severe beating of a U.S. citizen in 2002, the fatal shooting of an Italian citizen in January 2004, and a machete attack on a U.S. citizen in 2005. U.S. citizen yachters should note that anchoring off shore is not considered safe. Marinas, including those in Puerto la Cruz and Margarita Island (Porlamar), provide only minimal security, and U.S. citizens should exercise a heightened level of caution in Venezuelan waters. Public safety announcements, directives and specific information concerning piracy can be found at the U.S. Coast Guard Homeport website. Boaters may also consult the U.S. Coast Guard website for additional information on sailing in Venezuela.
In addition to security concerns, yachters should be aware of registration and other required permits in order to anchor in Venezuelan marinas. U.S. citizens docking in Venezuela are strongly encouraged to check with local authorities regarding the proper documentation for their vessels and themselves.
Furthermore, rules governing the sale of fuel to foreign sailors in Venezuela vary by state. U.S. citizen yachters should inquire about specific state procedures prior to attempting to purchase fuel in any given location.
Private aircraft companies and operators are strongly encouraged to consult with the Venezuelan Civil Aeronautical National Institute regarding current Venezuelan laws and regulations, such as those pertaining to tail markings, registrations, and other required authorizations. Failure to comply with national or local requirements can result in arrest and criminal charges, as well as property seizures.