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During one of the worst crime spikes in Venezuela’s history, mobs are increasingly taking the law into their own hands. The South American nation has experienced 74 instances of killings by citizen mobs during the first four months of 2016, compared to two during the entirety of 2015.
The heightened violence has been spurred by frustration that police and the justice system are not reacting appropriately to an increase in criminal activity, which has been caused by economic inflation, food and fuel shortages, along with political upheaval.
Last year, 268,000 people in the nation were charged with crimes ranging from robbery to murder, three times more than the year before. Despite this, only one in 10 were sentenced. According to The Associated Press: “Robberies are so rarely investigated that most victims don’t bother to file a report, government surveys have found. And while police used to make 118 arrests for every 100 murders, they now make just eight [for every 100].”
All of this has pushed citizens to act. According to one poll, the majority of Venezuelans believe that citizens have the moral right to claim their own retribution for crimes committed against them.
In one such scenario reported by AP, a man was chased down the street in Caracas for stealing five dollars from an elderly man. A mob pursued the perpetrator until they caught him, beat him to the ground, doused his head and chest with fuel, and lit him on fire. He was hospitalized with severe wounds and died two days later.
Vigilante activity in Venezuela, once one of the safest and richest nations in Latin America, has significantly changed the quality of life for citizens.
“Life here has become a misery,” Roberto Briceno-Leon, director of the Violence Observatory, told AP. “You walk around always stressed, always scared, and lynching offers a collective catharsis. You can’t do anything about the…inflation, but for one moment, at least, the mob feels like it’s making a difference.”