In a country where money loses its value and hunger is on the rise, food has become a hot commodity. And in Venezuela, which is currently experiencing hyperinflation, this situation has led to an increase in “hunger crimes,” according to a report in the Miami Herald

The situation has become so dire that criminal gangs are recruiting new members not with money or luxury goods, but with food baskets, according to the Herald. 

“This is a new phenomenon because it’s something that we never had in this country, crimes committed because of hunger,” Roberto Briceño León, director of the Venezuelan Observatory for Violence (VOV), told the Herald. 

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The country’s economic collapse that began in 2013 has led to rising food insecurity, malnutrition, and infant and maternal mortality. 

Caritas, a Catholic charity that operates in Latin America, found that child malnutrition topped 11% in four states, and warned of an imminent “humanitarian crisis.” Venezuela’s infant mortality rate increased by 100 times between 2014 and 2015, according to the New York Times

In August, the Independent reported that at least 10 zoo animals were reportedly stolen from the Zulia Metropolitan Zoological Park in Maracaibo — and presumably eaten. 

Image: Flickr/Wilfredorrh

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Violence levels have also sharply increased as the economic downturn has worsened. 

Although the Venezuelan government does not provide statistics on violence in the country, the VOV has estimated that there were 28,479 violent deaths in 2016, which would be second only to El Salvador worldwide.

Image: Flickr/andresAzp

Its newest report indicates that crimes have been increasingly committed by people with no previous criminal record, and that gangs have used food to bait young people into joining them. 

“The recruitment techniques, the bait that in the past used to be fashion or luxury goods, have been replaced by the offer of basic food items,” the report reads, according to the Herald. “[C]rime gangs are gaining ground in conquering thousands of youths who are joining in the violence and whose destiny is death, prison and the frustration of so many dreams and hopes forged by their families and communities.” 

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The report, which can be found here in Spanish, also notes that four in five Venezuelans now live below the poverty line and more than half of families live in extreme poverty. This is an increase of 34% since 1998, according to the Economist

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, including goal number two: zero hunger. You can join us and take action here

The International Monetary Fund has warned that inflation could increase by another %1,000 in Venezuela in 2018, pitching the country further into a humanitarian crisis. 


Defeat Poverty

Venezuelan Gangs Are Using Food to Recruit Children

By Phineas Rueckert