The short answer is no, Venezuela is not safe and you are advised not to plan a trip there. The political atmosphere and economic crisis that have been brewing in Venezuela have led to mass protests and violent clashes with security forces in most major cities. In fact, the capital city, Caracas, was ranked the most violent non-warzone city in the world. While it’s not to say that the whole country is nothing but violence every day, the risk is many regions is severe.
It is our opinion that any benefits of going do not outweigh potential consequences. However, it’s important to understand why.
On February 2, 1999, Hugo Chavez took the oath of office, officially becoming Venezuela’s 62nd president. At the time, much of the country was feeling let down by the political parties that had been in power, and Chavez’s presidency was the start of a new era of socialist policies, along with a change in the Venezuelan constitution. Chavez was seen by the disenchanted working class as a beacon of hope.
During the first few years, Chavez’s government set forth a series of redistribution projects to bring some wealth from the richer areas and into the poorer areas, as well as nationalization campaigns of various businesses. By 2002, the military had already staged a coup d’etat against the government. Chavez was taken into military custody, but when the interim regime collapsed, he regained control.
In 2006, Chavez won his third term as president. By 2009, the congress had voted to abolish all term limits on politicians, and in 2012, Chavez won his fourth term as president with only 54% of the vote, and by then, inflation in Venezuela had become so out of control that government had to place price controls on most basic goods available. Hugo Chavez only made it months into his fourth term before he passed away.
Following President Chavez’s death, Nicolas Maduro (Chavez’s chosen successor) took over as interim president until he won the election the next month by a narrow margin. Within a year of Maduro’s election, the inflation crisis grew to the point where the president was given emergency powers for a year to control the inflation, by this point at 50%.
In the first year of Maduro’s presidency, protesters took to the streets in the states of Merida and Tachira to protest the poor security in those areas. The government broke up the protest, accusing them of staging a coup, and in the ensuing violence, nearly 30 people were killed.
During 2015, Maduro cut public spending and his government charged opposition party members and leaders of coup attempts and assassination attempts, causing Antonio Ledezma, the opposition mayor of Caracas to accuse the Maduro government of stifling any criticism against the president.
In 2016, the president devalued the currency as an effort to combat the growing economic crisis, however, many Venezuelans felt that Maduro was guilty of causing the crisis to begin with and took the streets in protest and to demand Maduro’s resignation. Protests and clashes continued through the year in an attempt to call for the elections to be pushed up. Many of these became violent, resulting in several deaths.
Due to the hyperinflation, resources throughout the country are scarce and buying basic necessities including food is a daily struggle. Grocery stores are quickly emptied and malnutrition is rampant. Recently, Venezuela began to experience infant deaths due to malnutrition. The Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Association stated in 2015 that up to 85% of basic medications were unavailable in the country and hospitals lack what they need. Infant mortality rates rose 30% in 2016. Venezuelans who have the means are fleeing by the hundreds, seeking refuge abroad.
What this Means for a Traveler
Mass protests and clashes are occurring with more frequency since 2016, and in 2017, an estimated 124 people were killed during protests.
Crime such as robberies and muggings have almost become commonplace. For foreigners, in particular, this is even more of a risk. Foreigners tend to be perceived as having wealth and being able to avoid the incredibly high prices of the goods with foreign money, making you a target. Kidnappings have also become more common, in fact, the rate of kidnappings nearly doubled in 2016 alone. Most of the time, these kidnappings revolve around getting the victim to hand over bank information or empty their bank account. Carjackings are known to happen in major cities, as well. Carjackers will bump the victim’s car from behind and then attack.
Many Venezuelans won’t leave their homes at night, and often in the day will walk in groups. If you as a foreigner choose to go to Venezuela, even in the day, it is commonly advised that you do not walk around alone, and only go if you have a Venezuelan friend who can show you around.
While there are groups who travel in Venezuela and do not encounter any harm and you won’t be stopped from hopping on a flight to Caracas, it is highly recommended that you do not go. Just because crime did not happen to one group of backpackers does not necessarily mean it won’t happen to you. The situation is escalating and people are desperate. In desperate situations, people can resort to desperate needs, including violence if need be. Should things become worse and something happens to you as a foreigner, it could become very difficult or dangerous.