Crime is so bad in Venezuela that even soldiers were ordered to avoid driving at night

In this file photo, soldiers stand atop an armored vehicle at the entrance of Fort Tiuna in Caracas, Venezuela, in 2017.
In this file photo, soldiers stand atop an armored vehicle at the entrance of Fort Tiuna in Caracas, Venezuela, in 2017. AP

In crime-ridden Venezuela, the country's soldiers have been ordered to avoid traveling at night, using their cellphones in their cars and showing their military IDs.

The order, a “radiogram” obtained by el Nuevo Herald and confirmed by two retired generals, reflects the armed forces' concerns over the risks its personnel run on the streets of Venezuela, one of the most violent countries in the world.

Unlike other countries, members of the military in Venezuela attract thieves rather than scaring them away, said Antonio Rivero, one of the retired generals who confirmed the veracity of the document.

“This is a totally contradictory situation,” Rivero added. The document “admits that not even security officials, who should be armed … are safe in Venezuela.”

An estimated 282 police, soldiers, guards and other security personnel have been killed by criminals so far this year, according to the Due Process Foundation (DPF), a non-governmental organization that monitors crime.

The radiogram issued early this month by Adm. Remigio Ceballos, head of the armed forces' Strategic Operational command, orders all personnel to avoid driving at night.

It also bars them from places “of dubious reputation” or that pose a risk to their personal safety.

The soldiers and officers should also avoid “nighttime risks, using ATMs outside of shopping centers,” making “unnecessary stops” and “using cellphones” while driving — especially when stopped at traffic lights.

Hinting at the additional risks that military personnel run, Ceballos also ordered them to keep their military IDs separate from their personal documents.

“This measure is designed to avoid being identified as military personnel if approached by anti-social elements,” the order explained.

DPF spokesperson Donnagee Sandoval said that criminals have been targeting military personnel “to take their weapons, if not to carry out some vengeance.”

Robberies have become increasingly violent in Venezuela, and experts warn that the high number of unsolved cases has created a culture among criminals to shoot first and steal later.

Venezuelan journalist Doricer Alvarado released video showing pro-government group members taking the belongings of an unconscious protester.

About 28,480 Venezuelans were murdered in 2016, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, giving the country a rate of 91.8 homicides per 100,000 people, compared to the U.S. rate of 5 per 100,000.

Javier Ignacio Mayorca, a journalist who has long investigated crime in Venezuela, said authorities already knew about the increased risks for security personnel.

“What's new here is the order,” Mayorca said from Caracas. “What they are doing is admitting to the existence of a problem. And that's interesting because to the outside world, the government insists that crime has dropped, that the problem is under control.”

Several reports had already pointed out that police and soldiers faced higher risks when they were off duty, especially if they were young.

That's why police have already banned agents with less than five years of service from carrying their weapons while off duty and even when on administrative duties.

But the military did not like that idea. “The armed forces did not follow suit because they determined that the weapon must go with the soldier, everywhere and at all times,” said Mayorca.

The order obtained by el Nuevo Herald shows they now realize they have a problem, he added.

Follow Antonio María Delgado on Twitter:@DelgadoAntonioM