Civil Unrest and Border Safety in Venezuela

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For hundreds of years Venezuela has traveled a rocky political road. Bloody coups, civil wars, violent demonstrations and paralyzing strikes all feature in its history – even up to the present day.

Aerial view of a bauxite mine in Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela Photo © Getty Images/apomares

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This is after all a country with significant levels of poverty - 30 per cent of the population live on less than $2 a day. It also has extremely high levels of crime.

Unstable and corrupt

There is significant opposition to current controversial President, Hugo Chavez that sometimes spills over into confrontation.

On top of this Venezuela has been ranked as one of the most corrupt countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index since the survey started in 1995. In 2010 it ranked a woeful 164, out of 178 countries.

There have been two reasons for this historically - oil and cocaine.

Due to its proximity to major drug-producing regions, such as the country to its west, Columbia, Venezuela is a significant route for drug trafficking.

Colombian cocaine and other drugs transit through Venezuela towards the United States and Europe. Because of this, Venezuela ranks fourth in the world for cocaine seizures, behind only Colombia, the United States, and Panama.

Dodgy borders

Because of that drug trade and risks from terrorist groups and cross-border political tension it is advisable to give this border region an 80 kilometer wide birth - particularly in the border states of Bolivar, Amazonas, Apure, Tachira, Zulia and Barinas.

Cross-border violence, kidnapping, drug trafficking, smuggling, and cattle-rustling occur frequently in these areas.

Colombian terrorist groups, such as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and ELN (Colombia's National Liberation Army), and narcotic gangs are active along Venezuela's border with Colombia, Brazil and Guyana.

Kidnapping for ransom in these areas has resulted in the death of victims, including foreigners.

Common criminals are also increasingly involved in kidnappings, either dealing with victim's families directly or selling the victim to terrorist groups.

As well as being kidnapped you could also be arrested by the Venezuelan military as they regularly conduct search and arrest operations to maintain law and order in border regions.

Troop movements and border closures could occur at short notice.

Stay informed, stay safe

Even away from the border regions it is wise to stay alert to political unrest.

Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

Prior notice of demonstrations is often included in the local English language newspaper Daily Journal. National strikes can be called at short notice, causing disruptions to air travel, public transport and banking facilities.

Be particularly vigilant during days of national or commemorative significance as the likelihood of civil unrest may increase.

Obviously you should avoid any demonstrations and protests throughout the country given their potential to turn violent.

Be aware that violence, including exchanges of gunfire and tear gas, has occurred at political demonstrations in the past.

Demonstrations tend to occur at or near university campuses, business centers, and gathering places such as public squares and plazas.

The city of Merida, a major tourist destination in the Andes, has been the scene of frequent demonstrations, some of them violent. This violence has included the use of firearms and tear gas.

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