An increase in cattle rustling across Venezuela has been driven by the joint involvement of public officials and criminal groups, with ranchers sounding the alarm about how this criminal economy is spreading seemingly unchecked.
New videos emerged on July 26 showing cattle being stolen from ranches in the northern state of Carabobo, as well as some animals being shot dead allegedly because the ranchers refused to make extortion payments.
An investigation published earlier in July by Venezuelan media Alberto News reported that senior agricultural officials were behind cattle rustling in Carabobo, including the former president of Venezuela’s National Land Institute (Instituto Nacional de Tierras) and the sitting regional director of the National Institute of Integral Agricultural Health (Instituto Nacional de Salud Agrícola Integral).
In the eastern state of Anzoátegui, ranchers are reporting that cattle theft has soared this year.
“Between 2017 and 2022, cattle rustling was rare in the area. It happened about once a month. In 2023, the frequency has increased and now it happens every week,” rancher Marvin González told El Pitazo.
Ranchers in Anzoátegui blamed a criminal alliance between the thieves and local officials who protect them. They are illegally granting permits to transport meat of unknown origin in containers, in passenger buses, or in private vehicles, González said.
In the state of Apure, up to 150 families in a ranching community have been allegedly persecuted by a network of army, police, and government officials. In the municipality of Pedro Camejo, the local administration has reportedly been illegally seizing cattle from ranches, with security officials arresting those who register complaints and making them pay large sums of money to be freed.
Along the border, Colombian guerrilla groups, such as the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), dominate cattle rustling, bringing hundreds of thousands of cows into Colombia every year.
“Approximately 700,000 cattle end up in smuggling or rustling each year. We estimate that there are 11 million heads of cattle in Venezuela, so we are talking about 7% lost to this crime,” Armando Chacín, president of the National Federation of Cattle Ranchers (Federación Nacional de Ganaderos – Fedenaga), told InSight Crime.
InSight Crime Analysis
The participation of state officials has taken cattle rustling in Venezuela to new levels, making it easier for criminal groups and corrupt actors to steal livestock and prevent ranchers from seeking justice.
A recent report by Transparencia Venezuela showed that state actors are using their position to facilitate cattle theft and protect thieves by allowing farm land to be illegally seized and sold off or enabling the extortion of ranchers.
Venezuela’s Attorney General’s Office appointed a special prosecutor to investigate cattle rustling in Carabobo. This is part of a broader campaign the Venezuelan government claims to be making against cattle theft. According to the state-owned newspaper El Correo del Orinoco, more than 500 cattle rustling groups have been dismantled in Venezuela, although the article does not specify over what time period.
While the full involvement of government officials in cattle rustling is unclear, the participation of the Venezuelan state in numerous criminal economies is commonplace, including drug trafficking, illegal gold mining, human smuggling, and contraband.
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