Travel Safety in Caracas – Business Travel Considerations
Caracas – A City In Turmoil
With a murder rate of 58.1 per 100,000 residents, Venezuela is now one of the most violent countries on the planet, the capital Caracas itself is now believed to be the new homicide hub, closely followed by another Central American city, San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Local Venezuelan authorities are struggling to convince both visitors and investors that it is safe to conduct business in the country.
An analysis of the recent tragic murder of an Egyptian businessman by a criminal gang on motorcycles outside the ‘Simon Bolivar Maiquetia’ International Airport, Caracas reveals that the businessman was killed whilst attempting to resist his attackers’ demands for his possessions. This has yet again led the country’s authorities to reassess the security of travelers, and how much of an individual’s safety can be assured by their security forces and agencies. In this incident there is also a broader concern as to how the assailants were tipped off so quickly to the specifics of the valuable property the victim was carrying. He had been subject to a search on arrival in-country, and there is rumor that customs officials may have tipped the criminals off after identifying the traveler was carrying large sums of money, though this is purely speculation at this stage.
Minimizing Risk in Caracas
What can be done by the business traveler, and the company for which they work, to help minimize the risk of criminal actions when visiting Venezuela? Although the United States has enacted various sanctions and control measures, there remains significant reward for businesses conducting business in Venezuela. It is therefore necessary that businesses adopt security protocol commensurate with risk and implement deliberate and sensible security measures.
Unfortunately, one’s safety can never be truly guaranteed when abroad and as such considerable resource is frequently allocated in order to keep staff safe when abroad. Corporations need to constantly risk assess travel plans, balance budget against their duty of care responsibilities to their staff who travel, and simply consider the risk and reward aspect to the trip.
It is wise to remember to do your homework on the country you are traveling to before you go, identify the risks that one may encounter and have a contingency plan for potential crisis-risk scenarios and business continuity. For instance, one of the more basic issues faced is, ‘if I lose my passport, or it gets stolen, where do I go to get a new one, but more importantly how do I get there safely and should I utilize public transport? Venezuela is currently undergoing serious GSM issues and foreign cell phone calls are sometimes not possible, public transport is increasingly dangerous due to the high risk of express kidnap (a form of short-term kidnap often involving violent abduction in a vehicle), and access to cash is potentially very problematic.
As corruption and opportunistic crime is a growing area of concern in Venezuela, keep a low profile as much as possible even when going through the arrivals section of the airport. Keep your clothing conservative, try not to travel with any obvious signs of wealth on display, remember that Venezuela is also a very poor country so your idea of wealth may not be the same as the locals, your trusted old cheap watch may actually look expensive and be a huge prize for a desperate criminal, just put it in your pocket for now. If you are traveling first or business class maybe hold back in the luggage collection area for a short while, as criminals will often look for those first out of the arrivals door as being prime targets.
Whilst remaining compliant with the law, only declare what you are legally required to do when landing in country, be careful when opening your wallet if it contains cash as even officials maybe looking for another reason to stop and ‘question’ you if they spot this.
Secure Vehicle Transportation in Caracas
One of the keys to staying safe in Caracas is to be met at the airport by a vetted local security driver and/or team with local situational awareness of his/her surroundings. Just ensure that the drivers and/or security officers details are sent to you before you leave home, there are frequent stories of criminals waiting by the arrivals gate copying traveler’s names from bona fide drivers and then writing these details on boards. The unaware traveler will believe that they have been met by the correct driver and be taken somewhere a crime can take place.
The journey from Caracas International Airport to the city center is classed as one of the more dangerous routes in the world, especially during nighttime hours. Criminal assault, express kidnap, car-jacking’s and criminal road blocks have all been reported and are increasingly common. When booking your flight avoid arriving at nighttime and avoid utilizing public transport and taxis. ETS strongly suggest that any business traveler consider the use of an armored vehicle (learn more on armored vehicle transportation by clicking here) with a trusted and vetted driver, and depending on the itinerary supplement this with a security officer.
When in Caracas City Center opportunistic crime is a constant threat. The age old question of pride coming before a fall is something that is almost a constant companion with the traveler, from not wanting to pay an extra couple of dollars to the doorman, not leaving a tip because local service is not as quick as required, or giving a criminal your belongings when faced with a possible violent confrontation, even after being involved in various high risk operations and with over 30 years of tactical and personal safety training, I would still do my very best to swallow my pride and indignant attitude to my assailant, and hand over my ‘false wallet’ or cheap timekeeping piece as fast as humanely possible and with no disrespect shown or inferred.
Pride and ego will be one of the biggest risks to a traveler, and it is a matter of knowing when to fight and when not to which is the key to survivability. If it is your honest belief that the life of you or others is at risk, then all reasonable and proportionate physical options should be used to survive, but this is the last resort. More often than not the attackers will not wish to escalate the situation unless you fight back or say “no.” For the sake of staying alive, just hand things over.
ETS Risk Management provide e-learning courses on business travel, or in person travel briefings and lunchtime seminars, as well as non-armored or armored secure transportation in Venezuela, Central and South America. It is cheaper than you think and will set things up nicely for the start to your trip and to learn more please contact us.
ETS Risk Management.