Crime and crisis turn Caracas streets dark and deserted

Caracas (AFP) –


Crime and a grinding economic crisis have turned the traditionally vibrant, teeming streets of Caracas into no man's land once the sun goes down.

Major thoroughfares like the Francisco Fajardo highway were empty during recent nighttime drives by AFP. Hardly any cars drove past the Esfera de Soto, a giant, suspended artwork in the shape of an orange sphere, that is iconic for this troubled city of six million people.

Nor was there much traffic on Libertador Avenue, which joins east and west Caracas, and in the working class district of La Candelaria in the city center hardly any pedestrians were out and about. And those that were walked very fast.

By night, few people ride the Caracas subway, which is used by two million people a day. It closes at 11 pm.

Street stands selling hot dogs and hamburgers go begging for customers. In Plaza Venezuela, usually a busy spot in the city, food vendors miss the days when they could barely keep up with demand.

In the east of the city things are no better. Las Mercedes, an upscale nightlife district that was hopping a few years ago, is dead. Now, Venezuelans get their fun at home. It is cheaper and safer.

In Venezuela it is almost impossible to eat out when inflation is beyond runaway and projected by the IMF to end the year at 1.35 million percent. That's right, million. But it is rampant crime -- problem number one for Venezuelans until the economic crisis set in -- that is the main cause of such sadly empty streets.

NGOs say there were 26,000 violent deaths last year in Venezuela -- 89 per 100,000 inhabitants, which is 15 times the global average.