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Safety Travel Safety: Americas: Venezuela

Venezuela: Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
Capital: Caracas
Population: 24,287,670
Currency: bolivar (VEB)
Languages: Spanish (official), numerous indigenous dialects
Religions: nominally Roman Catholic 96%, Protestant 2%, other 2%
Borders: Brazil 2,200 km, Colombia 2,050 km, Guyana 743 km

Venezuela is a middle-income country with a fairly well-developed transportation infrastructure. Scheduled air service and all-weather roads connect major cities and all regions of the country. These roads are sometimes poorly maintained, marked and congested around urban centers. Due to economic difficulties during the past few years, investment in new infrastructure has declined and existing infrastructure is often poorly maintained. Venezuela 's tourism infrastructure varies in quality according to location and price.

Maiquetia Airport, the international airport serving Caracas, is dangerous. Because of the frequency of robberies at gunpoint, travelers are encouraged, if at all possible, to arrive during daylight hours. If it is not possible to arrive during the day, travelers should use extra care both within and outside of the airport. All arriving passengers are urged to make advance plans for transportation from the airport to their place of lodging. If possible, travelers should arrange to be picked up at the airport by someone who is known to them. The parking lots at the airport are especially dangerous. The tires of an Embassy vehicle were slashed inside the lit and guarded diplomatic parking lot.

Cross-border violence, kidnapping, smuggling and drug trafficking occur frequently in areas along the 1,000-mile border between Venezuela and Colombia. Some kidnap victims have been released after ransom payments, while others have been murdered. In many cases, Colombian terrorists are suspected. Colombia 's National Liberation Army (ELN) have had a long history of kidnapping for ransom, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are active in the kidnapping trade. Common criminals are also increasingly involved in kidnappings, either dealing with victim's families directly or selling the victim to terrorist groups.

Additionally, U.S. citizens should be aware of an increase in acts of piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Venezuela. There have been a number of confirmed incidents of piracy in the recent past including several involving U.S. citizens. Some of these incidents have involved a high degree of violence, including the beating and shooting of several of the victims and the fatal shooting of an Italian citizen in January 2004. U.S. citizen yachters should exercise a heightened level of caution when selecting a place to moor their boats, and should not attempt to resist these robbers.

Political demonstrations occur regularly throughout Venezuela due to the current fluid political situation. Violence, including exchanges of gunfire, has occurred at these demonstrations in the past. Demonstrations tend to occur at or near university campuses, business centers, and gathering places such as public squares and plazas. Tension between pro-government and opposition supporters remains high, and the potential for violent clashes continues. Further demonstrations are expected, and U.S. citizens should avoid them.

Most major tourist destinations, including coastal beach resorts and Margarita Island, are not generally affected by protest actions. However, the city of Merida, a major tourist destination in the Andes, is the scene of frequent student demonstrations. Disruptions in public transportation services may occur as a result of strikes or work stoppages and may delay visitors' travel to the international airport at Maiquetia, block public roads, and interfere with ferry schedules to and from Margarita Island. In addition, due to the Government of Venezuela's difficulties in meeting some public payrolls, teachers, medical doctors, and other groups often threaten work stoppages, which may disrupt health services and cause temporary closure of businesses.

Although the number of incidents of harassment and intimidation of US citizens by pro-government groups, Venezuelan airport authorities and some segments of the police, has declined since the end of the latest general strike, such incidents continue to be reported. Additionally, anti-American sentiment, expressed in graffiti, harsh political rhetoric, newspaper advertisements and rally pamphlets, continues in some segments of Venezuelan society.

The risk of encountering explosive devices in Venezuela, particularly in Caracas, appears to be increasing. Travelers who encounter a strange parcel or abandoned bag should not attempt to identify or move it, but should immediately notify local authorities and stay clear of the area.

Travelers should keep informed of local developments by following the local press, radio and television. Visitors should also consult their local hosts, including U.S. and Venezuelan business contacts, hotels, tour guides, and travel organizers. U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Venezuela are advised to take common-sense precautions and avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, no matter where they occur.

Caracas and other major cities in Venezuela are designated by the State Department as high-threat areas for crime. Caracas has one of the highest murder rates in Latin America. Most murders go unsolved. Crimes committed against persons on the streets which tourists frequent are usually money-oriented crimes. Incidents occur during daylight hours as well as at night. Many criminals are armed with guns or knives and will use force. Jewelry, particularly gold-colored, attracts the attention of thieves. Travelers are advised to leave all such jewelry items, especially expensive-looking wristwatches, at home. Theft from hotel rooms and safe deposit boxes is increasing, and theft of unattended valuables on the beach and from rental cars parked near isolated areas or on city streets is a common occurrence. A guarded garage or locked trunk is not a guarantee against theft. Subway escalators are favored sites for "bump and rob" petty thefts by roving bands of young criminals, many of whom are well dressed to allay suspicion and to blend in with crowds using the subways during rush hour. Armed robberies are common in urban and tourist areas, particularly in Caracas and Maracaibo. Criminal violence is on the rise. American citizens have been harassed, severely beaten or murdered during robberies. Travelers should exercise caution in displaying money and valuables. Four-wheel drive vehicles have been targeted for carjacking in the Caracas and Maracaibo metropolitan areas.

The Embassy has received frequent reports recently of armed robberies either in or on the roads leading to the airport at Maiquetia. Individuals with official badges in the customs area of the airport purporting to assist travelers have referred them to taxis drivers who subsequently robbed them. There is no foolproof method of knowing whether a taxi driver at the airport is reliable. It is no longer possible to rely on the fact that a taxi driver presents a credential or drives an automobile with official taxi license plates marked "libre.� If a traveler must take a taxicab from the airport, the line of taxicabs operated by "Anfitriones de Venezuela" appears to be the safest choice. These cabs are all black Ford Explorers with yellow identification signs on the doors. Passengers may purchase prepaid tickets for the "Anfitriones" taxis at kiosks within the airport terminal. The Department of State is unaware of any robberies perpetrated by drivers of these cabs against their passengers. Travelers arriving late at night, after the black "Anfitriones" cabs have left the airport, should call a 24-hour radio-dispatched taxi service from a public phone in the airport lobby or ask the airline representatives to contact a licensed cab company.

The Department has received reports of robberies during nighttime and early morning hours on the highways around and leading to Caracas. Reports have specifically involved cars being forced off the La Guaira highway leading from Caracas to the Maquetia International Airport, and the "Regional del Centro" highway leading from Caracas to Maracay/Valencia, at which point the victims are robbed. The Department recommends avoiding driving at night and in the early morning where possible. Drivers traveling on highways during nighttime and early morning hours should exercise caution.

"Express kidnappings," in which victims are seized in an attempt to get quick cash in exchange for their release, are a problem in Venezuela's capital, Caracas. Kidnapping of US citizens and other foreign nationals, from homes, hotels, unauthorized taxis and the airport terminal has occurred. U.S. citizens should continue to be alert to their surroundings and take necessary precautions.

Incidents of taxi drivers in Caracas overcharging, robbing and injuring passengers are common. Travelers should take care to use radio-dispatched taxis or those from reputable hotels. Travelers should call a 24-hour radio-dispatched taxi service from a public phone lobby or ask hotel, restaurant, or airline representatives to contact a licensed cab company for them.

Public phones in Venezuela do not accept coins. Phone cards can be purchased from newsstands or kiosks.

Pickpockets concentrate in and around crowded bus and subway stations in downtown Caracas. The poor neighborhoods that cover the hills around Caracas and isolated urban parks can be very dangerous. These areas are seldom patrolled by police and should be avoided.

Because of a recent wave of fraud in Venezuela involving credit cards and debit cards, sometimes known as cloning, visitors should be cautious about the use of credit or debit card at Venezuelan commercial establishments. Credit and debit card numbers and other information are lifted by employees at the commercial establishments, or are taken from receipts found in garbage bins. If you choose to use a credit card or debit card to pay for a purchase, be sure to keep the credit card in sight during the entire transaction. Also, take and destroy any carbons that may have been used in the transaction. Finally, if you use your credit card to guarantee a hotel room or other rental, and later settle the bill in cash, be sure to obtain and destroy the imprint taken at time of check-in. You should also check subsequent credit or bank statement to ensure that no unauthorized purchases have been made on your account. Outside the major cities, a good supply of Venezuelan currency is necessary, as it may be difficult to find exchange houses. Most major cities have ATMs with 24-hour service where users may withdraw up to the equivalent of 100 U.S. dollars in local currency daily. The ATMs are linked to many global networks. Recently, apparently due to the Venezuelan government's rigid foreign exchange rules, the number of ATMs that accept U.S.-issued debit cards has declined.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations. These laws sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Venezuela's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Venezuela are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Prison conditions are extremely harsh, as numerous foreigners (including U.S. citizens) arrested for possession or trafficking of drugs can attest. The minimum prison sentence for trafficking (with no differentiation for category or quantity of drugs) is ten years.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

Although medical care at private hospitals and clinics in Caracas continues to be good, economic problems in Venezuela have led to severe shortages of basic supplies at public hospitals throughout the country, including in Caracas. Shortages have also been experienced at some private clinics outside of Caracas. Cash payment is usually required in advance of the provision of medical services at private facilities, although some will accept credit cards. Patients who cannot provide advance payment may be referred to a public hospital for treatment. U.S. citizens should be aware that, due to the currency restrictions in effect in Venezuela, they might find it difficult to receive wire transfers from abroad, whether through a bank or Western Union. Such wire transfers cannot be used reliably as a source of emergency funds. U.S. citizens traveling to Venezuela may also find it difficult to obtain certain prescription drugs, particularly name brands, and should ensure that they have sufficient quantities of all medications for the duration of their stay.

Venezuela is an earthquake-prone country and is occasionally subject to torrential rains, which can cause major disasters such as the one in Vargas State in 1999. Travelers who intend to rent or purchase long-term housing in Venezuela should exercise care to choose structures designed for earthquake resistance. Such individuals may wish to seek professional assistance when renting or purchasing a house or apartment in Venezuela. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Venezuela is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor to Fair
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor to Fair
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

Traffic jams are common within Caracas during most of the day. Driving regulations are similar to those in the U.S., although many drivers do not obey them. Defensive driving is a necessity. Child car seats and seatbelts are not required and are seldom available in rental cars and taxis. Outside the major cities, night driving can be dangerous because of unmarked road damage or repairs in progress, unlighted vehicles and livestock. Even in urban areas, road damage is often marked by a pile of rocks or sticks left by passersby near or in the pothole or crevice, without flares or other devices to highlight the danger. Stops at National Guard and local police checkpoints (alcabalas) are mandatory. Drivers should follow all National Guard instructions and be prepared to show vehicle and insurance papers and passports. Vehicles may be searched. Inexpensive bus service is available to most destinations throughout the country, but the high incidence of criminal activity on public transportation makes bus travel inadvisable. Peak holiday travel occurs during summer and winter school breaks and major civil and religious holidays, including Carnival, Easter, Christmas and New Year's holidays. Lengthy delays due to road congestion are common during these peak periods.

For information concerning Venezuelan driving permits, road taxes, vehicle inspection or insurance requirements, contact the Embassy of Venezuela at (202) 342-2214, or visit their website at:

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Venezuela's civil aviation authority as Category 2 -- not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for the oversight of Venezuela's air carrier operations. While consultations to correct the deficiencies are ongoing, Venezuelan air carriers currently flying to the U.S. will be subject to heightened FAA surveillance. No additional flights or new service to the U.S. by Venezuelan air carriers will be permitted unless they arrange to have the flights conducted by an air carrier from a country meeting international safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. In addition, DOD does not permit its personnel to use air carriers from Category 2 countries for official business except for flights originating from or terminating in the United States. Local exceptions may apply. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

As a result of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, airport security around the world has tightened significantly. Travelers flying out of Caracas on international flights should be prepared to arrive at the airport at least three hours ahead of their scheduled departure time. Travelers on Venezuelan domestic flights should arrive at the airport at least one hour ahead of departure. Due to the constantly changing nature of airport security measures, travelers are advised to consult with their airline for the latest information. Travelers may also notice increased law enforcement presence throughout airport terminals. Please note that in most airports only ticketed passengers are permitted beyond security checkpoints and in the departure lounges.

Please also refer to the separate Travel Warning for Venezuela and to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

September 20, 2004

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