Are American Expats Under Attack in Venezuela?

Avenida Bolivar de CaracasAccording to an estimate released from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the nation’s real GDP increased 3.9% in the second quarter. What’s more, the Insured Retirement Institute recently announced that fixed annuity sales reached their highest mark in more than six years, totaling $26.5 billion in the third quarter of 2015, which is good considering the fact that more than 37,000 Americans use structured settlement money every year.

In Venezuela, though, things are a bit tougher.

“It feels like a lottery with bad odds,” a man whose father, John, was stabbed to death by criminals told Fusion. “The case is still under investigation and the authorities have been helpful. But this also shows you how Venezuela has become an increasingly dangerous place.”

John Pate used to dress modestly to conceal his wealth. He drove a bulletproof Volkswagen. The American expat had 35 years of experience living in Venezuela’s violent capital Caracas, enough to know not to go out at night. Yet, criminals who broke into his girlfriend’s apartment still stabbed the American lawyer to death.

Venezuelans and American expats, in particular, are feeling increasingly vulnerable and frightened as kidnappings, robberies, and murders spike throughout the South American country. As the Venezuelan economy suffers from both inflation and a devaluation of its local currency, some believe that criminals are specifically targeting foreigners on the off chance that they might have U.S. currency.

“Criminals assume that foreigners have access to U.S. dollars,” Roberto Briceño, director of the local non-profit group Venezuelan Violence Observatory, told Fusion. “That makes them a higher-value target when it comes to kidnappings or robbery attempts.”

Proving that criminals are targeting foreigners with anything other than anecdotal evidence is difficult, because the Venezuelan government hasn’t released any official murder or crime statistics in the past 10 years.

“Everyone around here drives cars with tinted windows,” an American businessman who wished to remain anonymous told Fusion. “And at night you don’t stop at red lights because it can be dangerous.”

At the same time, some expats remain hopeful that things will get better. Thomas, the man whose father was stabbed to death, used to vacation at his mother’s family home in Lima when guerilla attacks and hyperinflation undermined the Peruvian capital in the 1980s. Now, Lima is a bustling city in South America’s fastest-growing economy.

“I guess I’m optimistic because of my dad,” Thomas told Fusion. “He was worried about the security situation here, but he still thought that Venezuela was a place with opportunities. He thought that at some point things would change for the better.”