International News

Maduro Official Trolls U.S. With Travel Advisory Following Mass Shootings

Venezuela's minister of foreign affairs, Jorge Arreaza.
Venezuela's minister of foreign affairs, Jorge Arreaza. Photo by Henry Contreras / Wikimedia Commons
Under constant international pressure for the hellish conditions they helped create in Venezuela, members of the regime of strongman Nicolás Maduro never pass up an opportunity to point out the flaws of nations criticizing them. This week, the country's minister of foreign affairs, Jorge Arreaza, released a travel advisory urging Venezuelans to put off plans to visit the United States following the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio, which resulted in at least 31 deaths.

The message, which also advised Venezuelans living in the States to exercise caution, is at best a bad attempt at trolling and at worst a tone-deaf cheap shot from a regime that refuses to acknowledge the all-consuming crime and state-sanctioned violence that has overtaken Venezuela's metropolitan areas. 

In the past 18 months alone, Venezuelan special forces were responsible for more than 7,000 extrajudicial killings, according to a recent report by the United Nations. The report also showed that these "death squads," as witnesses called them, would manipulate crime scenes to make it appear as if victims had resisted arrest. 

"They're using the recent shootings in the United States to try to create a false equivalence with the situation in Venezuela right now," says Jose Colina, president of Veppex (an acronym for Politically Persecuted Venezuelans in Exile, in Spanish). "It's an attempt to mimic the many travel advisories issued by the U.S. government on the very real dangers of visiting Venezuela."

Arreaza rounded out his advisory by recommending that Venezuelans avoid what he describes as among the world's 20 most dangerous cities, including Cleveland, Detroit, Baltimore, and St. Louis. He attributed the false claim to a "2019 Forbes article." But it appears Arreaza was referencing a Forbes series about the most dangerous cities in the United States, not the world. A true ranking of the world's 20 most dangerous cities includes Venezuela's Caracas, Barquisimeto, Ciudad Bolívar, and Ciudad Guayana, according to data from the Mexican nonprofit the Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice. No U.S. city cracked the top 20.

As of 2018, Venezuela still had the world's highest murder rate, at 81.4 homicides per 100,000 people, according to an annual report by the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, a local crime-monitoring organization. The murder rate in the States in 2017, the last year for which federal data is available, was 5.3 for every 100,000 inhabitants.
But what about gun-related deaths? In 2017, Venezuela had the second-highest rate of violent gun deaths in the world, with 42.5 per 100,000 people, according to data from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The rate in the States was 4.43 — far higher than what's seen in other wealthy countries, but not even in the neighborhood of Venezuela.

Arreaza's statement comes across as even more facetious when one considers it's impossible to visit the United States directly from Venezuela, since the Trump administration in May prohibited all commercial passenger flights to and from the country. In other words, if you're a Venezuelan in a position to fly to the States, it's because you're one of an estimated four million Venezuelans who have already escaped the instability in your country. Even then, the vast majority of fleeing Venezuelans will never have the resources to make it to the States. For those who do make the harrowing journey north, asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border has become an increasingly fleeting prospect.

"It's not sincere. The advisory is a slap in the face to countless suffering Venezuelans who would do anything to leave their country for the United States," Colina says. "It's completely ridiculous."

Venezuelans responded to Arreaza's tweet with some trolling of their own.

"You beat El Chigüire Bipolar with this press release," Jucho tweeted from Caracas. (El Chigüire Bipolar is a news satire website that can be thought of as Venezuela's version of the Onion.)
"Here in Venezuela, you don't have to leave your house to be killed — people die from hunger daily, combined with a lack of medicine," Nohelia wrote.
"If they made me choose between El Paso during the shooting and any street in Venezuela after 8 p.m., I'd choose El Paso," William Portillo of Maracaibo wrote.
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Manuel Madrid is a former staff writer for Miami New Times. The child of Venezuelan immigrants, he grew up in Pompano Beach. He studied finance at Virginia Commonwealth University and worked as a writing fellow for the magazine The American Prospect in Washington, D.C.