Illicit opportunities structure

Mar 30, 2023 | 0 Comentarios

June 12, 2020

Keymer Ávila | @Keymer_Avila

The past few days have been hectic, and the more information and recounts we have the murkier and more confusing everything becomes. Our institutional problem, unfortunately, not only affects the State but other actors that increasingly lack credibility. Media censorship is rife, making us turn to social networks where anyone can say anything. In consequence, far from being more informed, we find ourselves amid an excess of unreliable, unverified “information”, which offers us a distorted version of the reality and, if we think about it, amplifies the distortion and confusion.

I have been asked about the latest events in Petare. Anyone intending to make a serious comment on those events must be familiar with the area, whether because it is the subject of his field studies, observations, monitoring, or analysis, or because he lives in that place. I am not in either case. That is why I can only refer to very basic and general questions that any criminologist or sociologist specialized in the criminal system or the study of violence could answer, beyond repeating what we read on social media. At this stage, we must avoid unfounded opinions.

The absence of a Social State

The existence of criminal gangs with high firepower is a sign of the institutional precariousness of the State at different levels: the most fundamental of them is the social and economic level. We call it structural violence, that is intertwined with social exclusion and the non-satisfaction of the most basic needs of the population. This absence of a real Social State, with truly universal, non-discriminatory, sustainable, institutionalized, non-clientelistic, or sporadic policies, is the mother of all other forms of violence. Structural violence deprives, for example, the excluded youth of sufficient opportunities for a life in the licit world.

In the absence of a Social State, the Police State enhances and strengthens, sustained by the institutional violence that seeks to contain the different types of conflict that structural violence causes.

Then other types of violence cascade down, such as social violence, criminal violence, personal violence, etc. Traditionally, in certain situations where structural and institutional violence exists, criminal and individual violence becomes more visible as a way of covering up the former.

Criminal violence is inserted within a logic of structural and institutional violence that generates, enhances, and defines it. If we focus on criminal violence that occurs within criminal gangs, we will come across one element that I consider fundamental, beyond the cultural and age-based approaches that are essential to the study of this phenomenon: for organized armed groups to exist in a territory, a “structure of illicit opportunities” must pre-exist. This is the most basic of the criminology of criminal subcultures.

What is an illicit opportunity structure?

It is the support of the licit world to the emergence of a criminal organization. This includes social, institutional, economic, and political support, among others, that translates into guarantees to operate with impunity, the collaboration of the police and military, complicity of prosecutors and judges, political and economic sponsorships, etc. This has nothing to do with ideologies or political programs, it is just a matter of business, of common illicit markets. These alliances are not stable, sometimes these common interests can come into conflict leading to irregular wars between the sides.

The criminal gangs would be, then, just one more link in the chain. Here are basic questions: How do they get the weapons? How do they have access to weapons of war? How do they get ammunition? How come do some of them possess grenades? Who is responsible for the manufacture, import, distribution, and marketing of arms and ammunition in the country? Who has that monopoly? Since when do they have it?

In summary: big gangs cannot arise nor have power without the minimum support or at least tolerance of the police or military, prosecutors, judges, and the political and economic power of the “legal” world.

Publicado originalmente en Hearts on Venezuela

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