Venezuelans are prone to exaggeration. We like to tell ourselves that we’re at, or near, rock-bottom, that things could not be much worse than they are. This, when you stop to really think about it, that’s very far from true.

Don’t believe me? Ask a Bosnian, or a Rwandan.

There are whole categories of human depravity Venezuela has not even flirted with yet. The very worst crimes —genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity— sometimes turn up as rhetorical flourishes in our politicians’ speeches, yes. But when we march, the Rhinocerontes spray tear gas on us, not Sarin.

Could that change? And if it did… how would we know about it?

A few days ago, a reader drew our attention towards the United Nation’s Framework for Analysis of Atrocity Crimes. It’s an official, bureaucratic document: in plodding, UN-speak, it lists the warning signs for the “big three”, the most serious international crimes: genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Crimes against humanity encompass acts that are part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.

We cracked open the UN document with some trepidation. The introduction explains that each time a crime on this scale occurs, it is unique. But that doesn’t make them random: the warning signs are often there well ahead of time, if you know where to look for them.

The Framework establishes 14 different risk factors, eight of which are common to all atrocity crimes and the last six are specific risk factors (two per crime). The drafters warn these risk factors should be interpreted in the context of a given country’s political and historical background. Nothing is mechanical or automatic here: just like some people smoke a pack of cigarettes a day and live to a contented 97, some countries that pile on risk factors don’t end up witnessing atrocity crimes. Finally, the paper underlines, no risk factor is more important than the others. This is an instrument for qualitative analysis.

Each risk factor comes with a number of indicators; a high number of positive indicators means the risk factor probably applies to the country. For example, one risk factor is Situations of armed conflict or other forms of instability. Here’s our take on it:

Venezuela is not in the middle of a shooting war, but it does include six of the ten indicators for it as a risk factor. Our conclusion is that the Situations of armed conflict or other forms of instability risk factor does apply to the Venezuelan situation.

We kept on tackling these risk factors and their indicators with our most honest responses. We had to answer our most resounding Yes to indicators related to presence of civilian armed groups, large quantities of arms, and rampant impunity.

After assessing all 14 risk factors, we found that five of the eight general risk factors (see list below) apply to Venezuela. We also find that two out of two specific risk factors for Crimes against humanity apply to Venezuela.

But make no mistake, the responsibility to avoid atrocity crimes lies with the government

Risk factors for atrocity crimes in general that apply to Venezuela

  • Situations of armed conflict or other forms of instability
  • Weakness of State structures
  • Motives or incentives
  • Enabling circumstances or preparatory action
  • Triggering factors

Risk factors specific for crimes against humanity

  • Signs of a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population
  • Signs of a plan or policy to attack any civilian population

You can peek at our evaluation of individual indicators on this spreadsheet. Feel free to leave a comment there, if you disagree with our judgment.

Our final assessment? The country that not long ago was voted the happiest in the world now seems more likely than not to join the sad ranks of Holodomor (yes, Maduro, man-made famines are crimes against humanity).

If that doesn’t send a chill down your spine yet, you haven’t read the UN’s definition of what hopefully will not come to pass:

Crimes against humanity encompass acts that are part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population. Even if non-civilians might also become victims of the attack, for an act to be considered a crime against humanity, the ultimate target of the attack must be the civilian population.

The Framework is clear: even if many risk factors are identifiable, that doesn’t make an atrocity inevitable. But make no mistake, the responsibility to avoid atrocity crimes lies with the government, as it is stated on the UN’s Responsibility to Protect initiative. The international community has committed to supporting countries in achieving this goal and is meant to take action if any state fails to do so.

Venezuela is not in the middle of a shooting war, but it does include six of the ten indicators for it as a risk factor.

As for ourselves, the citizens, let’s not let our guard down, and let’s inform everyone we can: the Venezuelan crisis has been escalating sure and steady. This year we’ve had a humanitarian health crisis, an economic crisis and, of course, a turmoil caused by political crisis, with the overall instability that follows it.

Let’s hope we’ve seen the worst already. Nobody wants an atrocity crime. Really, no one does.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.


  1. Good work. Hopefully no vast atrocities actually occur, and it is kept at the level of tear gas and buckshot rather than sarin gas and .050 caliber machine guns.

    The crime of an engineered famine occurred in several Communist states; in USSR, Ethiopia, and China at least. And it certainly would be in keeping with PSUV ideology that those outside the revolution not be given CLAP food assistance or be otherwise reduced to starvation in order to allow the revolution to remain victorious.

    I hope a snatch squad is being envisaged to go in and secure the records containing food policy information after Maduro’s fall. As Ricardo Hausmann has shown, the decision to reduce prioritize debt repayments over food imports was not a necessary one. Someone thinks the level of hunger in Venezuela is good policy.

  2. Is it the Chavista brand or is it Maduro? Why cant the Chavistas blame Maduro for his personal incompetence and run a new face who tries to recapture the old Chavez magic. From my vantage point it is not clear that the Chavistas with more moderate lleftist support would not do well especially with a divided MUD vote. Everyone seems to suggest that the Chavistas have a core vote around 25% with Maduro in place. If that is true just a gain of 10% could result in a plurality.

    • Because there is no Chavista platform to run for that is in any sense different from “we have tons of oil money so we can do whatever we want”. And given that is no longer true, there is no Chavista platform different from Maduro that can happen.

      If from the PSUV some new faction gets enlightened and decides to do what it takes to fix the country, they would have to inmediatly renounce not Maduro as an incompetent, but the whole framework of Chavismo since Chávez itself as a failure. They would, basically, have to say that for the last 2 decades they have been absolutely wrong. They would, in that, invalidate themselves as “the Chavista option”.

    • Is it the Chavista brand or is it Maduro? Why cant the Chavistas blame Maduro for his personal incompetence and run a new face who tries to recapture the old Chavez magic.

      The main difference between Chavez and Maduro is $100 oil versus $40-$50 oil. How many Chavistas perceive that difference is another issue.

  3. Across the globe, terrorists are hunted down and either jailed or eliminated. Maduro refers to his opposition as terrorists on a daily basis. Some are already jailed. How long before routine elimination begins?

  4. Ask a Syrian. With almost half a million dead and ten million displaced, Syria is a template for the very worst that Maduro could get away with. And Syria does not even have the leverage that comes with being a significant supplier of oil to the USA.

    And who is going to lead an initiative to give meaning to the Responsibility to Protect in Venezuela? Who is going to stand up to Maduro’s Russian, Iranian and Chinese backers?

    What major world player or organization is meaningfully standing up to autocrats who abuse and slaughter their citizens?

    Chilling is right.

  5. Two hundred fifty thousand murders already.

    “International or non-international armed conflict” – This is a cuban invasion.

    “Security crisis caused by defection of peace traties, armed conflict from neighbour countries, threats of invasion and armed terrorism” – The regime defected from the CIDH, openly supports the narco-terrorist farc and is the forefront of the cuban invasion against Venezuela.

    “Political instability caused by transfer of power” – Maduro’s takeover was possible through a fraud, and also the AN has been stripped from its powers due to another fraud.

    “Social instability caused by exclusion or tensions based in identity issues, their perception or extremist forms” – chavistas consider all venezuelans as shit, in the most literal sense.

  6. Great piece! obviously, the early signs are there, and they have been there for quite a while. As far as I know, this bureaucratic criteria is very good to analyze the crimes after they occur, but not necessarily effective to prevent them, specially in the frame of the UN. I know it may sound negative, I really hope we get to prevent any human tragedy, without sacrificing our liberty, but have you noticed how the chavista network of think tanks in the anglo world are systematically promoting the perception of a “civil war”? I invite you to read the latest piece in The Nation. This is another sign that we must take seriously, this is a way to hijack the story of what is happening in Venezuela, and perhaps a sign that the government is contemplating to go for it. I’m shocked of how often I read this from mainstream liberal media, too, is nonsense. The “civil war” catchphrase serves as an alibi against international public opinion, be careful. I saw this working for quite a while in favor of Assad, which brings me to a last point; perpetrator states, can get away with a lot these days. Look at what is happening in Syria, and what the role of the Venezuela’s main business partners has been. However, I don’t want to leave this comment on that negative note. I believe we have an opportunity to prevent this while getting the country back, if people get to know what is happening, specially people in the region, we are in the Americas, not the middle east (no offense here) but I think the region can play a role more dignifying than the role of community of arab nations, regarding Syria and other conflicts in that region. The task of the Venezuelan opposition, I humbly think, is to capture that spirit. Let Venezuela become another Cuba, in the 21st century?

    • If this was a right wing authoritarian regime the liberal media would be tearing it apart and the atrocities would be headline news. Especially if it were supported by the US government.
      Liberals refuse to admit to the continuing failures of Socialism or to call out the corrupt government officials.
      I still have hope that Rex Tillerson is going to get the last laugh. Chavez screwed Exxon Mobil out of Billions of Dollars when Tillerson was the new CEO.
      I am continually harassing my Senators and Congresswoman to urge action by the US on behalf of the Venezuelan people that are held hostage by this regime.
      The US is damned if we do and damned if we don’t. I keep telling them that I would rather the criminals damn us than their victims.
      The Venezuelan humanitarian crisis has the potential to turn into a refugee crisis. This can become a destabilizing event in Latin America.
      I believe US intervention is in everyone’s interest and I repeatedly communicate these thoughts to our elected representatives.
      I hope that every American that feels the same way will write their Congressional representatives immediately.

      My thoughts and prayers are with all of the people that bravely oppose these bastards.

      Viva Venezuela!!

      • The USA needs to stay physically OUT. Yes, we need to support our values of Democracy, Free Speech, Rule of Law, etc, and by all means sanction the regime to the hilt.
        With our many past mistakes in regards to our southern neighbors, the best strategy (for the USA), is simply to allow the Boliarvarian experiment to collapse on it’s own stupidity, like all socialist attempts of the past 2 centuries.

        Meddle with our military, or in suppling arms, or intelligence, will only perpetuate our past “mistakes” in the minds of the majority of latin americans. In this case, wrongly.

        I put quotes on “mistakes”, because I believe every country is guided by self interests, and by conditions unique to the times. What looks stupid now, most times looked reasonable at the time, as a solution or an international chess piece move. The “mistake” in the USA view, may be the best solution, while locally, it is a disaster.

        Regardless, if anyone thinks that VZ or Columbia, or Brazil, or Peru or …. does not act out of self interest, just research the UN vote on any issue. It is a joke of self interests over what is truly in the interest of the people.

        Of course the case in point is the current state of VZ. Anyone with a brain could see the shit going down in VZ, and it has taken 3 years to get just a handful of latin countries to speak up, That is pathetic. Only now, is there some action. But it is “very weak” at best.

        My view, is that the Venezuelan people voted for this crap (chavez), and for 15+ years bought his bullshit hook line and sinker. Made Chavez God, as he lavished the milk of the countries oil riches, in exchange for the soul of the country.

        Even the rational of the educated, could not break through the ignorance of the masses with outstretched arms, populist and nationalistic fervor. Ignorance was truly bliss.

        This is the Venezuelan peoples “mistake”. They are now paying the piper, and the irony is that many want help from the international community, that they disparaged so gleefully in the past.

        Few if any countries are willing to help, until it becomes their self interest to do so.

        Venezuelans need to sacrifice their own blood, for what is their country. Sad as it is, history shows us that there in no other way. 29 were lost last month. get ready for more, as those duped for so long, get desperate that the mother milk has finally run dry.

  7. No. 7 is clearly present in Venezuela. Discrimination based on political identification is more than clear, but also racial (the eternal denial) and socio-economic (the barrio has its identity many people there do do not feel represnted at all by anything that is not clearly barrio).

  8. Let’s hope that Maduro and his advisors were paying attention when Trump responded to Assad’s use of Serin.

    • Yes. The lesson learned is, in the face of ongoing mass atrocities, Trump could do something serious like destroy a remote airstrip in Apure, or freeze the assets of one of his golf club members.

        • Whether its hundreds of millions, or a couple of condos in Miami, it has had no effect whatsoever. In fact, the killing, jailings and tear gas in Venezuela have escalated exponentially since the Tintori photo op.

          But Trump and Xi are pals! What’s Venezuela between pals?

          • Good Point! After all, most Venezuelans despise him because he is a gringo, and the rest think he, and those who voted for him, are idiots.
            Best to just stay out of it.
            Let the EU deal with it. Or Canada.

          • “No effect whatsoever”

            And there you’re wrong.

            Their way of attacking us is by physical aggression, trying to hurt and murder the people.

            They think that will have an effect, they think that will work AGAIN in the same way it worked for Chávez after the butchery that was april 11.

            They are mistaken, GRIEVOUSLY.

            Some people think that unloading the rage upon the chavista base will harm the regime.

            The regime’s weak point is not their “base” of ignorant and deceived people, its weak point is its WALLET, they PAY for the repression, no colectivo takes the risk of getting lynched by a furious mob for free or just because “they can steal a phone” or simply because they “like to kill people”

            China’s repression arsenal isn’t free.

            The shitloads of properties the bolibastards have outside the country aren’t free either.

            Their stolen money is their everything.

            Chavismo is trying to take everything from Venezuela, it’s possible that enough people see that the reverse is preferable.

            To take everything from the bolicriminals.

            No se van a ir lisos.

  9. For those watching NM’s CNE speech now calling for the Constituyente Popular, one will see what in effect is his call for a civil war of his small minority political support, unfortunately so far backed up by the military, against the large political majority–much greater bloodshed is becoming a real possibility, if the military doesn’t change, with international intervention possibly becoming necessary. Most of the remaining boxes ticked “No” above could well be ticked “Yes” in the near future, if things don’t soon change for the better….

  10. ¿A dónde encajan los campos de concentración en estas señales? Porque en serio, los campos de concentración son como que la mostaza en el perro caliente del genocidio.

    Un ejemplo de esto es como la flamante minisrtro de cárceles Iris Varela de lo más fresca le ordena a los presos de Puente Ayala que maten hasta al último de los presos que transfirieron a esa cárcel, órdenes que les impartió por teléfonos celulares que les dejan tener a los presos.

  11. But, wait, IV is one of the various perlas named to the new Organizing Committee of the Constituyente Popular–surely things will change for the better in the future….

  12. To compare and calibrate the levels of atrocities worldwide is… dumb.

    Sure! Hitler killed more people than Chavez.

    Sure! The Sirians are having a tougher time than Venezuelans now.

    Y entonces, what’s your point??

    Venezuela still is one of THE worst countries to live in, the the PLANET (well, there’s Africa too) . By all accounts: World Records in Crime, Inflation, bad economy, corruption, etc, etc.)

    Can t get even worse? Sure! But the point is that it’s HORRIBLE as it is, comprende?

  13. “Venezuelans are prone to exaggeration”

    I wonder if Astrid and Alejandro – authors of this imbecile post – live in Caracas, and, if so, in the same lamentable conditions most people do.

    I bet they do not.

    • Why? they can’t live in Valencia, Mérida, San Cristobal, Maracaibo or Pto Ordaz too? What’s your point?

      And what’s the problem if they happen to live abroad, for that matter?.

    • Wether you want to see the facts or not, is your problem dude. As bad as things are in Venezuela truth is that some of the terms defined by Astrid and Alejandro are being used in a very irresponsable way to describe the Venezuelan situation. This does nothing but give air to a much needed chavista public relations apparatus.

      Now, that sounds pretty imbecile to me.

  14. People should understand, Syria/Middle East are much different than Venezuela–major/nuclear powers (Russia/Iran potentially) are jockeying for power in the Middle East, in what is a major powder keg potential, sitting on/near the world’s major oil reserves. Venezuela is squarely in the U. S. sphere of influence–China will say nothing at U. S. action, except that they hope to be paid past debts (they will even have to cooperate with the U. S.on North Korea to avoid world nuclear conflagration). Russia has far greater priorities than Venezuela, if its a priority at all (doubtful)–they just want to be paid past armaments purchases debts due. The U. S. is being sucked into helping resolve Venezuela’s mess, like it, or not , and hopefully will be accompanied by self-interested LA neighbors Brasil/Colombia, at least via diplomatic pressure.. Human rights violations bordering on genocide alone is sufficient cause, but 50+% conduit narco-trafficking to U. S./Europe is also important, and, as if further justification were needed, fomenting terrorism is now being bandied about (Tillerson, dixit).

  15. We are so upset to see what is happening in Venezuela. My wife is from Venezuela, we have many friends and relations there, and we visited many time before Chavez’s and hoped to continue when we retired. Now it is all destroyed. Our hearts are with you and we wish we could do more.

  16. Most of ticked boxes that are below the YES column are consequences of strategies from the Multinational Corporate group that decide to give incentives to industrialists expatriates settled in CHINA to return to their home countries and stop importing products and rather have them make in their countries. This inevitably slow Chinese economy and all the countries CHINA support. The knock-on effect is devastating for Venezuela as it stops the demand of oil supply to keep China’s growth.

    Intentional or coincidental is not Venezuela’s Government’ fault to fall in such extreme inflation. Humanitarian crisis follows. CHECK MATE banks the Multinational Corporate Group.

    • The chavista regime created the conditions that evolved into this disaster.

      * They seized almost all of the productive businesses to stop people from ever progressing from their own work and to destroy any national production (Chávez and his infamous policy of expropiations)

      * They also made a monopoly of the currency to import supplies and from the supplies themselves (Cadivi, currency exchange control system, ONLY the government has the right to ever touch another currency)

      * If a business isn’t broken through the bureaucratic harrassment, then it will cave down because the economic lunacy that forces them to work to a loss, and if that doesn’t work then they simply send their death squads to ransack the place (As it happened with the lootings in Valencia a bit ago)

      All of this was done so the chavista party higher bosses could become filthy rich through monopolic mafias.

      Chavismo, Chávez and Maduro governments are fully guilty from the extreme inflation and EVERY SINGLE checked box in the chart.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here