A Vast Criminal Sub-Culture

Padre-Alejandro-Moreno-1Smitten as I am with the economics profession, I do realize it has its limitations. Some topics demand a sociologist’s mindset to really appreciate. I’m thinking Crime.

Take it away, Father Moreno,

Todo empieza por las prácticas: “atracas, en pequeños grupos o en conexión con otros compinches y no tiene consecuencias. Entonces te afirmas en lo que estás haciendo y te afirmas en la manera de entender y de pensar. Empiezas a pensar que las cosas son así, que hay una forma natural de hacer las cosas así; que es lícito, que es normal hacerlo”. Así se forma “una mentalidad, una manera de ver que acaba por convertirse en una subcultura. ‘Yo soy así’. De unos años para acá han empezado a jactarse. Es más: pertenecer a esa cultura se convierte en un logro, se convierte en motivo de orgullo”. Ahora es, no una postura individual, sino una posición de grupo.

La vida humana merece, para la sociedad, un gran respeto. No así para los integrantes de esta subcultura. Ser malandro es “tener poder, y tener poder quiere decir tener todas las jevas que yo quiera, tener todo el dinero que yo quiera, tener el dominio de todos los que yo quiera”, describe. Los estudios de Moreno revelan que la gran motivación de estos delincuentes es imponer el ser respetados. “¿Cómo ven la vida? La vida como poder”.

“Los malandros realmente activos en un barrio generalmente no pasan de 5 o 6, 10 cuando mucho. En un barrio de 8 mil habitantes 10 personas no es mucho. Es que la gente se cree que nosotros en Venezuela tenemos infinidad de malandros. No es verdad. No son tantos los malandros. Lo que pasa es que tienen una capacidad de muerte que es asombrosa. Tienen las armas que quieren, no tienen consecuencias negativas porque hay completa impunidad, tienen cómo moverse de un lado para otro. Tienen todas las facilidades. El porcentaje de delincuentes asesinos que nosotros tenemos no pasa del porcentaje de potenciales delincuentes de este tipo que pueda haber en cualquier sociedad. Lo que pasa es que en esas sociedades están controlados”.

It’s a really interesting interview, read it all.

And yup, it’s a kind of threefer this one, as far as things you don’t see much around here: Sociologists, priests, and the Correo del Orinoco.

Incidentally, one hates to shift focus away from a really quite decent interview to a cranky aside on Communicational Hegemony, and yet Vanessa friggin’ Davies forces the issue. Her piece goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid mentioning Moreno’s basic institutional belongings: the fact that he’s a catholic priest, the fact that he teaches at a catholic university.

I can only imagine the intramural wranglings at Corrreo del Orinoco that led to this piece coming out like this. It’s a little like running a detailed interview with Mark Zuckerberg that scrupulously avoids the words “Facebook” and “computer.”

[Hat tip: Gaveledo.]

32 thoughts on “A Vast Criminal Sub-Culture

  1. I don’t know if Eva Gollilla understood the interview. which is extremely good especially the part where he states that this “kids”see there is no punishment for what they do. and poverty or exclusion do not explain the violence we are saying ow days. that And that VTV was broadcasting yesterday “all the presidents men” it is kind of eerie!


    • I think Eva only runs (or used to run) the English edition.

      Hysterical about All the President’s Men, btw. Surprised they didn’t yank it off the air after half an hour like Goodbye Lenin.


      • Thanks for that article. It’s a masterpiece.
        These priests have done a pretty good job in Venezuela, I have to say.

        I am not sure it should be surprising anymore that VTV would broadcast such a film.
        When it comes to politics, their associations are extremely limited:
        “that’s a film about something wrong happening in the Capitalists’ Empire, good to show.”

        I see plenty of articles in official sites like this in Correo del Orinoco:
        Someone with bachillerato in Venezuela should know Mexico has “a little bit” more people than Venezuela. Even if official Chavista figures were the right ones and not those of NGOs, a thinking person would clearly see the murder rate in Venezuela is dramatically higher. You just need regla de tres for that, or even just “gut feeling”.
        Not so Chavistas.
        So they print. And most of their brethren are OK with that.

        Good Bye Lenin was different. Their thinking was: “nice Germans remembering one of our saints, have to watch”. Once they saw scenes of standard of living improving with reunification, they realised their error.


    • They put “All the President’s Men”? That’s pure trolling right there…

      Promoting the same kind of journalism they don’t tolerate at home.


  2. The interview lacks discussion of specific government policies. It could as well be a critique of criminality in Colombia or Honduras. It is couched in extremely Aesopian language, providing a level of deniability, as well as allowing readers to believe he is making a point they agree with. For example, He says:

    “La psicología social nos ha enseñado muy bien que la mayoría de las conducts se aprenden por el modelaje” y que “las personas de mayor prestigio: un futbolista, un gran artista, un literato de importancia, un presidente, un gobernador, son las que tienen mayor probabilidad de que sus conductas sean reprodidas.”

    I think he means: “When the President fondles guns while giving speeches on television, speeches which dehumanize a whole social class as disgusting scum, fit only to be dominated by “the people”, he directly models the criminal behaviour which is eating Venezuela alive.”

    Burying the point as a critique of governors (Capriles?), artists, soccer players, and literary figures comes close to washing it away.


    • Does it? He specifically mentions that devolution is a policy that works. His argument seems to be that centralized power fosters the kind of marginalization that makes the barrio unruly and leaves its inhabitants at the mercy of a few thugs (a dozen amidst thousands is an eye-opening statistic, in my opinion).

      I can see what he’s getting at: imagine being in charge of a parroquia that contains a city center and a couple of barrios. Your office is relatively powerless and penniless, and the barrios are just too messy and not your priority, so you hand the papa caliente to the alcalde who, in turn, does the same thing with the governor, and so on… and the result is the anarchy that we have.


      • Father Moreno has been studying the life of marginal Venezuelans with full professional rigour for some 30 odd years ( he is a recognized university academic ) , what we see in the interview is just a tid bit sample of what he has learned in years of stury . He himself has lived many years in one of Petare’s most notorious barrios . He is no Chavista , quite the opposite . As Francisco points out its a kind of miracle that a regime sponsored publication interviews him at all . His comments are also enriched by years of direct personal observation (not just case studies) . Barrios are totally lawless places where official presence is almost non existent or corrupted by the environment . Some mayors have managed to get inside those places and improve its inhabitants life in different ways. Depends on the mayor in charge . What he says he has lived personally , he isnt simply an outside observer . He may not be right in everything but his views deserve respect .
        Maybe active band thugs arent as many as we think , but there are bound to be many side followers who join in with the bands activities depending on the ocassion . Whats missing in the telling is how the culture of primitive machismo, maybe going back to our country’s past has in time led to the creation of subcultures that worship the practice of criminal violence and cruelty as sources of ‘manly’ respect . A close kin medic who worked in the barrios told me of a wounded gang member she was attending who to impress her said “here were you see me ´doctorcita’ I have five ‘muñequitos’ (dollies) in my count ” . in other words the man was boasting of having killed five people .!!


  3. A very important subject. How ingrained is the malandro culture? What are the career prospects? How many malandros are part-time opportunists? How many are killers?

    I am a little surprised by the numbers: 1 in 1000 “professional” thugs strikes me as low. In the USA the prison population is ~1-2 million, meaning ~1 convict per 200 people. There is presumably a difference there with Venezuela because in the USA most potential criminals are incarcerated given that law enforcement is more efficient and sentences are longer compared to Venezuela. So really not sure how one comes up with such a number.


      • I don’t question that the more preoccupying problem is with serious crime ( I guess you mean kidnapping, murder, armed robbery), of which the proportion is likely higher in Venezuela. I just wonder generally where the venerable professor gets his numbers, which quite frankly seem utterly optimistic. Does he mean that “only” 10 of the malandros in a slum of 10000 are killers? Where is the line between serious offender and petty criminal, what are the proportions, and does it matter? After all, there is a gradation in behavior, there will be members of organized crime, there will be entrepreneurs and occasional opportunistic perpetrators. To say there are 10 criminals who are responsible for all of the mayhem in a slum seems preposterous.


    • Gro,

      There are many factors involved here.How we ” diagnose” a criminal is one.It’s like with Diabetes which now is being determined with a fasting Blood sugar of over 120 whereas before only at over 200.That’s why we have more REPORTED diabetics than before, not because our diet is worse or because we have more real diabetics but because we diagnose it more frequently.
      ex with crime: Whenever we go to Curacao it is shocking to witness a number of robberies and petty crimes which people think nothing of and are not reported because they are so common and also because folks know that the authorities will do nothing about them( the reasons for this are complicated). I see more crime in Curacao in one week than I have ever witnessed in 11 years here in my town in the US, but those crimes never become part of a statistic.It is actually getting so bad I hesitate to stay in our aunt’s beach house again.

      Even though it’s a Pandora’s box,the role of pathology( speaking of psychopathy) is important, and there is no known rehabilitation for this problem….only prison deters these people whose brain’s appear to be wired differently.

      However many psychopaths are not violent -They become white collar criminals and petty tyrants.

      Psychopaths have three motivations: thrill-seeking, the pathological desire to win, and the inclination to hurt people.In a society that does not punish , they will roam the streets, becoming part of a statistic, or not.

      There is a certain number of sociopaths in a society which is fairly high,but not all will become violent offenders, especially if they have the tools to get what they want without violence.


      • The number for the estimated number of criminals apparently comes from the unofficial homicide rate estimate (for Caracas 122 per 100 000 inhabitants) assuming one homicide per criminal per year, perhaps not a bad guess.

        I suppose my question is on second thought of minor importance, but the claim of ~1 malandro per 1000 inhabitants struck me as modest, I would have guessed closer to 1 per 1000 or higher. Thus the question about how many malandros are gun totting, how many are just opportunists who would borrow a gun if the opportunity for a juicy caper arose (I am thinking of the Spears incident where, at least as I understand the story from the authorities, the accused comprise a potpourri of ages and the murder weapon was apparently borrowed on the fly)


  4. Very nice post. Chavez spread in various manners a deep consent with malandreo. Obviously his direct statement about stealing when hungry is striking. But there is something fundamental about his attitudes towards power, imposition and rule-breaking which has a deep impact on the complaisance with malandreo in a segment of Venezuelan society.

    Chavez showed and expressed utter disrespect for rules both national and international, always stating that he wanted Venezuela to be respected (but not respect). And he didn’t limit his own exercise of power to respect others. He was a bully, even if he was extremely good at camouflaging his bully-nature as a liberator, helper of the poor etc. How did Chavez see life? Life as power. His mission was to a great extent to impose to be respected (but never to respect), and his ultimate goal was to be the dictator of a super power, preferably United Soviet BananaRepublics of Latin-America.

    How do the malandros se life: Quieren imponer el ser respetados. “¿Cómo ven la vida? La vida como poder”

    Of course, another key factor in endorsing crime was Chavez’ hate speech against the middle and upper classes and anybody being master of his own productive work (not a soldier of the Socialist fatherland). They were subliminally marked as fair game, since Chavez never expressed any need to protect them from criminals. So there are several pro-crime elements here, but crucially Chavez taught that power should have no limit except the one the caudillo above you demands.

    How do chavistas expect chavista ministers and administrators to follow rules when their religion is to break rules whatever rules they feel like? The whole blue constitution myth is based around rules to limit others and give us rights, never to limit us or much less our government.


  5. One man with a gun can control 100 without one.
    Vladimir Lenin
    The way to crush the bourgeoisie is to grind them between
    the millstones of taxation and inflation.
    Vladimir Lenin
    There are no morals in politics; there is only experience.
    A scoundrel may be of use to us just because he is a
    scoundrel. Vladimir Lenin

    There’s a man for you!
    A philosophical genius of the first water!
    My Fair Lady
    George Bernard Shaw


    • Right !
      Blame it on the DEAD guys !
      Society is not to blame.
      Violence flowers into the NEW norm.
      F*ck ethical behaviour!
      F*ck the bourgeoisie upbringing!
      Long live wanton murder!


  6. It’s about respect, and power (the sub-culture)–so true. You look at an (armed) malandro “the wrong way” (meaninig his interpretation of despictively or critically), in Venezuela, he will shoot you, if he has a chance (as has almost happened to me, when only absentmindedly looking away in traffic) This same thing was happening in NYC in the 60’s-70’s on the subways, particularly with Puerto Ricans on the Upper West Side, when one only dared stare at the overhead ads, or pretend to be sleeping….


  7. I’ve long been fascinated by the work of father Moreno . My comments in this blog are peppered with references to him and his studies . They go way beyond an interest in the mindset of the marginal violent criminal and into an understanding of how the dysfunctional social structures of marginal life work and the kind of social problems such structures beget as the marginal populations booms and starts creating its own subcultures . Basic to his understanding of these problems is how people in marginal society for the most part live only for the short term, pair of for a few months or years , beget some children which are soon abandoned to start a new transient relationship which in turn begets more children in an ever recurring cycle , where no one takes responsbily for their mates or children except on a fleeting basis . These children are brought up maimed and seek in violence and in crime , in the cult of macho prepotence a compensation for the respect they dont feel they deserve (never having recieved it from their parents) . There are other works which have noted this divide between a marginal society of primitive superstitions and passions and dissocial subcultures and civil society with all those values which have as their object a concern for the future , for creating a stable future of welfare for themselves and their children . the marginal population being more than the bonafide members of civil society , they have raised to power people who share many of their countervalues , the worship of prepotence and violence in political life.


    • I think not integrating the marginal society into civil society is the tragedy of the failure of our State:
      * A school system that didn’t teach them the civic values they couldn’t learn from home, like honesty, responsibility, confidence, courtesy, dignity, ethics or peaceful conflict resolution.
      * A judicial system that didn’t protect them from criminals, and instead raised criminals as role models.
      * An economic system where they can’t afford food and proper housing, that puts them in perennial survival mode with little time to think.


      • Civil society is concerned with the Future , with creating lasting conditions that will improve the living conditions of its members and their children , with institutions and policies and jobs and relationships that are stable and maximize future benefits . Marginal society breeds a culture centered on the Now , now I have a nice woman , now I have another one , now I have a job that pays me what I now need , with little concern about education or the future , or lasting relationships or giving ones children a chance of a better life. The divide is not only about having money is about how you view the future and the present and how your organize your life arround such concerns. Psychologists tell us ( the marshmallow experiment) that if you are capable of valuing future benefits so much that you can exercise self control and wait to gain the second cookie if you wait a half hour more then chances are that you will have a more succesful life than if you go for the inmmediate gratification and eat up your sole cookie at once. People who live for the present ,, for the inmmediate advantage usually are less competent at improving their lives than people who control themselves and think of the greater benefits to be obtained if you dont just wait for the future to come but actively work to create you future , the future you want. . This is the real reason for the divide between marginal people and their subcultures and civil society and their members planned, future centred values !!


        • But the State IS supposed to step in and create an environment where people born the marginal society become part of the civil society.

          There must be assimilation, for the simple reason that the marginal society outbreeds the civil one.

          – They need an education system that teaches civic values, so they get the discipline, the ethics and the knowledge to improve their own condition.
          – They need protection from criminals, so they don’t have to form paramilitary groups or rival criminal gangs, or lynch criminals.
          – They need an effective justice system, so their conflicts and grievances can be solved peacefully.
          – They need work conditions that allow them to provide food and shelter for their family
          – They need a social safety net, with unemployment insurance, disability insurance and access to healthcare to get rid of the financial fragility in poor households, so they can focus on the days after today.


    • Wow. Just wow!

      Considering how much of the study noted effects on criminal activity, I think this is very on topic.


  8. Impunity as the root of high crime rates. This is scary for me – in Chicago, the “clearance rate” for homicides is less than 25%. “Clearance” includes all cases in which someone is arrested or charged, whether convicted or not, plus all cases of self-defense, and cases where the killing is later ascribed to someone who is also dead by then.

    I don’t know how long the restraint on criminals will hold.


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