September 3, 2015

JUST YESTERDAY I WAS WARNING ABOUT THIS KIND OF THING: Livid over crime, some Venezuelans resort to mob justice.

When a man they believed to be a thief sneaked into their parking lot in the Venezuelan city of Valencia, angry residents caught him, stripped him and beat him with fists, sticks and stones.

They tied him up and doused him in gasoline, according to witnesses, in one of what rights groups and media reports say are an increasing number of mob beatings and lynchings in a country ravaged by crime.

That August night, as locals say is common, three people had sneaked into Valencia’s Kerdell residential block. In past such break-ins, thieves have made off with car tires, batteries and radios.

But this time, one resident spotted the trespassers and alerted other neighbors, according to the witnesses.

“‘Kill him, give it to him,’ they shouted,” recounted Trina Castro, 82, in this once middle-class and peaceful area that is now plagued with garbage and graffiti. One reads: “Get ready, thief, here we burn you. Regards, Kerdell.”

“I tried to stop the mob but the level of violence endangered anyone who opposed them,” said another witness, asking to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.

The unconscious man, who was not torched, was evacuated and is now in the local hospital’s trauma ward, according to witnesses and Valencia’s police. The police said they had no further details and did not identify the man.

A source at the Interior Ministry, who asked to remain anonymous because the minister is the only person authorized to speak on the record, said it does not usually comment on cases under investigation. Venezuela’s state prosecutor’s office said it had not issued a statement on the incident.

When civil society breaks down, and people no longer believe in the rule of law, this is the kind of thing that happens.