Pirates are terrorizing Venezuela's coastal state of Sucre, once home to the world's fourth-largest tuna fleet and a thriving fishing industry. That trade has collapsed, along with virtually every industry across Venezuela. Gangs of out-of-work fishermen prey upon those who still venture out into the open sea, stealing their catch and motors, tying them up, throwing them overboard, and sometimes shooting them, the AP reports. The robberies have taken place daily this year, and dozens of fishermen have died. "People can't make a living fishing anymore, so they're using their boats for the options that remain: smuggling gas, running drugs, and piracy," says Jose Antonio Garcia, leader of the state's largest union.
The country's economy is bordering on collapse and on the coast, the catch is down to less than a third of the 120,000 tons of tuna Venezuela produced in 2004. In June, Sucre was the epicenter of food riots that swept through the country. Desperate, Venezuelans are stealing what remains from fatter times, robbing fishing boats of their nets, power generators, and outboard motors. The Caribbean sea is increasingly becoming a grim free-for-all. "You hear piracy and you think of guys robbing container ships in Africa. But here it's just poor fishermen robbing other poor fishermen," says Sucre lawyer Luis Morales. "It's the same kind of crime we've seen in the streets, but spreading to the sea. Tomorrow, it will be taking over life on the farms or in the mountains." (Amid triple-digit inflation, Venezuela is printing bigger bills.)