TIME Venezuela

Dangerous Work, Low Pay for Venezuela Bodyguards

In this Sept. 17, 2014 photo, Julio Delgado instructs fellow bodyguards in a training session in Maracay, Venezuela
Ariana Cubillos—AP Julio Delgado instructs fellow bodyguards in a training session in Maracay, Venezuela, Sept. 17, 2014

“This is an ungrateful profession that leaves you with scars”

(CARACAS) — Julio Delgado spends his days in his employer’s armored SUVs and fortified mansion. Each night, he returns to his concrete home outside the capital, where he lives exposed to Venezuela’s stew of violence.

Delgado, who directs security for the family of a powerful automobile importer, is among the private bodyguards who are becoming more common — and increasingly targeted — as Venezuela is hit by an epidemic of crime.

With the country’s oil-based economy crumbling, the number of poor is growing, as is the gap between those barely scraping by and the wealthy who hire guards to protect themselves from thieves and kidnappers.

Guards like Delgado make a precarious living. Both on the job and off, bodyguards now are forced to take greater risks to guard their employers and also to protect themselves from bandits who covet their weapons and vehicles.

In 2014, more than 100 government-affiliated bodyguards were killed in Caracas, according to a tally kept by a major newspaper. The dead included at least six members of Venezuela’s presidential guard, most slain in apparent robberies gone wrong. The bodyguard of Venezuela’s first lady was among them. Many more bodyguards already have been killed in 2015, including the men guarding a governor, a minister and a mayor.

“This is an ungrateful profession that leaves you with scars,” he said.

The 36-year-old Delgado came close to being among last year’s fatalities. One night while riding his motorcycle home, he got into a rolling gun battle with bandits eager to grab his gun and means of transportation. He escaped, but was badly injured in the fight.

Guards with steady jobs, albeit modest salaries, are seen as relatively well-off by thieves.

Delgado, for one, earns $250 a month, twice what an average bodyguard might earn and six times more than a Venezuelan working for minimum wage. The salary enabled him to leave the hillside shantytown where he grew up and move with his wife into a concrete home in the village below. His neighborhood of steep, broken streets is dotted with makeshift shacks. The threat of robbery is pervasive; iron bars guard windows even on the third stories.

He tells no one he’s a security guard. Neighbors, he said, believe he’s a hairdresser with a salon in Caracas. Training is done in private, sparring with an old pair of car tires where no one can see.

“There’s a price for coming down from the slums,” says Delgados’ wife, Yurmi. “People are envious.”

Soaring crime has given Venezuela the second-highest homicide rate in the world, outside of a warzone, according to the United Nations. It’s also increased the demand for guards like Delgado, and helped them gain legitimacy.

Venezuela’s wealthy increasingly have turned to private guards as public police forces have proven to be inept or corrupt. Venezuelan officials have said publicly that 20 percent of the country’s crimes are committed by police.

When he started out 15 years ago, guards were called “lavaperros,” or dog washers, after the menial chores they were expected to perform. Delgado says nearly all of his bosses have been “vagabundos” — deadbeats, ordering him to clean the pool, scrub the patio or run to the pharmacy.

Delgado has been an advocate for his profession. He teaches classes for fellow bodyguards, and a few years ago, helped found an association of security workers that lobbies for improving their standing and protections, mostly their right to bear arms. Venezuela banned the sale of guns for everyone but police and some security companies in 2012.

But problems within the guard ranks remain. Delgado estimates a quarter of his colleagues commit violent crimes in their off hours to make up for their meager salaries. In October, the country was scandalized when a young congressman was found slain in his home, allegedly by his own bodyguards.

Meanwhile, crimes against guards have become so common one of Venezuela’s most popular websites dedicated a section to cataloguing the slayings of high-profile bodyguards.

As the risk of his profession has grown, Delgado has come to rely on the fatalism that reigns in this country where virtually everyone has been touched by violence. Matter-of-factly, he recalled the many colleagues who have been killed, leaving their wives as widows.

“I’ve always told myself, ‘When the moment comes, I’ll go with Papa Dios,'” he said, referring to God. “That’s helped me be brave.”

As he spoke, his wife sat on their couch, staring off into a painting of a colonial landscape, pressing her teal-colored plastic fingernails into her palms.

“Living like this uses you up,” she said. “Maybe, one day, God will guide him into another kind of work.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 12

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Proprietary tech under the hood means farmers can’t service their own equipment. Time for open source tractors.

By Kyle Wiens in Wired

2. These grassroots efforts to improve life are glimmers of hope for Guatemala.

By Shannon K. O’Neill at the Council on Foreign Relations

3. Secular Americans aren’t morally adrift. For many, altruism is their moral compass.

By Nick Street in Al Jazeera America

4. It takes a package of policies to substantially reduce poverty.

By Linda Giannarelli, Kye Lippold, Sarah Minton and Laura Wheaton in MetroTrends

5. “Ultimately, the most effective way to create shareholder value is to serve the interests of all stakeholders.”

By Marc Benioff in the Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 11

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Syria’s own ‘Monuments Men’ are trying to stop antiquities from becoming looted to finance terrorism.

By Joe Parkinson, Ayla Albayrak and Duncan Mavin in the Wall Street Journal

2. Scientists have combined a bionic leaf with a bioengineered bacteria to convert solar energy into liquid fuel.

By Elizabeth Cooney at Harvard Medical School

3. A dozen states are using a smart data center to keep voter information up to date. Meet ERIC.

By the Pew Charitable Trusts on YouTube

4. Deciding to embrace big data is a lot easier than changing your culture to use it well.

By Matt Asay in ReadWrite

5. Fighting malaria is going to take more than just nets.

By Utibe Effiong and Lauretta Ovadje with Andrew Maynard in the Conversation

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME world affairs

Don’t Dismiss Poverty’s Role in Terrorism Yet

The studies are mixed, but our analysis should not be hasty

With the deadly attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris earlier this month, pundits are again questioning a commonly-cited motive for radicalization. Media leaders are outright dismissing the possible role poverty plays in terrorism. On Hardball, Chris Matthews stated, “The world is filled with hundreds and hundreds of millions of poor people who have no prospects at all, but they don’t go around killing people. India is packed with poor people and they don’t go around killing people. Africa the same. These are killers.” The Wall Street Journal opined, “Wednesday’s attack also demonstrates again that violent Islam isn’t a reaction to poverty or Western policies in the Middle East. It is an ideological challenge to Western civilization and principles, including a free press and religious pluralism.”

Are the commentators right to dismiss poverty as a cause of terrorism? Policymakers, for their part, have shown a consistent tendency to name poverty as a primary motivation for terrorist acts. For example, in remarks made after a meeting with the Vatican’s Secretary of State in 2014, John Kerry declared, “We have a huge common interest in dealing with this issue of poverty, which in many cases is the root cause of terrorism or even the root cause of the disenfranchisement of millions of people on this planet.”

Scholars, however, have often come to opposite conclusions. A 2006 study on terrorism for 96 countries between 1986 and 2002 found no link between its economic measures and terrorism. In 2002, Alan Krueger, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton, and Jitka Malecková, an associate professor at the Institute for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Charles University, made the argument in The New Republic against poverty’s role in terrorism with a wide-ranging presentation of evidence including evidence gathered from Hezbollah and Hamas suggesting that upper class and more educated individuals are slightly over-represented in among terrorists because terror groups actively select for those individuals from large populations of potential recruits.’

This wealth of scholarly evidence is certainly daunting for those who argue that poverty is a cause of terrorism. However, before dismissing poverty out of hand, the pundits ought to show restraint and scholars should continue to update and reanalyze the data.

Why should media critics and academics alike avoid a rush to judgment on poverty and terrorism? For one thing, some scholarly literature documents a relationship though not necessarily a causal one—between poverty and some terrorism. A 2011 study (notably disputed by Krueger and Malecková, among others) found a positive relationship between unemployment and right wing extremist crimes committed in Germany. A 1977 study of terrorist profiles which supported the conclusion that terrorists are generally middle or upper class noted that the Provisional Irish Republican Army constituted an exception both in terms of social class and educational attainment. The Basque terrorist group ETA provides another interesting example: Goldie Shabad and Francisco Ramo point out in the edited anthology Terrorism in Context that over time, membership in ETA grew among working class individuals while it declined among the upper classes.

These examples demonstrate a fundamental structural problem in method and approach. By treating terrorism as a single category that can be examined across multiple countries and decades rather than focusing on particular groups or individuals, we overlook patterns that exist in some but not all cases.

Indeed, it is quite likely there are multiple routes into terrorism, some of which might involve poverty and some of which might not. When this data is aggregated, the poverty-related routes become less visible, but that does not mean they don’t exist. Where scholars are often careful to acknowledge this limitation, pundits have sidelined it in grand pronouncements that poverty does not cause terrorism.

Shifting our thinking on methods used to evaluate relationships between terrorism and poverty may well reveal new dimensions other potential explanations for terrorism, such as mental illness. Recent studies have found that while terrorists involved in terrorist groups are not particularly likely to be mentally ill, those who act alone are far more likely than the general population to be mentally ill. One study found 40% of the 98 lone wolves it examined to have identifiable mental health issues compared to only 1.5% of the general population.

One size will never fit all. Searching for single-category, causal explanations for terrorism and dismissing correlated elements like poverty and mental illness as irrelevant is likely to obscure other patterns that could shed light on extremist behavior. Some Americans involved in terrorism have come from affluent backgrounds: Anwar Awlaki, the American cleric who took on a leadership role in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was the son of a major Yemeni political figure and Zachary Chesser, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for trying to join Al Shabaab and threatening the creators of South Park over their depiction of Mohammed, was born to a well off family in the Virginia suburbs. On the other hand, American Somalis—82 percent of whom live near or below the poverty line according to a 2008 Census Bureau study—are the source of the largest groups travelling to fight with jihadist groups abroad. The New York Times referred to the group of Minnesotans—most of whom were of Somali descent—that travelled to fight for Al Shabaab as “the largest group of American citizens suspected of joining an extremist movement affiliated with Al Qaeda.” Since that report, the same communities have wrestled with a new wave of individuals travelling to fight in Syria.

Community members on the ground contend that the economic situation explains the persistence of jihadist recruitment among Minnesota’s Somali community. Fartun Weli, a founder of a nonprofit helping Somali women, told Voice of America that “Kids are being recruited. Yes, this is a fact. What are we going to do about it? We have to talk about the root causes that make Somali kids vulnerable … we have to make sure there are opportunities created for our community to exit poverty.”

This case calls for more study and disaggregation when looking at the potential role of poverty in causing terrorism. It is also important to consider that the argument that terrorists are often middle class and well educated because terrorist groups are capable of selecting their preferred operatives from a large pool of recruits depends on the context. Some groups, particularly well-developed groups have name recognition and screening mechanisms in place, but newer, less well-known outfits usually do not. Others may simply not be interested in screening their recruits or consider it a priority compared to gaining more manpower or the propaganda edge of a large and diverse fighting force.

Indeed, one of the primary characteristics of ISIS’ use of foreign fighters today is that they are not particularly selective about who they accept into their ranks. As Peter Neumann, the director of the International Centre for the Study of Political Violence put it, “The Islamic State is also less selective than a lot of other groups. If you come from the West, don’t speak Arabic, you’re not a particularly good fighter and don’t have a particular skill, IS will probably still accept you.”

Some groups, for example Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, have even adopted open source methods publishing bombmaking instructions online to encourage attacks where they have difficulty inserting operatives with close ties to the organization. But in adopting such an open source leaderless strategy they surrender any ability to conduct screening.

None of this is to say that an affirmative case for the role of poverty in causing terrorism is clear. However, it is time for new studies on the subject and a move towards examinations of more specific threat actors using within-case variation and other methods capable of revealing how poverty might have different effects in different contexts. Assuming previous studies still explain the dynamics in the cases we face today could lead to blind spots allowing threats to mature unhindered.

David Sterman is a research associate for New America’s International Security Program and a graduate of Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME activism

Eva Longoria: Helping Women Changes Communities for the Better

Ruth Prieto From PBS's 'A Path Appears'

The activist and actress teamed up with Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn to shed light on teen pregnancy, sex trafficking and other problems facing women

If you’re missing Eva Longoria on the small screen since Desperate Housewives ended, don’t worry: you can see her in Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s upcoming PBS documentary, A Path Appears.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning duo of Kristof and WuDunn wrote the book upon which the series is based and recruited celebrity activists like Blake Lively, Ashley Judd, Malin Akerman, Alfre Woodward, Mia Farrow and Jennifer Garner to participate. The documentary aims to not only raise awareness about global poverty facing women and girls, but also present practical solutions that address these problems.

Longoria’s portion of the series is about poverty and teen pregnancy in Colombia, and features the actress and Kristof visiting the Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar foundation, run by Catalina Escobar, which provides education, counseling and job training for teenage mothers.

“I’m of the ideology that if you help a woman, she helps her family, and if she changes her family then you start to change communities,” Longoria says. “I always believe the key to breaking the cycle of poverty lies within the women of any community.”

Longoria, who runs an organization for special needs children and an organization to help Latinas break into STEM fields (called Eva’s Heroes and the Eva Longoria Foundation, respectively) says she is grateful to be able to use her fame to give others a voice. “If a celebrity wants to lend their name and share their spotlight so that these people who don’t have a voice can be heard, I recommend it and I commend it,” she says, noting that the world’s fixation on pop culture often obscures the stories of the neediest. “Unfortunately, these stories are put to the bottom of the news cycle, because they’re not sexy and they’re not glamorous.”

Longoria also said she was shocked at some of the problems the documentary uncovered inside the United States, especially when it comes to sex trafficking. “A lot of times we think, ‘oh that happens in Africa, oh that happens in China, that doesn’t happen in America,'” she says. “How could that be the United States of America?”

The third installation of A Path Appears airs on PBS on Feb 9th.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 4

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. ISIS is bringing recruits onto the battlefield faster than we can kill them.

By Tim Mack and Nancy A. Youssef in the Daily Beast

2. If body cameras become standard issue for police officers, how will we protect the privacy of people being recorded?

By Paul Rosenzweig in The Christian Science Monitor

3. A university recognizes a third gender: Neutral.

By Julie Scelfo in the New York Times

4. Can the rest of the nation — and the world — learn from one Indian state’s incredible success reducing poverty and improving quality of life?

By the World Bank

5. Want better schools? Leadership matters. Invest in high-quality professional development for school principals.

By Arianna Prothero in Education Week

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME China

See China’s Migrant Scrap Peddlers Eke Out a Living on Booming Beijing’s Edge

“These people make the city work,” says Getty photographer Kevin Frayer. “Beijing needs them”

Mrs. Zhou avoids the city. In the seven years she’s lived and worked in Beijing’s vast northern suburbs, she’s ventured only once to the capital’s peak-roofed core. Raised in a village in Henan province, she never learned to read or write much. Subway maps and street signs are impenetrable. She frets about getting lost.

But Zhou, 36, knows the capital. It appears to her each day in the fragments of plastic she sorts. Garbage collectors from across the city lumber in with waste stacked high on their motorbikes. Zhou spends her days picking through twisted tubing, abandoned appliances, and take-away containers still splattered with sauce.

From the hearth of her brick and concrete shelter, she’s also learned a little about the world beyond Beijing. The ever growing city sheds plastic like snakes shed skin, yielding no shortage of waste. But her livelihood depends on the worth of the material, which is linked to the global price of oil. The past two months have been brutal: what once earned her two yuan, or 32¢, now earns 80 jiao, or about 13¢. “More plastic, less money,” she says.

Big cities produce a lot of trash. In Beijing, home to more than 21 million people, the task of collecting, sorting and recycling it falls primarily on migrant workers. In a place that is constantly rebuilding, they clear away the old to make way for the new. Some, in turn, will save enough to make the leap to more comfortable urban life. Others will stay on the margins, making just enough to send a little back home.

It is these links between city and country, core and periphery, that drew Getty photographer Kevin Frayer to Dongxiakou, where Mrs. Zhou lives. The district was once home to tens of thousands of recyclers, but as Beijing bulges northward, the land is being developed. Though half-built apartment blocks now loom in the distance, a few hundred have stayed to keep toiling until the last trucks roll through. “These people make the city work,” says Frayer. “Beijing needs them.”

Yet the city offers little by way of welcome. Though they work about 10 minutes by motorbike from the closest subway station, they live a world apart. Their kids are not eligible for Beijing’s public schools and they often can’t afford private tuition. On a Monday afternoon in January, several children traipsed about the trash heaps in padded jackets and fuzzy slippers, digging for treasure with chapped, blackened hands.

Beijing’s dry, cold weather makes living and working in Dongxiakou tough. Some families give about half of their net income to the local laoban, or boss, for a place to stay and a shot at incoming scrap. (The boss also advised them not to talk to visitors, which is why we’ve withheld their names.) Others simply squat in temporary shelters built from the discarded lumber, scrap metal, and plastic sheets they sort.

Mr. Zhao, a 60-year-old from Sichuan province, more that 1,000 miles away, built his own hut of particleboard, reclaimed bricks and old cement bags. When the camp closes, it will be sold off piece by piece. Then he, and Beijing’s leftovers, must move somewhere, anywhere, else.

TIME poverty

1 in 5 American Children Relying on Food Stamps for Meals

Food Stamps Help Bridge Gap For 20 Percent Of Americans Who Struggle With Hunger
Andrew Burton—Getty Images A girl pays for her mother's groceries using Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) tokens, more commonly known as Food Stamps, at the GrowNYC Greenmarket in Union Square on September 18, 2013 in New York City.

Economic recovery is not really benefiting low-income families

Twenty percent of children in the U.S. currently need food stamps to eat, according to federal data released Wednesday.

Citing figures compiled by the U.S. Census survey of American families, Reuters reports that 16 million children in the country used food stamps in 2014.

This number represents a significant spike from prerecession levels of 9 million children (or 1 in every 8), indicating that the U.S. economy’s recovery is not benefiting low-income families as much.


TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 26

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. We spent more than $170 billion on the wars they fought for us. Can we spend $5 billion to give veterans a guaranteed income?

By Gar Alperovitz in Al Jazeera America

2. A ‘teaching hospital’ model could work for journalism education by making students work collectively to produce professional results.

By Adam Ragusea at Neiman Lab

3. Humans are born with an intimate understanding of pitch, rhythm, and tone. We’re all musical geniuses.

By Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis in Aeon

4. WarkaWater Towers — which produce up to 25 gallons of water out of fog and dew every day — could change lives in drought-stricken countries.

By Liz Stinson in Wired

5. Private sector investment savvy and funds can help us tackle poverty’s toughest challenges. It’s time for impact investing.

By Anne Mosle in The Hill

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME poverty

L.A.’s Homeless Camps Are Growing as More People Are Forced Onto the Streets

FREDERIC J. BROWN—AFP/Getty Images A man carries his belongings while walking past homeless people sitting amid their belongings on a street in downtown Los Angeles, California, on January 8, 2014.

Gentrification and shelter closures are leaving more people without a roof over their heads

Homeless camps in downtown Los Angeles are growing past their original boundaries and spilling over into other areas of the city.

Because of redevelopment of the downtown area, soaring rents, funding cutbacks and the closure of shelters, residents from neighborhoods such as Highland Park and Boyle Heights are being forced into the streets, the Los Angeles Times reports.

In an effort to find out where these people came from, and why, 6,000 volunteers will hit the streets on Tuesday and Thursday to ask the city’s homeless people questions about domestic violence, military service, gender identity and prison history.

The city’s mayor, Eric Garcetti, has pledged to get the 3,400 homeless veterans off the streets by the end of 2015.

Read more at Los Angeles Times.

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