A mob in crisis-ridden Venezuela burned a man alive for allegedly stealing $5

A dangerous place for pick-pockets.
A dangerous place for pick-pockets.
Image: Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
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Roberto Bernal, a chef accused of pick-pocketing $5 from another man in Caracas, Venezuela, didn’t get the chance to a fair trial. He was beaten up, doused with gasoline, and lit up in flames by an angry mob last month. He died two days later.

The Venezuelan justice system appears to be working better in the case of one of his alleged attackers, Maickol Jaimez Veroes. He is currently sitting in jail (link in Spanish) under a court order issued earlier this month after prosecutors formally accused him of premeditated homicide and arson. He’s the single person among the crowd that killed Bernal facing charges so far.

Bernal’s lynching went viral because it was captured on video. It’s part of a spate of similar incidents in Venezuela. The number of mob-justice cases under investigation by the country’s attorney general had jumped to 74 by the beginning of May from two in all of 2015, AFP reports. The country’s desperate economic situation has unleashed a wave of crime, and police don’t have enough manpower to control it (link in Spanish), one municipal police director admitted to the AFP reporter earlier this month.

This is adding to the pressures Venezuelans already are under. The country can’t produce enough electricity to keep the lights on. Pharmacy shelves are bare, and cupboards empty. The mayor of Chacao, a Caracas suburb, recently said that city residents are hunting pigeons and stray dogs and cats to feed themselves.

“This is not a joke. It’s a very painful reality,” he tweeted.

The situation is pushing Venezuelans over the edge. Bernal’s family doesn’t believe he stole anything, but the crowd that lynched him didn’t bother to find out. They started beating him before finding out what he was alleged to have taken, according to an AP story. When a passerby tried to help, they threw bottles at him. A group of bystanders just watched.