Venezuelans already live with spiralling crime rates, rampant kidnapping and one of the highest murder rates in the world. Now they face a new threat: scissor-wielding thieves who target long-haired women and sell their stolen manes as hair extensions.
President Nicolás Maduro has vowed to bring the full weight of the law to bear on a gang of hair thieves, known as the Piranhas, operating in Maracaibo, the country's second city.
"We will capture these people, we will legislate to ban this crime. What sort of aggression is this? Our girls are sacred and we will apply the law with great force," Maduro said on Wednesday. He claimed that the gang originated from neighbouring Colombia.
This latest trend in Venezuela's ever evolving crime scene has caused an uproar in social media, with as many as three new cases reported every day, according to Luis Navas, a police inspector in Maracaibo.
"The clippings began three weeks ago. We receive at least one formal complaint a day, but mainly people are going to Twitter to report the assaults," Navas said.
of the thefts occur around shopping malls and in a populous sector
of the city called Las Pulgas, and normally involve two or three
people often women who surround the victim, force
her to pull her hair back into a ponytail which they then clip
According to Flor Gil, a hairdresser in Caracas, hair extensions are highly coveted, often fetching close to US$800 (£513) for natural hair and $500 for synthetic.
mayor of Maracaibo, Eveling Trejo de Rosales, told local media
that a special contingent of "men and women were being placed
to [stand] guard and avoid this happening", but, according
to Navas, no plan has been put in place, and no unit has been
deployed to guard mall entrances, where the attacks most often
"This is madness! Now, on top of insecurity, kidnappings and food shortages, we're also having to worry about our daughters and wives being victims of hair thieves," Navas added.
which is close to the border of Colombia, has long battled unsuccessfully
with rampant crime, including a high number of murders, kidnappings
and contraband along the border.
"The crime is not taken seriously by many, but the truth is that you have a population, mainly women between the ages of 16-35, who now have an extra worry that fuels this life in constant fear, and that's where the real crime lies," Navas said.