HomeNewsAnalysisVenezuela's Murder Rate: Beyond the Rhetoric
ANALYSIS

Venezuela's Murder Rate: Beyond the Rhetoric

HOMICIDES / 10 FEB 2011 BY GEOFFREY RAMSEY EN

As both Venezuela’s government and the opposition battle over the significance of the country’s rising murder rate, neither side seems to be focusing on its causes. InSight looks into possible explanations for the country’s crime wave.

Violence and insecurity have plagued Venezuela for years, so much so that the government stopped publishing crime statistics in 2005 in an effort to stem criticism from the opposition. Despite the lack of official data, some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the country have presented their own alarming statistics about homicides.

Last August, the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV) reported that the number of murders in the country had nearly quadrupled during the course of President Hugo Chavez's eleven years in power, going from 4,550 in 1999 to 16,047 in 2009.

According to Spanish news agency EFE, this week saw a rare official acknowledgment of homicide statistics since the government stopped publishing its data, as Justice Minister Tarek El Aissami announced to the National Assembly that government estimates put the murder rate at around 48 homicides for every 100,000 people. While lower than the Observatory’s estimate of 57 per 100,000, the rate is still higher than that of both Mexico and Colombia, making Venezuela one of the most violent countries in Latin America and the world.

One key factor behind violence may be Venezuela’s police force, which has a reputation for corruption and bribery rather than crime prevention. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, El Aissami himself admitted in 2009 that 20 percent of all crimes in the country, including kidnappings and extortion, were committed by police.

The police force’s dirty reputation is also fueled by allegations of extrajudicial executions and acts of torture committed by police officers.  In 2010, the Venezuelan Program of Action and Education in Human Rights (PROVEA) registered 39 complaints of missing people captured by the police or military personnel.

Another possible explanation for the wave of killings is Venezuela’s judicial system, which has a long history of a corruption and inefficiency. Although Chavez was elected in 1999 in part because of his promises to reform the country’s unpopular courts, his "reforms" have amounted to politicized appointments of federal judges, which have ultimately weakened the judiciary as an independent branch of government.

As was the case before Chavez's rise to power, the vast majority of crimes committed in Venezuela – including 90 percent of all homicides – are met with impunity.

But perhaps the most ironic contribution to Venezuela’s high crime rate may lie in the failure of Chavez’s government to fully deliver on the egalitarian promises of his own "Bolivarian Revolution." Violent crime has never been completely absent in Venezuela, as the country endured soaring murder rates throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In a rush to create a socialist transition, the government may have mistakenly blamed the violence on poverty alone; it has channeled much its resources into social programs that focus on health, education and food but has neglected public security spending, perhaps expecting it to decline as the poverty rate decreased.

After El Aissammi’s announcement in the National Assembly, one minister berated him for this inaction, declaring that "if we put the coffins of those who have been killed in a straight line, we’d be burying a dead Venezuela; it would make a line of bodies exactly 310.5 kilometers long," noting that he had been given the figure from a local morgue.  In turn, El Aissami pointed out that the Chavez administration has implemented sixteen national security plans over the course of the past decade, with “varying success.”

Such dramatic posturing is common, and has been picked up the local and international media, turning Venezuela’s crime rate into more of a political talking point than a focal point of critical analysis.  While none of the above factors fully may explain the rise in homicides over the past decade, one thing is clear: the continued use of Venezuela’s murder statistics as a political football does absolutely nothing to address it.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 16 OCT 2019

A ring that sexually exploited minors from Venezuela has been dismantled in Colombia, but this only further highlights the vulnerability…

CARTEL DE LOS SOLES / 6 MAR 2020

For the first time, the International Narcotics Control Board has recognized the growing influence of the "Cartel of the Suns,"…

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 14 AUG 2017

New US government data tracking the international flow of firearms provides additional evidence that guns remain a driving force…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…