HomeNewsAnalysisVenezuela's 'Record' Homicide Rate Points to Wide Availability of Guns

Venezuela's 'Record' Homicide Rate Points to Wide Availability of Guns


With Venezuela's homicides climbing to dramatic rates, rising by a third in 2011, it seems more urgent than ever to reduce the huge number of firearms circulating among civilians.

According to Venezuela's main police agency, known by its acronym the CICPC, there were 18,850 murders in 2011, a 30 percent increase from the previous year.

Another count by watchdog group the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (OVV), which says it bases its numbers on police reports, maintains that 2011 was most violent year in Venezuela's history, with 19,336 homicides. That would put the national homicide rate at 67 per 100,000 inhabitants.

There is one short-term solution that could slow the tide of violence: a well-funded disarmament campaign to reduce the number of firearms on the street. This approach alone will probably do little good if it does not form part of a wider strategy to reduce crime rates and impunity. But the government needs to prove their commitment to taking guns from the hands of civilians, especially after years of arming civilian militias for political purposes.

According to a 2009 survey by Venezuela's National Statistics Institute (INE), which covered over 20,000 households, 79 percent of homicides and kidnappings and 74 percent of robberies are committed with guns. Another study by the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) found that 79 percent of all homicides carried out between June 2008 and and June 2009 involved firearms.

There is also evidence that these guns are widely available among the poorest and youngest sectors of Venezuela's population. Gun violence disproportionately affects those between 15 and 29 years old, while Venezuela's two lowest socioeconomic groups made up 80 percent of all homicide victims in 2009, according to INE. Meanwhile, Venezuela's highest socioeconomic class only experienced two percent of all crimes.

Two important legal steps have been taken towards disarmament in Venezuela. The first, passed in 2002, requires gun owners to register their weapons in military records. A stricter law, passed in 2010, but not yet implemented, would sentence gun traffickers to up to 16 years in prison. In December 2011, the government announced a series of stricter gun controls to be put in effect for the next three months, which includes banning the possession of firearms in public places. This was an extension of the stricter regulations first enforced in September 2011, as InSight Crime reported at the time.

The government has taken previous measures to take guns off the streets, including one disarmament campaign that reportedly resulted in the destruction of 50,000 firearms last year. Nevertheless, an ongoing concern is that the number of guns distributed among volunteer militia units provides an easy supply of firearms among the civilian population. There are thought to be hundreds of thousands of members of umbrella militia organization the National Bolivarian Militia (MNB). The recruits are trained and equipped with weapons and there is little oversight over what filters through to the black market.

President Hugo Chavez and his defenders argue that Venezuela experienced steadily rising crime and homicide rates before he took office. Another argument is that impunity and police corruption are problems that pre-existed his administration. These points are valid, but outdated.

And considering that the 2011 police data on homicides coincides so closely with OVV's count, it will be hard to argue against the reality that violence has accelerated rapidly under the Chavez administration. And it will be impossible to deny that one of the major reasons for this intensification is the wider avaliability of firearms.

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.


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.


Related Content

BRAZIL / 8 OCT 2015

According to Brazil's latest homicide statistics, murders overall are on the rise, with a particularly dramatic jump in the number…

COCAINE / 24 NOV 2021

An unusually drawn-out feud between two rival gangs in northern Costa Rica has left over 150 people dead in five…

PRISONS / 18 SEP 2013

A savage prison battle has left 16 dead in Venezuela, highlighting the horrendous conditions and lack of government control in…

About InSight Crime


Who Are Memo Fantasma and Sergio Roberto de Carvalho?

24 JUN 2022

Inside the criminal career of Memo Fantasma  In March 2020, InSight Crime revealed the identity and whereabouts of Memo Fantasma, a paramilitary commander and drug trafficker living in…


Environmental and Academic Praise

17 JUN 2022

InSight Crime’s six-part series on the plunder of the Peruvian Amazon continues to inform the debate on environmental security in the region. Our Environmental Crimes Project Manager, María Fernanda Ramírez,…


Series on Plunder of Peru’s Amazon Makes Headlines

10 JUN 2022

Since launching on June 2, InSight Crime’s six-part series on environmental crime in Peru’s Amazon has been well-received. Detailing the shocking impunity enjoyed by those plundering the rainforest, the investigation…


Duarte’s Death Makes Waves

3 JUN 2022

The announcement of the death of Gentil Duarte, one of the top dissident commanders of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continues to reverberate in Venezuela and Colombia.


Cattle Trafficking Acclaim, Investigation into Peru’s Amazon 

27 MAY 2022

On May 18, InSight Crime launched its most recent investigation into cattle trafficking between Central America and Mexico. It showed precisely how beef, illicitly produced in Honduras, Guatemala…