Newly released homicide statistics show violence continues to rise in Venezuela almost a year after the government launched a hardline campaign to break the grip of criminal organizations and end the country's security crisis.
The Attorney General's Office announced that Venezuela registered 4,696 homicides between January and March 2016, reported AFP.
This compares to 3,192 homicides registered during the first trimester of 2014, according to government statistics. The government did not release a homicide round-up for the first trimester of 2015, but did say that in total the year saw 17,778 homicides -- an average of 1,482 to a month compared to 1,565 for the first three months of 2016.
The Attorney General's Office blamed the 2016 homicide rate on "organized criminal gangs" in the country, reported AFP. Other government officials have blamed insecurity on sophisticated gangs and Colombian "paramilitary" groups -- a claim used to justify the launching of a huge security operation last year in several key urban neighborhoods.
InSight Crime Analysis
Given the Venezuelan government's long tradition of not releasing homicide statistics, this recent increased transparency is a positive development. Nevertheless, it is clear that the long-running trend of escalating violence in Venezuela shows little sign of reversing.
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The 2016 homicide statistics do not reflect well on last year's security surge, dubbed "Operation Liberation and Protection of the People."
The massive deployment of security forces into many of Venezuela's poorest and most violent neighborhoods was supposed to break the hold of increasingly powerful gangs. However, as documented by Human Rights Watch and local media, the operation has led to alleged extrajudicial killings by police and a steady stream of complaints about human rights abuses. It may have also prompted criminal groups to become more organized in the face of such repressive policing, some analysts have suggested.
Extrajudicial killings and indeed any deaths involving police shootouts are not included in the government's homicide count for 2016, which also excludes deaths of unknown intent. This means the actual number of violent deaths in Venezuela may be significantly higher, as reflected in the figures of non-governmental organizations such as the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia -- OVV).
Despites concerns about security forces abuses, the aggressive approach to rooting out gangs looks set to continue. In one recent operation in Aragua state, the police and military engaged in a lengthy shoot-out with a local gang that officials claimed were linked to Colombian paramilitaries.