Deadly massage – Venezuela’s rampant crime

One of Hugo Chavez's lesser-known feats since taking over as Venezuela's leader in 1999 is to have presided over a tripling of the annual homicide rate, says the Economist – and that's according to official statistics:

  • Last year more than 13,000 people were killed in Venezuela, a country of 27 million.
    Venezuela's murder rate was 48 per 100,000, the second highest in the world (after El Salvador).
  • In neighbouring Columbia, a country plagued by guerilla war and drug violence, the murder rate was only 40 per 100,000.
  • Three-quarters of Venezuelans describe violent crime as the worst problem now facing the country.
  • On average, only three of every 100 murderers are actually sentenced.

    Many homicides never get included in the official statistics, says the Economist:

  • These include those killed while supposedly resisting arrest; during exchanges of fire, an estimated 39 suspects are killed for every one policeman.
  • Another large (and growing) group of suspicious deaths excluded from the official data are those that have not yet been categorised and probably never will be.
  • Jail murders are also not included; every year, two in every 100 prisoners (more than one a day) are killed.

    Caracas, Venezuela, is currently the second most dangerous city in the Americas (after San Salvador), says the Economist. Even by official figures, the murder rate in Caracas is 130 per 100,000. The true figure is estimated to be closer to 166 per 100,000.

    The recovery of Caracas' public spaces, which in Venezuela are most poorly lit and rendered inhospitable by street-trading and uncollected rubbish, would be a good start. November's elections may also help – by removing some incompetent mayors. But full-scale institutional reform may require a change of mind, or even government, at the national level, says The Economist.

    Source: Deadly Massage, The Economist, July 19, 2008.

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