Venezuela: South America's most dangerous country

According to calculations made by a respected NGO, Venezuela is now far and away the most dangerous country in South America, with Caracas one of the most dangerous capitals in the world.

Fernando Llano/AP/
A vendor wearing a T-shirt with an image of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez sells vegetable at a state-run market in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday.

The Venezuelan Observatory Of Violence (Observatorio Venezolano de la Violencia) has released a study on homicides during 2012 putting the national homicide rate at 73 per 100,000 of the population, with Caracas registering 122 per 100,000. As a point of comparison, neighboring Colombia, still in the midst of the civil conflict, last year registered just over 31 homicides per 100,000.

The study was conducted by the NGO working with six national universities. It put the number of homicides during the year at 21,692, a significant increase on 2011 (19,336), which had gone down as the most violent year on record in Venezuelan history.

According to the government, the homicide rate for 2011 was just over 48 per 100,000 of the population. Even at this level Venezuela was one of the most dangerous nations in South America.

InSight Crime Analysis

While the statistics can be challenged, the upward trend in homicides cannot.

These figures are just part of a wider pattern that began with the election of Hugo Chávez to the presidency in 1999. The blame for this lies on both internal and external factors.

The internal factors include rampant corruption in almost all branches of the security forces, a lack of investment in the police force, weak gun control that has led to a proliferation of arms, and a lack of coherent security policy on the part of the Chávez regime.

On the external side, there is the fact that Venezuela has become a principal transit nation for Colombian cocaine. This has led not only to the presence of Colombian criminal networks in Venezuela, along with Colombian Marxist rebel groups, but the development of Venezuelan organized crime. Principal among this homegrown organized crime is the "Cartel of the Suns," a powerful drug trafficking network allegedly led by senior members of the military.

--- Jeremy McDermott is a director at Insight Crime,which researches, analyzes, and investigates organized crime in the Americas.

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