CARACAS, Saturday August 10, 2013 | Update

Homicidal power

With a murder rate amounting to 73 homicides per every 100,000 residents, Venezuela leads the billboard. It is the only one country of the region which keeps a steady increase in murders

Venezuela stands out as one of the most violent countries worldwide with a murder rate amounting to more than 21,000 murders per year (File photo)
Saturday August 10, 2013  12:00 AM
What is the purpose of knowing the number of homicides committed in a country per year? The goal is not to instill morbid fascination, neither to provide food for thought aiming to create "sensation." The number of homicides is the most revealing and convincing indicator of the country degree of violence. Death is not something that can be hidden easily. The dead bodies are there, in the streets, every night, every morning, every day. They are right in front of us, and we need to pick them up and count them as well. Murders are not needed to amplify the statistics.

"Currently, 6 out of 10 murders are not denounced," Roberto Briceño-León, from the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV) asserts. "It is a sub record that we have been able to verify with the official data of the victimization survey made by the Venezuelan Government. Nevertheless, as to killings, there is no dark-figure of crime. Or, in any case, it is more reduced."

It is now hot news that Venezuela has raced to the first places of the worldwide lists with greater number of murders. And it is not a random event. In actuality, it is so deep seated that one can claim that Venezuela is the only Latin American country which has not been able to diminish its murder rate in the last years. Even Honduras, in the worst scenario, managed to get modest reductions.

Here, in Venezuela, the thing is different: it is on the rise with each passing day.

Briceño-León, a sociologist, University Professor and President of NGO Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, explains that in the sixties, seventies and eighties, Venezuela counted on a crime rate between 8 and 10 homicides per every 100,000 residents. In other words: 1,000 and 1,500 victims.

For researcher Briceño-León, 1989 represented a milestone in the matter because of the effects caused by the so called Caracazo (a social upheaval occurred in Caracas in 1989): in that year, a number of 2,513 murders occurred. In 1992, another outstanding leap took place with a register of 3,366 victims and a homicide rate of 16 murders per every 100,000 residents.

"Between 1994 and 1998, it maintained more or less the same. In 1994, Venezuela had 4,733 victims and in 1998, it had 4,550 deaths, with a murder rate of 20 homicides per every 100,000 residents," Briceño-León indicates. "And if that murder rate was high enough, in 1999, the homicide number rocketed to 5,968, without any particular event happening as it did happen when the previous peaks were recorded. Since then, such rate has not ceased to escalate."

In 2003, the number of 11,342 murders was reported -44 homicides per every 100,000 residents-, and it was then when the Venezuelan Government decided not to issue official numbers any longer."

The murder rate collected by the Venezuelan Observatory reflects in 2004 and 2005, an approximate number of 10,000 victims per year, and then reaching 37 per every 100,000 residents. And in 2006, the scene begins to get worse: 12,257 murders, with a violence rate of 45 homicides per every 100,000 residents.

From 45, we jumped to 48, then to 52, to 54 and 57 homicides per every 100,000 residents in 2010, a year in which 17,600 people were killed in Venezuela. "The upward trend in killings has not ceased," the sociologist insists. "In 2012, Venezuela counted on a murder rate of 73 homicides per every 100,000 residents. The Venezuelan Government admits a rate of 56 when indicating the existence of 16,000 murders in such period of time."

In Latin America, the only country above that 73 murder rate existing in Venezuela is Honduras. Honduras had a relatively low murder rate, and out of a sudden, it went through the roof," Briceño-León upholds: "Our thought is that it is linked with the increase of a drug traffic network that started to establish itself in that country, and the political crisis that Honduras has had to go through. The increase in homicide rate coincided with the event of the institutional crisis in Honduras."

And it escalates

"The trend in Latin America is downward; notwithstanding, in Venezuela the situation is sadly the opposite," Liliana Ortega, the director of a human rights NGO (Cofavic), claims. "And it is not only the NGOs that indicate the numbers, but the very moderate statistics of the Ministry of Justice and the Cicpc [Scientific, Criminal and Forensic Investigation Agency] reflect it." Ortega cites the number collected by the Ministry of the Interior and Justice. "In 2011, they collected 101,000,787 cases related to crimes affecting children and teenagers. And by 2012, they admit the existence of 107,000,650 cases. In 2011, the Public Prosecutor Ministry received 73,000,047 complaints –cases- related to gender-based violence. Last year, it rose to 83,000,113. In 2011, 84 police agents were killed, in 2012, the number increased to 103. And it is estimated that it was around 300 in actuality."

According to the Public Prosecutor Ministry, between 2000 and 2008, a number of 8,350 deaths because of "confrontation or extrajudicial executions" were recorded. In 2010, a number of 3,492 deaths because of "resistance to authority" were collected.

Last year, Cofavic supervised 392 cases of presumed extrajudicial executions: "75% of the victims were younger than 25 years old." Ortega warns about a phenomenon: "Both in traditionally vulnerable groups as those which are not, such as police officers, the tendency to become victims goes on growing. If we take a closer look at the numbers issued by the Public Prosecutor Ministry, we can find that from 2006 to 2010, 93% of the claims of human rights violations were eventually dismissed or overlooked. Just in 2011, 97% of the complaints ended up in this way." And she reveals her conclusions on the subject: "The rise in impunity and human rights violations is closely related to institutional deficit. Anarchy, the progressive absence of the Venezuelan State and the impunity have a bearing on the rise of violence."

Translated by Adrián Valera
The end of a cycle

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Brazil on March 13 to demand the ouster of embattled President Dilma Rousseff, carrying banners expressing anger at bribery scandals and economic woes. A banner read "We don't want a new Venezuela in Brazil."