Caracas, Venezuela (PanAm) – Those who study violence and insecurity in Venezuela are still wondering what Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz could have been thinking when she admitted to the United Nations that the country’s homicide rate is 62 per 100,000 inhabitants.
The figure places Venezuela as the world’s second most violent country — surpassed by only Honduras, with a rate of 66 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
Roberto Briceño León, head of the Venezuelan Observatory on Violence (OVV), said the official was seemingly unaware of the consequences of her statements to the UN Human Rights Committee on Tuesday, June 30. Lacking reliable official statistics, the NGO counts 24,980 murders in Venezuela in 2014.
“It seems that Díaz made the announcement only to rebuke the OVV’s numbers, which puts the homicide rate at 82 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2014. She did it without understanding that a rate of 62 homicides is still outrageous, showing Venezuela’s grave situation,” Briceño León told the PanAm Post.
“With this rate, the government is admitting that at least 18,600 homicides took place in the country, excluding those who resisted authority, which are not included in the calculations.”
The expert said Venezuela has experienced a sustained increase in violence since Hugo Chávez took office in 1998, when the homicide rate was at 20 per 100,000 inhabitants.
“Every kind of crime has surged: homicide, kidnapping, robbery, and theft. The second feature is that the violence that used to be focused in a few cities has spread across the country. Third, criminals have improved their organization; they are better armed and more willing to fight the police,” he adds.
Briceño León notes that there have been several recent violent episodes where criminal gangs have taken over regions known as “peace zones,” leaving police unable to patrol and investigate crimes.
On June 4, a criminal gang subdued a group of Caracas policemen in an area known as Cota 905. They wounded five agents and set fire to nine motorcycles belonging to the Bolivarian National Police. The shooting went on for hours, and authorities had to bring in air support to end the confrontation.
“We can say the turning point was the incident at the Manfredir building in Quinta Crespo [in October 2014], when police clashed with colectivos [pro-government paramilitary groups], an episode that led to the removal of the Interior and Justice minister. The police have inferior weapons, and they have orders to stay away from those areas [controlled by criminals],” Briceño León said.
In just the first six months of 2015, 2,642 violent deaths have occurred in the city of Caracas, an average of 440 per month. The tally includes homicides, as well as suicides and undetermined causes, but according to the OVV, 80 percent are murders.
The numbers signal a 7 percent increase compared with the first half of 2014, when 2,464 violent deaths took place in the Venezuelan capital. The government stopped releasing official homicide statistics in 2005, and since then local activists and watchdog groups have obtained their data from sources at the country’s primary morgue.
In sharp contrast to what Attorney General Ortega Díaz reported to the United Nations, Interior and Justice Minister Miguel Rodríguez Torres told El Universal in September 2014 that the 2013 homicide rate in Venezuela was 39 per 100,000 inhabitants. Rodríguez also said the administration aimed to contain violence and expected a rate no higher than 35 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2014.
“In Venezuela, we have a government that contradicts itself and lies to the people,” criminal lawyer Luis Izquiel told the PanAm Post. “We have known for many years that the official policy has been to hide the figures, and the attorney general has let it slip. By admitting the murder rate, she recognized, in front of the entire world, that the government has failed to curb insecurity.”
The expert notes that the world average is six homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“The WHO regards countries whose homicide rates surpass 10 per 100,000 inhabitants as going through an epidemic. Sixty-two is the highest rate in Venezuela’s history, and shows just how inefficient the Venezuelan government has been regarding security. In just two years, the rate has risen 9 percent. The same report by the WHO shows that in 2012 the homicide rate was 53 per 100,000 inhabitants,” the lawyer says.
During Nicolás Maduro’s two years as president, four military officers have served as Justice and Interior minister, and at least six different plans have been implemented under the flagship comprehensive security program Gran Misión A Toda Vida Venezuela (Great Mission for All Life).
One such plan was the voluntary disarmament initiative that asked Venezuelan criminals to give up their weapons in exchange for economic incentives. Despite the initiative, Venezuelan police armed with 9-millimeter handguns continue to square off against criminal gangs stocked with fragmentation grenades, AK-47s, and AR-15 rifles.
Under Ortega Díaz’s watch as attorney general, 98.5 percent of all common crimes went unsolved in 2014. According to last year’s report by her office, only 5,424 crimes out of 351,321 ended in a trial.