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Venezuela’s Republic of Crime

WASHINGTON, DC – The recent kidnapping of Carlos Pujalte, Mexico’s ambassador to Venezuela, has cast an unflattering light on the latter country’s declining public safety. Over the past year, several diplomats have suffered a similar fate in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital.

In recent years, Venezuela’s crime rates have increased more than those of any other Latin American country. In 1998, when President Hugo Chávez was first elected, 4,550 murders were recorded. By 2011, that number had skyrocketed to 19,336 – an astonishing figure that exceeds the total number of murders in the United States and the European Union combined.

Today, with a homicide rate of 67 per 100,000 people, Venezuela trails only Honduras and El Salvador. The situation is especially bad in Caracas, which has likely become the world’s most dangerous city. At approximately 210 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, the city’s murder rate has now surpassed that of Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez – the front line in Latin America’s drug wars.

The Venezuelan security debacle is as enlightening as it is tragic. It offers a cautionary tale about the limits of easy explanations, prescriptions, and predictions when it comes to crime.