Venezuela's interior minister says the 2013 murder rate has fallen around 30 percent since last year, a dubious claim according to NGO counts and given the government's propensity for fudging crime statistics.
Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres told Reuters the country was set to end 2013 with a homicide rate of 39 per 100,000 residents, which according to statistics from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), would make it the lowest since 2005.
The figure would represent a major drop from the government's official 2012 murder rate of 56 per 100,000 -- itself a record high. Independent counts set the 2012 rate much higher, at up to 73 per 100,000.
The minister attributed the 2013 decrease to President Nicolas Maduro's program of sending soldiers to the streets to fight crime.
"There's still a lot of work to do, but we're heading firmly in the right direction," said Rodriguez.
The independent Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, meanwhile, has projected a 24 percent rise in murders on the 21,000 it recorded last year. To this, the minister replied, "They want to keep the perception worse than the reality."
InSight Crime Analysis
Earlier this year, Rodriguez admitted to media that the Venezuelan government keeps unfavorable crime statistics secret, saying he told Maduro they should start releasing the numbers now that they were "in tune with what we want." Over the year, his claims of decreasing homicides have ranged from five to 61 percent, and the government's lack of transparency and wildly fluctuating estimates offer good reason for doubt.
SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profiles
Additionally, the first four months of this year saw record homicide numbers maintained, putting the country on track to far exceed the 16,000 murders officially recorded by the government in 2012. As of August, the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence had calculated 25,000 murders for the year.
Even if Rodriguez's claims were credible, a murder rate of 39 per 100,000 would be nearly four times what the World Health Organization (WHO) classifies as "epidemic," and among the highest in Latin America -- above both Colombia and Mexico. The fact that such a figure appears to be a wildly optimistic projection only further highlights the country's dire security situation.