Venezuela saw 9,510 murders in the first six months of the year, according to police figures, putting the country on track to surpass 2011's record level of violence.

If killings continue at the same rate, based on figures from investigative police force CICPC, the country would have a murder rate of 68 per 100,000 by year-end, according to El Universal.

The newspaper notes that the rate could be even higher as homicides usually rise in the second half of the year. In 2011, only 46 percent of killings took place between January and June.

According to El Universal, the police reported a massive rise in the murder rate in Caracas, which shot up by some 72 percent, from 1,123 in the first six months of 2011 to 1,934 in the same period this year.

InSight Crime Analysis

Venezuela saw 18,850 murders in 2011, higher than any year on record, according to CICPC figures quoted by the Metropolitan Observatory on Citizen Security (OMSC). The latest reports suggest that the country will see still more violence this year.

This will increase the pressure on President Hugo Chavez, who is fighting for re-election in October. Insecurity is consistently ranked as a top concern for the electorate, though so far opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has had limited success in making the issue stick to the popular president. In June, the government launched a new security plan which it said would enforce tighter gun control and help get young people into jobs and education.

It is significant that some 20 percent of the murders in the first semester of this year took place in Caracas -- this means that killings are becoming still more concentrated there than last year, when the capital was the site of 18 percent of the country's murders. This points to the urban face of violence in Venezuela, much of which is driven by street crime. Another contributor is Caracas-based armed groups ("colectivos") aligned with the government. Last year the most violent municipality in the country was Libertador, Caracas which is home to the greatest concentration of these colectivos, in the neighborhood Enero 23.

The bitterly contested election could fuel still more violence. International Crisis Group warned in a recent report that a defeat for the government could spark a violent political crisis, with members of the Chavez administration unwilling to let go of power, and the colectivos capable of unleashing violence either independently or on behalf of the government.

Investigations

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