Venezuela Confronts Homicide Statistics

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In a presentation before Congress, Venezuela’s Attorney General said that Venezuela registered almost 18,000 homicides last year. While some have disputed this number, the frank discussion of challenges facing the country may mark a shift in tone regarding how the government treats its crime and violence problem. 

Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz addressed Venezuela’s National Assembly on February 2, providing legislators with an update of year-end crime and homicide figures for 2015. The report cited a total homicide count of 17,788, putting the murder rate at 58 per 100,000 inhabitants.

In her presentation to legislators, Ortega Diaz noted the easy availability of firearms and police involvement in criminal activity as two key concerns connected to high crime and murder rates. 

Immediately after Ortega Díaz’s update, Congressman Juan Miguel Matheus challenged the attorney general’s figures, citing a counter-figure of nearly 28,000 violent deaths for 2015, putting the country’s homicide rate at 91 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Both the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia- OVV) and the Mexican Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice (Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal- CCSPJP) offer additional competing Venezuelan homicide rates for 2015, citing 90 and 73  per 100,000 inhabitants, respectively. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The figures on homicides in Venezuela are all over the place largely because of discrepancies in what is actually being reported. The 17,788 figure reported by Ortega Diaz corresponds only to registered intentional homicides, but leaves out violent deaths of unknown intent and deaths at the hands of police. Alternatively, the numbers used by the OVV are projections based on 2013 and 2014 data that take into account intentional homicides, violent deaths of unknown intent, and police-involved shootings. 

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Dorothy Kronick, a doctoral candidate at Stanford University whose research interests include violence in Venezuela, told InSight Crime via e-mail that if the government offered an official count of all three of these categories, its figure would likely be closer to that of the OVV. Otherwise, the OVV’s estimate and the numbers cited by Ortega Díaz before Congress are simply not comparable, she added. 

Because the OVV numbers are estimates based on past data, the actual number of homicides in Venezuela is likely somewhere in between the OVV’s estimate and Ortega Díaz’s numbers, possibly closer to the one reported by the Mexican CCSPJP, David Smilde of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) told InSight Crime via e-mail

This most recent appearance before the National Assembly marks the first time in five years that a top law enforcement official has formally presented legislators with crime and homicide statistics. Smilde told InSight Crime this is partly due to the changing political context in Venezuela. With the opposition party now in control of the National Assembly, pro-government officials — like the current attorney general — are now subject to this type of demand for information from legislators, whereas previously they generally were not. Smilde noted that the absence of spin in Ortega Diaz’s report and her direct recognition of firearms and police criminality as serious problems in the Venezuelan justice system show that she is willing to acknowledge hard truths. 

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