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Murder Capital of the World By: David Paulin
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, October 02, 2008


Caracas now ranks as the world's No. 1 murder capital, according to Foreign Policy magazine. It's an assessment that will surprise few credible Venezuela watchers. During President Hugo Chávez's tumultuous ten-year rule, Venezuela's quality-of-life indices have been in an ongoing tailspin – thanks to epic levels of corruption and mismanagement; not to mention El Presidente's increasing concentration of power in his own hands.

When I was a Caracas-based journalist in the 1990s, Colombia's Bogotá was the world's No. 1 murder capital. But in the years before Chávez's election, high-crime Venezuela was catching up, boasting South America's “fastest-growing” murder rate. Now, it has replaced Bogotá as the No. 1 murder capital -- thanks to Chávez's vision of “21st Century socialism.” The city of 3.2 million is plagued as well by food shortages (unprecedented during an oil boom) and increasing numbers of human rights abuses.

Violent crime has been a No. 1 concern of Venezuelans for years. Under Chávez, however, “Venezuela’s official homicide rate has climbed 67 percent — mostly due to increased drug and gang violence,” noted Foreign Policy. Venezuela's “official” murder rate is 130 per 100,000 residents, but “some speculate” it's actually closer to 160 per 100,000, according to Foreign Policy, for as the magazine explained,
...(O)fficial homicide statistics likely fall short of the mark because they omit prison-related murders as well as deaths that the state never gets around to properly “categorizing.” The numbers also don’t count those who died while “resisting arrest,” suggesting that Caracas’s cops—already known for their brutality against student protesters—might be cooking the books.
All in all, Caracas has resembled a war zone in recent years, and that raises an interesting question: How might Venezuela's murder rate compare to the rate of violent deaths in Iraq? Indeed, as Iraq's violence soared in 2006, Venezuela was itself a combat zone with 12,557 reported murders. That amounted to 34 murders per day – or the rough equivalent of the lives snuffed out by a typical suicide bombing in Iraq; its population is about the same size as Venezuela's 27 million.

During 2006, plenty of naysaying journalists and pundits were on the Iraq death watch, pronouncing it a hopelessly “failed state.” Yet none were rushing to make similarly pessimistic pronouncements about Chávez's worker's paradise.

According to Foreign Policy's reckoning, Venezuela's murder rate is well ahead of four other top murder capitals that (in order of those boasting the worst rates) are: Cape Town, South Africa; New Orleans; Moscow; and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

In mid-September, Venezuela got another black eye when New-York based Human Rights Watch issued a a 230-page report: “A Decade Under Chávez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela.” Rights abuses under Chávez's reign had “undercut journalists’ freedom of expression, workers’ freedom of association, and civil society’s ability to promote human rights in Venezuela,” the report explained. The rights group's director for the Americas, José Miguel Vivanco, observed:
Ten years ago, Chávez promoted a new constitution that could have significantly improved human rights in Venezuela. But rather than advancing rights protections, his government has since moved in the opposite direction, sacrificing basic guarantees in pursuit of its own political agenda.
Vivanco and fellow deputy director Daniel Wilkinson got more than they bargained for when perhaps somewhat foolishly (or as a testament to their intestinal fortitude), they released the report at a Caracas news conference. According to a statement from the rights group,
Vivanco and Wilkinson were intercepted on the night of September 18 at their hotel in Caracas and handed a letter accusing them of anti-state activities. Their cell phones were confiscated and their requests to be allowed to contact their embassies were denied. They were put into cars, taken to the airport and put on a plane to Sao Paulo, Brazil...
Yet despite such thuggish behavior, Chávez remains an admired figure among fashionable liberal elites, with celebrities such as Danny Glover, Cindy Sheehan, Sean Penn, Harry Belafonte and Naomi Campbell beating a path to Caracas, heaping praise upon El Presidente and his socialist paradise.

David Paulin, an Austin, TX-based free-lance journalist, is a former Caracas-based foreign correspondent.


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