Venezuelan authorities say they recorded 48 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants last year, making it one of the most dangerous places in South America. Venezuela has a population of 28 million and a report for United Nations last year put the homicide rate for South America as a whole around 20 per 100.000 people.
This was the first time in years the government released murder statistics to counter opposition claims that its violent crime rate has become one of the worst in the world under President Hugo Chavez.
Rampant homicides, kidnappings and robberies are the top concern of voters in South America's biggest oil producer and could be a major threat to the populist leader's hopes to be re-elected in 2012.
A member of the opposition said that if the 155.000 Venezuelans killed in the last ten years would be lined out, “we could have a 310.5 kilometres vector of cadavers”.
Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami told parliament late Tuesday the official murder rate was 48 per 100,000 residents — worse than the Latin American average but better than data cited by opposition parties and some non-governmental groups.
We are not satisfied: quite the opposite. There is much more that needs to done, Aissami said, adding that the highest murder rates were in states with opposition party governors.
Some estimates put the Caracas homicide rate as high as 118 per 100,000 residents. That would make it the world's fourth most dangerous city after Mexico's Ciudad Juarez, Afghanistan's Kandahar and San Pedro Sula in Honduras, according to a recent study by Mexican activists Security, Justice and Peace.
Confusion over the exact figure and the widely differing estimates underline the politicized nature of the issue, said Venezuelan analyst Diego Moya-Ocampos of IHS Global Insight.
Nevertheless, all of the statistics ... confirm that Venezuela is the single most murderous country in South America, significantly ahead of Colombia and Brazil.
Chavez often accuses political rivals of stoking voters' fears of crime through propaganda to tarnish the achievements of his socialist revolution.
Aissami was testifying before the National Assembly, where the opposition has a sizable presence for the first time in years since a legislative election in September.
He said the creation of a new national police force and other anti-crime measures were bearing fruit.
Some analysts say the situation is unlikely to improve soon because the government is not tackling the root causes of crime such as the proliferation of guns and drugs.
Opposition newspapers report daily on the tally of murders, and a grim photograph of corpses piled haphazardly at the Caracas morgue was splashed on one front page before September's ballot.
That outraged the government, as did a New York Times article saying Caracas was much more dangerous than Baghdad.