By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS -- More than 100,000 people have died by violent means in Metropolitan Caracas during the last decade – or, in other words, the years since President Hugo Chávez was first elected to power.
The figures come from the daily newspaper Ultimas Noticias, which said that it had obtained them from sources at the scientific and investigative police, Cicpc. Ultimas Noticias is generally considered to have an editorial line that is favorable to the government.
Counting onwards from and including 1999 up to the end of November last year, the Cicpc figures put the total of murders at 101,141. That works out at an average of 10,114 a year during the last decade.
The government stopped issuing regular statistics on crime some years ago, in what was and still is seen as an attempt to muzzle the media.
This is even though, or perhaps because of, the fact that opinion surveys regularly and consistently show that violence is the biggest single cause of preoccupation for the public.
This should be a surprise to nobody, given that, on average, one Venezuelan is murdered every hour of every day. Equally unsurprisingly, violent crime tends to hog a lot of the headlines a lot of the time.
Various reasons are put forward to explain the tendency to crime in a country with an otherwise largely peaceful record. Venezuela has never been to war with another country, although it did suffer from outbreaks of internal guerrilla activity during the closing years of the last dictator, Marcos Pérez Jiménez, in the 1950s.
One perceived cause is the encroachment of a macho culture among young males. There's a tendency to swagger and shout, as if it were considered sissy to apply rationale to resolving differences.
Think of the dreaded English football hooligans and you're already halfway there. Now throw into the equation the prevalence of guns in the hands of the population, by no means all of them properly authorized or licensed.
And on top of that, there are a lot of drugs out there, and a tendency to swig drink well beyond the reaches of personal capacity to handle it.
And then add in crushing poverty with an increasingly statist Communist system that offers little hope or imagination for escape.
Put all these factors together, criminologists argue, and you've got a recipe for non-stop murderous mayhem. And, it would seem, it's getting worse.
The first 11 months of last year saw 13,129 reported unlawful killings. That was only 27 short of the 13,156 murders recorded during the whole of 2007.
December still isn't in the equation. Unofficial estimates are that as many as 500 souls departed this life in Venezuela during the last month of last year.
The penchant for lashing out continues on both sides of the prison walls. Inside, last year, 368 inmates suffered violent deaths and another 852 were injured, according to figures issued by Ysmel Serrano, prisons director at the Interior and Justice Ministry.
It's often argued that over-crowding is a primary cause of seemingly endless violence behind bars. However, on the surface at least, this doesn't seem to have been the case.
Serrano made much of the fact that the incidence of murders fell last year even though the number of inmates held at prisons rose, to 24,360, compared with 21,201 in 2007, when 447 prisoners were killed and 1,091 were injured. The government says it is pursuing a policy of "humanizing" Venezuela's prison system.