Here's a gruesome distinction: Under Hugo Chavez, Caracas is more dangerous than Baghdad and, although their populations are approximately the same size, Venezuela is more dangerous than Iraq.
And it's not even close. In 2009 in Iraq, there were 4,644 violent civilian deaths. In Venezuela, according to figures attributed to the Venezuela Observatory of Violence, the number was 16,047. Even that figure is probably on the low side. A leaked government report says the number is over 19,000.
Venezuela may well be the most violent country in Latin America. In Caracas, the homicide rate is 200 per 100,000 population. In neighboring Bogota, Colombia, once notorious for its violence, it is 22.7 per 100,000. (For the entire U.S., it is 5.4 per 100,000 inhabitants.) Since 2007, there have been 43,792 homicides in Venezuela; over approximately the same period of time, 28,000 have been killed in Mexico's drug-fueled violence, according to the New York Times.
This murderous state of affairs hasn't escaped the local Venezuela press, muzzled as it is, and the popular newspaper El Nacional ran a large front-page photo of a dozen male murder victims sprawled in a city morgue.
The shocking photo galvanized the Chavez government into action, and it dealt with the crime wave the way dictators classically react to damaging disclosures.
Did the regime attack such root causes of the violence as a shrinking economy and a 30 percent-plus inflation rate due to government mismanagement? Did it deal with a politicized judiciary and hamstrung law enforcement? Of course not.
The government got a tame court to ban El Nacional from printing "images, information and publicity of any type that contains blood, guns, alarming messages or physical aggression ... and messages about killings and deaths that could alter the well-being of children and adolescents."
Problem solved, as far as the regime is concerned.
The article was distributed by Scripps Howard News Service (www.scrippsnews.com).