BOGOTA, Colombia — Venezuela’s violence hit new peaks in 2016 amid a breakdown in the law enforcement and judicial systems and a spike in hunger-related crimes, a leading nonprofit reported Wednesday.
According to the Observatory of Venezuelan Violence, or OVV, the South American nation saw at least 28,479 violent deaths this year for a total of 91.8 deaths per 100,000 residents. If the number proves accurate, Venezuela would have the second-highest homicide rate in the world after El Salvador and ahead of Honduras.
Venezuela’s homicide rate is also about 3.6 times higher than that of neighboring Colombia and Brazil, the group said.
The Venezuelan government quit providing comprehensive and regular crime statistics in 2003 but regularly argues that the OVV’s numbers are overstated and politically motivated to tarnish the accomplishments of the socialist administration.
Last year, independent analysts also questioned the OVV’s methodology. This year, the organization, which compiles data from six universities, said it was relying more on primary sources and less on statistical algorithms to fine-tune its figures.
In its annual report, the group said that Venezuela’s judiciary had shed all vestiges of independence and was being used as a political bludgeon. In addition, increased poverty and shortages “had promoted increased violence in the country.” Also, for the first time, the group said it had observed “the presence of hunger-related generalized violence.”
With the nation suffering from both hyperinflation and food shortages, looting of supermarkets and food trucks has become almost a regular occurrence.
In addition, criminals are becoming more brazen, using hand grenades and military-issue automatic weapons in their crimes, the report found.
Police have been particularly hard hit by the violence. In the capital alone, there was an average of 2.5 police murders each week, the report found.
As the Venezuelan people staggered under the violence, President Nicolas Maduro rolled out “Operation Liberation of the People” last year. The massive criminal dragnet has involved almost 70,000 security forces, and the administration claims it has resulted in disbanding hundreds of criminal groups and produced thousands of arrests.
But human rights groups say the OLP has resulted in arbitrary executions and detentions.