Seven people were killed and five more injured when gunfire broke out during a funeral in Venezuela on Thursday. The brazen attack, which occurred as mourners stood around a coffin in the cemetery, was the latest in a country ravaged by violent crime.
The incident is under investigation, according to the Ministry of the Interior. Local media reports claim the shooting involved two gangs.
The shooting happened at the cemetery in Turmero, Aragua state (Photo by El Aragueño)
Corruption and a growing drug trade have turned Venezuela into one of the most violent nations in the hemisphere, with a murder rate topped only by Honduras. Venezuela, however, is narrowing that gap, according to recent comparative homicide rates.
According to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, the murder rate in Venezuela has quadrupled under the socialist governments of Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicolas Maduro. During that time, the homicide rate has spiked from 20 murders per 100,000 citizens in 1998 to 82 per 100,000 in 2014.
The Violence Observatory estimates there were more than 25,000 murders in Venezuela last year alone.
Critics of the Venezuelan government argue that political cronyism has attributed to the problem.
“In Venezuela debate and discussion is not what the government is interested in; they want only loyalty,” Thor Halvorssen a Venezuelan human rights activist told Fusion last year. “So if you have a police force its not about whether you’re doing your job, its about whether you’re a revolutionary.”
The weakness of Venezuela’s judicial institutions is another factor. Only one in 10 crimes in Venezuela is brought to court.
The Venezuelan government stopped publishing weekly murder statistics in 2005, but insists reports of crime and citizen insecurity there are overinflated.
A year ago Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez said Venezuela reported only 37 murders for every 100,000 people in 2013 — half the estimated homicide rate published by the non-governmental violence observatory.
But even then, Venezuela would still have a murder rate nearly twice as high as Mexico’s, and eight times that of the U.S., which reports 5 homicides per 100,000 people.
The UN's numbers for Venezuela’s murder rate are somewhere in between the official government stats and civil society's estimates. In a 2013 report, the UN Agency on Crime and Drugs said that Venezuela registered 58 homicides per 100,00 people, while Honduras, the world’s “murder capital” had 90 homicides per 100,00.
But figures from another UN study show Honduras’s murder rate has recently fallen to 79 per 100,00, which means that Venezuela could be closing in on the title of "most violent country in the hemisphere."
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.