Some here joke that they might be safer if they lived in Baghdad. The numbers bear them out.
In Iraq, a country with about the same population as Venezuela, there were 4,644 civilian deaths from violence in 2009, according to Iraq Body Count; in Venezuela that year, there were 16,047 homicides.
Even Mexico’s infamous drug war has claimed fewer lives.
Venezuelans have absorbed such grim statistics for years. Those with means have hidden their homes behind walls and hired foreign security experts to advise them on how to avoid kidnappings and killings.
Then a front-page photograph in a leading independent newspaper changed the tenor of the debate.
The photo in the paper, El Nacional, is unquestionably gory. It shows a dozen homicide victims strewn about the city’s largest morgue, just a sample of an unusually anarchic twoday stretch in this already perilous place.
While many Venezuelans saw the picture as a sober reminder of their vulnerability, the government viewed it differently.
A court ordered the paper to stop publishing images of violence, as if that would quiet growing questions about why the government has been unable to close the dangerous gap between rich and poor and make the country’s streets safer .
Venezuela is struggling with a decade-long surge in homicides, with about 118,541 since President Hugo Chavez took office in 1999, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, a group that compiles figures based on police files.
There have been 43,792 homicides in Venezuela since 2007, according to the Violence Observatory, compared with about 28,000 deaths from drug-related violence in Mexico since that country’s assault on cartels began in late 2006.
Caracas itself is almost unrivalled among large cities in the Americas for its homicide rate, which currently stands at around 200 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to Roberto Briceno-Leon, the sociologist at the Central University of Venezuela who directs the violence observatory.
But scholars here describe the steady climb in homicides in the past decade as unprecedented in Venezuelan history.
Reasons for the surge are complex, experts say. While many Latin American economies are growing fast, Venezuela’s has continued to shrink. The gap between rich and poor remains wide, despite spending on anti-poverty programs, fuelling resentment. Adding to that, the nation is awash in millions of illegal firearms.