Venezuela has a solid claim to the dubious title of the world’s capital of violent crime, the Washington Post reports. United Nations figures say the rates of gun-related violence are higher in Venezuela than anywhere else. The stench coming from the police office, which doubles as a morgue, is a byproduct of a homicide rate that has eclipsed that of Colombia, a country torn by 40 years of civil strife between armed militias. Bullets fly so often in Caracas that even the truck that ferries dead bodies from the barrios to the forensics building has a bullet hole in its driver’s-side door.
Crime has become a political issue, erupting into large street protests demanding that Hugo Chavez’s government do something to stem the violence. Chavez’s opponents are trying to make crime a central theme of the December presidential elections, demanding action from a president they say has neglected the issue since taking power in 1999. Venezuela, a country of 26 million, has recorded about 10,000 homicides a year since Chavez took office. The homicide rate, 37 deaths per 100,000 people, is more than double what it was in the 1990s. Though the number of reported homicides peaked at about 11,900 in 2003, the public outcry reached its highest pitch in the last few weeks after several high-profile cases.