Venezuela Country Profile


Key Statistics

Population: 30.4 million (World Bank, 2013)

Capital: Caracas

Languages: Spanish (official), numerous indigenous dialects

Major Ethnic Groups: Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Arab, German, African, indigenous people

GDP per Capita (current US dollars): 11,036 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2015)

GDP per Capita PPP (current international dollars): 13,422 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2015)

Security Sector Stats

Active Armed Forces: 115,000 (Military Balance, 2014)

Small Arms: number of guns (both licit and illicit) held by civilians is 3,250,000; the defence forces are reported to have 170,000; and the number of law enforcement firearms is 120,000 (Gun Policy, 2015)

Military Expenditure: 1.2% of GDP (World Bank, 2013)

Executive Summary

With the death of President Hugo Chávez on March 5, 2013, Venezuela faces significant political uncertainty, which will likely make it more difficult for the country to implement wide-ranging security and judicial reforms in the coming years. During his 14 years in office, Chávez was heavily criticized for weakening the independence of the country’s judiciary, and for failing to stem a rise in homicides that has made the country one of the most violent in the world. Even as his party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela-PSUV) remains popular, critics have argued that the government’s overall efficiency in implementing effective security and justice reforms has been limited, as the government placed far more emphasis on promoting those deemed politically loyal.

In conjunction with the rising violence during Chávez’s years in power, Venezuela has seen an increase in drug trafficking activity, particularly cocaine trafficking operations conducting by criminal organisations from neighbouring Colombia. The Chávez administration frequently came in for criticism that it allowed Colombian leftist guerrillas to operate in Venezuelan territory with ease, and that factions of the military were running their own drug trafficking rings.

Even as the government pushed through with a series of reforms of the national police force, Chávez nonetheless left behind a legacy of increased crime and violence rates. Members of the judiciary have complained of being severely hampered in terms of their capacity to issue independent rulings, with international organisations like Human Rights Watch decrying Chavez for politicising the courts.  Impunity and judicial inefficiency remain severe problems: on average, prosecutors in Venezuela receive approximately 2,000 criminal complaints a year; just 20 of those go to court and only two result in convictions.

Engaging with the government on reform measures is highly contingent on the outcome of April 2013’s presidential elections. Should Chávez’s political allies retain power then engaging successfully could be problematic given the history of hostility toward the west shown during the Chávez years.

Security and Justice Context

Venezuela has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, with the number of murders in the country rising substantially since Hugo Chávez took the presidency in 1999. In 2000, the country had a murder rate of 33.1 homicides per 100,000; by the last count in 2012, this rate had more than doubled to 73 per 100,000 (See Figure 1.).


Fig. 1 Venezuela Homicide Rate 2000-2012

There is some disagreement over homicide figures in the country and the government has been criticised for withholding statistics in recent years. In March 2013, then-Vice President Nicolás Maduro stated that the country registered 16,072 murders the previous year, a significantly lower estimate than the 21,692 murders[1] non-governmental organisation (NGO) the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia–OVV) said took place. It is certainly possible that the numbers cited by Maduro are underestimating the levels of violence. In previously released murder rates, some categories of killings have been left out of the official count. These include deaths classified as “resistance to authority” (involving police or military use of force against suspected criminals), deaths registered inside Venezuela’s prisons, and “deaths under investigation” (undetermined deaths that could either be classified as suicides or accidents)[2] .

Express kidnappings—in which victims are held for less than 24 hours—are another widely reported problem in Venezuela. One Caracas-based think tank, the Institute for Investigations on Coexistence and Citizen Security (Instituto de Investigaciones de Coexistencia y Seguridad Ciudadana-INCOSEC), has calculated that express kidnappings increased 60 percent between 2009 and 2010 alone. In the last few years, Venezuela has witnessed several kidnappings of high-profile public figures, including the Mexican ambassador to Venezuela, a diplomat from the Costa Rica Embassy, and baseball player Wilson Ramos.

According to police agency, the CICPC, kidnappings rose from 44 cases in 1999 to 1,105 in 2011; however, this figure does not include express kidnappings meaning the actual count is likely far higher. For example, some estimates put the number of express kidnapping cases at between 20 and 40 per day in the capital alone.

Venezuela is a significant transit nation for the international drugs trade—particularly Europe-bound cocaine—and has experienced increased domestic consumption of illicit narcotics in recent years. The US State Department has estimated that between 161 and 212 tonnes of cocaine left Venezuela to overseas destinations in 2011 while the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has reported that many of the large cocaine shipments—both maritime and aerial—found in West Africa originated in Venezuela, specifically the eastern states of Bolivar and Anzoátegui.

The presence of Colombian criminal and guerrilla groups in Venezuelan territory has long been considered one of the country’s most pressing national security challenges. During his time in office, President Chávez faced accusations that he tolerated the presence of Colombian guerrilla groups the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) in western Venezuela along the Colombian border, giving the guerrilla groups a key refuge by allowing encampments. The armed rebel groups are alleged to be profiting off of the mining industry in this area of Venezuela, controlling the smuggling of coltan (a mineral valued for its use in electronic devices), as well as running drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion operations. While the capture and extradition of several FARC and ELN members in 2012 served as indication that the Venezuelan government was willing to take some action against the guerrillas, the US State Department has said that Venezuela still “broadly tolerates” the rebels’ presence. 

Following the tense relationship that Chávez maintained with Colombia’s former President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010), Venezuela repaired its diplomatic and economic relationship with its Andean neighbour once President Juan Manuel Santos came into power in 2010. This resulted in increased cooperation between Venezuela and Colombia on the security and anti-narcotics front. In 2011, Colombia extradited Venezuelan drug trafficker Walid Makled back to Venezuela. Venezuela has also deported several top-level drug traffickers to Colombia, including Daniel Barrera Barrera, alias “El Loco,” arrested in September 2012; Diego Perez Henao, alias “Diego Rastrojo,” arrested in June 2012; and Maximiliano Bonilla Orozco, alias "Valenciano," arrested in November 2011. However, the presence of these high-profile criminals, along with a number of others, raises concerns that they saw Venezuela as being a country where they could operate with relative ease.

Venezuela has its own guerrilla group, the Bolivarian Liberation Forces (Fuerzas Bolivarianas de Liberación - FBL), active in the western border states, and known to harass the local population with kidnapping and extortion. Factions of Colombian neo-paramilitary organisations also have a foothold along the border, and are involved in the trafficking of drugs and gasoline[3] .

The expansion of the transnational cocaine trade is cited as one explanation for the steady increase in violence seen under the Chávez government. According to a Mexico-based think tank which monitors violence in Latin America, the Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice (Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal), Caracas is now the third-most violent city in the world, with a murder rate of 119 per 100,000 inhabitants. Much of the violence is driven by local gangs fighting over control of the domestic drug market and this phenomenon is not limited to the Venezuelan capital: cities such as Barquisimeto, Valencia, and Maracaibo have all seen dramatic increases in crime and homicides in the past several years.

Another explanation cited for the rise in violence is the increased availability of illegal firearms in Venezuela. There are an estimated 1.1 million to 2.7 million illegal firearms in the hands of civilians, although opposition to the Chávez government has claimed there may be as many as 15 million. There are thought to be 2.1 million to 4.6 million firearms total in the country, with 76,000 in the hands of the police and 281,000 in the hands of the military. Weapons that originated in military and police arsenals have been discovered in the hands of Colombian guerrilla and criminal groups, evidence of an illegal arms trade between Venezuelan and Colombian traffickers. Firearms are used to commit approximately 80 percent of all homicides in Venezuela; the global average is 42 percent.

A number of illegal firearms are believed to have been sourced from urban militias such as the National Bolivarian Militia (Milicia Nacional Bolivariana - MNB), as militia recruits are given weapons as part of their training. This wide availability of illegal firearms did not slow efforts under Chávez to expand its arsenals, with the government backing the construction of an arms factory capable of producing up to 25,000 Kalashnikov and sniper rifles a year.

Venezuela’s foreign exchange controls, in place since 2003, are believed to have made the country vulnerable to money laundering, as it has helped create a large black market for currency exchange. These rates have helped money launderers disguise profits from drug trafficking and other illegal activities in the black market dollars-for-Colombian-pesos exchange. According to the US State Department,  in Venezuela “money laundering occurs through commercial banks, exchange houses, gambling sites,  fraudulently invoiced foreign trade transactions, smuggling, real estate, agriculture and livestock businesses, securities transactions, and trade in precious metals.”

Perceptions of Insecurity

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the perception of insecurity among Venezuelan citizens has been consistently high in recent years.  According to Vanderbilt University’s Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), the country registered a score of 49.2[4] points in 2010. While this dropped slightly to 47.6 points in 2012 (See Figure 2.), Venezuela had the second-worst rating out of the 26 countries surveyed.

Fig. 2 Venezuela Perception of Insecurity 2010 and 2012

Security and Justice Institutions

Justice Institutions

Venezuela’s highest court is the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (Tribunal Supremo de Justicia – TSJ), which is divided into six chambers, including constitutional, political, electoral, civil, and criminal. The TSJ oversees all judicial activity in Venezuela, supervising the district, municipal, and trial and appeal courts. 

The lower courts are divided into nine categories, including a military court, which has its own prosecutor and judicial circuit. A commission of six judges from the TSJ, known as the Judicial Commission (Comisión Judicial), is in charge of appointing and removing judges in the lower courts. Critics have said the Judicial Commission has abused its power, appointing and suspending judges based on their political ideology.

Above the lower courts is a system of 24 Appellate and Superior Courts (Cortes de Apelaciones and Tribunales Superiores). Final appellate jurisdiction rests with the TSJ.

Venezuela has five rather than three branches of government. One of them, the citizens’ branch, is made up of the Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República), the Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo), and the Comptroller General’s Office (Contraloría General de la República). Venezuela’s Attorney General’s Office is responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes in the public interest while responsible for the investigation and prosecution of human rights violations is the Ombudsman’s Office. The Comptroller General’s Office is charged with investigating and prosecuting cases related to the mismanagement of public funds.

Venezuela moved to an adversarial legal system in 1999. There are state prosecutors, but no federal prosecutors.

Since Chávez assumed the presidency in 1999, the government has approved seven sets of judicial reforms which have had little impact in terms of making the judiciary more effective. The court system remains slow, corrupt, and inefficient, and suffers from a severe case backlog. Additionally, the government has been strongly criticised for reducing the independence of the courts, filling the TSJ with government supporters who have worked to advance Chávez’s political agenda. In the World Economic Forum’s 2012-2013 Global Competitiveness Report for judicial independence, Venezuela ranked last out of the 144 countries surveyed.

Because the TSJ’s Judicial Commission retains the power to appoint and remove lower court judges, this effectively gives the TSJ political control over the lower courts as well. As the US-based NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted in a 2008 report, instead of promoting judicial independence, “Chávez and his allies chose to rig the system to favour their own interests.” In 2012, a former president of the Supreme Court Penal Chamber described the legal system as farcical. The impunity rate is estimated to stand at roughly 96 percent in homicide case, according to academic studies.

Further compromising the effectiveness of the judiciary is the violent and severely overcrowded prison system. Based on 2011 figures, Venezuela’s 34 prisons are meant to hold around 18,500 inmates; however, the prison population that year stood at 50,000, or 270 percent capacity. The overcrowding is largely due to inefficiencies in the courts system and the overuse of pre-trial detention; in 2012 66 percent of the inmate population was made up of pre-trial detainees and prisoners on remand.

Many prisons are run by gang leaders known as “pranes,” who control the prison contraband economy and also use prisons as a base to run drug trafficking, kidnapping, and extortion schemes outside of the facilities. NGO the Venezuelan Prisons Observatory (Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones-OVP) has said that the pranes run up to 28 of the country’s prisons.

The penitentiary system is notoriously violent and corrupt, with several incidences of extreme violence in recent years. In one of the more recent examples, 61 prisoners were killed in a riot in January 2013.

In July 2011, the government created the Ministry of People’s Power for the Prison Service (Ministerio del Poder Popular para el Servicio Penitenciario–MPPSP) to oversee the penitentiary system. In its first year of operation, over 500 inmates died in the country’s prisons, according to the OVP.

Security Institutions

The police are divided into state and municipal forces, with approximately 70,272 members in the state police and 12,183 members in the municipal force. A new federal police force, the Bolivarian National Police (Policía Nacional Bolivariana – PNB), created in 2009, consists of 14,478 officers. The PNB is meant to eventually cover the entire country, though as of 2013 they are present in just eight of Venezuela’s 23 states. The other national police agency is the CICPC (Cuerpo de Investigaciones Cientificas, Penales y Criminalisticas), which handles forensics and criminal investigations.

Overseeing the police is the Interior and Justice Ministry (Ministerio del Poder Popular para el Interior y Justicia).

Venezuela’s police have long faced accusations of brutality and corruption. According to Human Rights Watch’s 2013 World Report, Venezuela’s interior and justice minister has said that police are responsible for one out of every five crimes in the country. The US State Department in 2012 noted that the police were poorly trained, had inadequate equipment and were reported to be engaged in carrying out extrajudicial killings, kidnapping and arbitrary detentions.

Few police are held responsible for wrongdoing: in 2011, just four percent of cases involving alleged police abuse or corruption resulted in prosecutors filing charges. According to the 2012 LAPOP survey, public confidence in the police is low; Venezuela registered a score of 37.6 points, giving the country the fifth worst rating out of the 26 nations surveyed (See Figure 3.).


Fig. 3 Venezuela Confidence in Police 2012

The armed forces include the Army, Air Force, Navy, National Guard, National Militia, and the Presidential Honor Guard, and is housed under the Defence Ministry (Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Defensa). The National Guard, numbers 35,000 and serves as a gendarmerie force, while the army (the largest branch of the military) is responsible primarily for border control. In total, the armed forces are comprised of over 113,000 personnel, not including militia members.

The militias are divided into the National Reserve (made up of former members of the armed forces) and the Territorial Guard (made up of volunteers). There are thought to be over 125,000 militia members in the country. Under President Chávez, the government set out a plan to increase the size of the armed forces dubbed “Plan Sucre.” The plan called to increase the size of the militias to one million recruits by 2013 and two million by 2019. However, there was little indication in 2013 that the government had met this goal.

Much like the police, Venezuela’s military has faced mounting allegations of corruption and misconduct. Corrupt factions of the army, Navy, Air Force, and National Guard are believed to be involved in trafficking cocaine shipments from Colombia[5] , and have also been accused of waging a silent war against one another over control of drug routes. In 2008 and 2011, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) blacklisted seven military and government officials, accused of involvement in the drug trade. Those facing sanctions included Henry de Jesus Rangel Silva, whom Chávez named defence minister in January 2012, and the former director of military intelligence. The Chávez government has said that the OFAC designations were based on unsubstantiated evidence.

The primary intelligence agency in Venezuela is the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional–SEBIN). Asides from handling intelligence work, the agency provides protection services for government officials. There is also a military intelligence office. The police intelligence office is based at the state level and is known as the Directive of Strategic and Preventative Intelligence (Dirección de Inteligencia Estratégica y Preventivas-DIEP).

In June 2012, the government launched the Grand Mission for All Life Venezuela (Gran Misión A Toda Vida Venezuela) security plan. It named six priorities: reinforcing the police, reforming the prisons, overhauling the justice system, preventing crimes, victim protection, and increasing security education. It remains to be seen whether this plan will continue to be implemented under Chávez’s successor.

State of Security and Justice Sector Reform

Justice Sector Reform and Initiatives

Venezuela has made several attempts to address the rising violence and insecurity. During Chávez’s 14 years in office, the government launched 19 separate plans intended to confront insecurity.

The last security plan approved under Chávez in June 2012 (see above) named judicial reform among its six primary goals. The focus has been on reforming the CICPC, the investigative police unit, and retraining members in human rights and conflict resolution. The plan also created a system of community-elected judges, an institute known as the Houses of Penal Justice (Casas de la Justicia Penal). These judges are elected by local communities in municipalities, and are then expected to help resolve small-town conflicts. The establishment of these local tribunals are meant, in part, to ease the burden on the state courts, by empowering the House of Penal Justice judges to handle civil cases related to divorce and family conflicts. The elected judges will receive training in conflict mediation from the government.

However, critics have said that the creation of these local tribunals increases the risk that local judges could be elected based on their commitment to populist cases. There is also the question of whether the judges and personnel meant to staff these local tribunals will be adequately trained.

The judicial reforms included in Chavez’s last national security plan also included further changes to the national penal code, which the government said are intended to address judicial inefficiency. The most controversial of these measures allows trials to be conducted without the presence of the accused. This is meant to result in faster justice, as trials are commonly delayed because defendants do not appear in court. Another controversial measure allows judges to conduct trials that are closed to the public if deemed necessary to the outcome of the case. Critics have argued that rather than speeding up the trial process, these reforms will only make Venezuela’s justice system more opaque and vulnerable to abuse.

Under the June 2012 plan, the government committed to opening eight new prisons in Venezuela, meant to ease congestion in the penitentiaries. However, instead of opening new prisons, the government closed down three in light of violent riots and uprisings that left dozens of inmates dead.

When the MPPSP was created in 2011 to oversee the penitentiary system, the minister in charge, Iris Varela, announced that 24 new facilities would be built within two years to house pre-trial detainees and ease the burden placed on jails. What’s more, the government would aim to cut the amount of time pre-trial detainees must wait to face trial to less than eight months. However, progress has been extremely slow on this issue with institutional incapacity and the government’s resistance to decentralisation cited as being key obstacles.

Security Sector Reforms and Initiatives

One of the most significant reforms passed under President Chávez was the 2008 Organic Law of the Police Service and National Police Body (Ley Organica del Servicio de Policía y del Cuerpo de Policía Nacional). The law created a national police body, the National Bolivarian Police (PNB), and a body responsible for implementing police reform, the General Police Council (Consejo General de Policía,-CGP). The Organic Law was also the first piece of legislation in Venezuelan history to standardise police regulations across the country.

The General Police Council has instigated several significant reforms in Venezuela. It disbanded Caracas’ Metropolitan Police, a highly dysfunctional and corrupt force and also helped standardise police training on the federal, state, and municipal levels.

In another key move, the 2008 reforms placed police training in the hands of civilian institutions rather than the National Guard. The reforms led to the creation of National Experimental University of Security (Universidad Nacional Experimental de la Seguridad - UNES), a university for police training which emphasises courses on human rights. The university, which currently has three locations in Caracas and five in other states, is handling the training of the National Bolivarian Police, which is slated to become Venezuela’s main police force. In June 2012, the university said it aimed to retrain virtually every police officer in the country, in order to promote a new focus on crime prevention and non-militarised policing within the force.

Another major reform saw the Statute of Police Functions (Ley del Estatuto de la Función Policial), approved in 2009, creating new internal supervision bodies within the police in an effort to curb abuses. The law also laid out procedures by which the General Police Council could then set up various oversight committees made up of citizens, responsible for monitoring state and municipal police forces.

In an effort to curb gun violence, the government has implemented disarmament campaigns and enacted measures that make the purchase of firearms more difficult. The sale of guns and ammunition to civilians was outlawed in June 2012 and during the first nine months of that year, some 16,000 weapons were destroyed. However, the continual rise in violence levels in the country suggests that these programmes have not been effective to date.

As previously mentioned, the Grand Mission for All Life Venezuela plan has among its six objectives crime prevention—which includes the support of disarmament and job training programs. Another objective is supporting the police, a move which thus far has consisted primarily of expanding the National Bolivarian Police outside of Caracas during the last half of 2012. A third objective named by the plan is improving counselling and other support services to victims of violence; a fourth objective concerns promoting youth alternatives to crime, including providing academic scholarships, recreational activities, and social programs.

Parliamentary/Congressional Capacity for Oversight

Venezuela's National Assembly (Asamblea Nacional) is unicameral and has little capacity for oversight due to the high level of politicisation and influence of the executive. Following his re-election in October 2012, Chávez created a special office of the executive known as the Ministry of Oversight and Control (Ministerio de Seguimiento y Control) though this will likely have few powers to provide effective checks and balances.

The National Assembly has a special committee dedicated to oversight, the Government Oversight Committee (Comisión de Contraloría) which has proven to be largely ineffective. In the past decade, the Committee reported solving 438 of the 738 cases brought to its attention, although just four of these cases resulted in sanctions—less than one percent.

Security and Justice Opportunities

Venezuela faces many uncertainties as it moves forward in the post-Chávez era. The most significant challenge will be maintaining political stability: asides from maintaining the loyalty of the military, Chávez’s successor will be under great pressure to manage an economy impacted by Venezuela’s recent devaluation of its currency. Security and justice reform will be just one of many difficulties on the road ahead.

Rooting out corruption will be just one of these challenges. Venezuela ranked 165th out of 174 countries in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, receiving the same score as it did in 2011[6] . This highlights that corruption presents a serious obstacle to successful engagement with the government on reform issues. Furthermore, Venezuela under Chávez has proven to be hostile to the West, particularly the United States. If a political ally of the former president succeeds in April 2013 presidential elections then this hostility may continue.

Justice Sector Opportunities

Supporting further reform in Venezuela’s penal centres is one area where external support could have an impact. Under Chávez, the government launched various efforts in order to improve the dysfunctional penal system, including the creation of the MPPSP. However, reform measures, including the stated intention to build new facilities, have fallen short. One of the biggest challenges facing the government will be breaking the control that gang leaders wield inside the prisons and re-establishing the government’s authority.

Supporting the training and professionalization of the personnel meant to staff Venezuela’s newly-created community tribunals could also aid judicial reform. If these tribunals are able to employ community-elected judges and public prosecutors who are well-trained, it could have the desired effect of speeding up the justice process, by ensuring that these local tribunals effectively handle the processing of less serious crimes.

While the politicisation of the judiciary is arguably one of the biggest issues in the legal system, this is an extremely difficult topic to address. Should Venezuela choose a different political path in elections due in April 2013, then this issue may be broached with the government. However, if it remains on course to continue the Chavismo political ideology then the opportunity to engage on this remains incredibly slim.

Security Sector Opportunities

The last security strategy approved by Chávez showed some promise, as it focused somewhat on long-term solutions to the country’s insecurity, and avoided emphasising a militarised solution to the problem. What’s more, the emphasis placed on police training and professionalization is welcome in light of concerns of abuses and corruption with the police force. However, it remains to be seen if the plan will continue to be implemented under Chávez’s successor. A key opportunity for engagement is supporting the aspect of the security strategy that stresses crime prevention, including disarmament schemes and job training programs.

Another opportunity is the support of the National Security University, which has shown itself to be dedicated to training a new generation of police officers more willing to engage with the civilian population. Given the university’s ambitious goals to open sites across the country and graduate tens of thousands new officers, there is ample opportunity for engagement here. Professionalization of the police force is arguably one of the biggest issues in light of concerns over abuse and corruption.

Purging the military of corrupt elements is also a high priority, though like the politicisation of the judiciary, likely cannot be broached easily with the government if Chavismo endures. Chávez and his allies have extremely close ties to the military and frequently rejected claims that factions of the military are involved in drug trafficking, despite evidence to the contrary. Tackling this issue likely rests on the political future of Venezuela.

Civil Society Actors for Engagement

There are a number of civilian think-tanks dedicated to monitoring security and justice issues in Venezuela. The most prominent is the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence[7] , a Caracas-based NGO which as previously mentioned tracks violence rates in an attempt to hold the government accountable. For prison issues, human rights group the Venezuelan Prison Observatory[8] acts a watchdog organisation.

Other key NGOs are the Support Network for Justice and Peace[9] (Red de Apoyo por la Justicia y la Paz) which has occasionally worked with the government on security reform, and the Institute for Investigations on Coexistence and Citizen Security (Instituto de Investigaciones de Coexistencia y Seguridad Ciudadana-INCOSEC).


Human Rights Watch, “A Decade Under Chávez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela,” September 2008

Human Rights Watch. “Tightening the Grip: Concentration and Abuse of Power in Chávez's Venezuela,” July 2012

Human Rights Watch, "World Report 2013," January 2013

Organisation of American States, "Report on Citizen Security in the Americas 2012," May 2012

Red de Seguridad y Defensa de América Latina, “Atlas Comparativo de la Defensa en América Latina y Caribe Edición 2012,” October 2012

Small Arms Survey, “Small Arms Survey 2012: Moving Targets,” August 2012

Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, “Venezuela – Gun Facts, Figures and Law,”Data retrieved from

The Americas Barometer by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), Vanderbilt University, “The Political Culture of Democracy in the Americas, 2010: Democratic Consolidation in the Americas in Hard Times,” December 2010

The Americas Barometer by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), Vanderbilt University, “The Political Culture of Democracy in the Americas, 2012: Towards Equality of Opportunity,” January 2013

Transparency International, “Corruption Perceptions Index 2012,” December 2012

U.S. Department of State, “2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report Volume 1: Drug and Chemical Control,” March 2012

U.S. Department of State, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011,” May 2012

U.S. Department of State, “2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report Volume 1: Drug and Chemical Control,” March 2013

U.S. State Department, “2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report Volume 2: Money Laundering and Financial Crimes,” March 2013

World Economic Forum, “The Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013,” September 2012


[1] This figure was used for the estimate for 2012’s homicide rate.

[2]  As the OVV includes “deaths under investigation” within its calculations, this results in a higher homicide count. Unofficially, Venezuela’s police agency the CICPC (Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas) stated that 21,600 homicides took place in 2012, backing the OVV’s figure.

[3]  Fuel smuggling from Venezuela to Colombia is a highly profitable business thanks to the generous fuel subsidies provided by the Venezuelan government which give the country with some of the lowest fuel prices in the world. Smugglers are able to buy cheaply in Venezuela and charge many times more the price in Colombia for an enormous profit margin.

[4] LAPOP recodes respondents’ answers into a scale of 0-100 with a higher score representing a higher perception of insecurity.

[5]  These alleged criminal factions within the military are termed the Cartel of the Suns (Cartel de los Soles). See InSight Crime profile at:

[6] Transparency International changed its rating system from 2011-2012 from giving countries scores of 0-10  in 2011 to 0-100 the following year. Essentially, the scores were just multiplied by 10, making comparisons between the years simple. Venezuela was scored 1.9 in 2011 and 19 in 2012.

[7]  More information on their website: 

[8]  More information on their website:

[9]  More information on their website: 

Igarapé Institute

The Igarapé Institute is a southern think tank devoted to evidence-based policy and action on complex social challenges including global drug policy, citizen security and international cooperation. Its goal is to stimulate humane engagement on emerging security and development issues. Across all its programs, the Institute adopts a three-prong approach:

  1. Diagnose challenges through cutting-edge research;
  2. Trigger informed debate and action across public and private spheres; and
  3. Design tailor-made solutions that are people-centered.

The International Security Sector Advisory Team

The International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) provides practical support to the international community in its efforts to improve security and justice, primarily in conflict-affected and fragile states. It does this by working with a group of member states and institutions to develop and promote good security and justice reform practices and principles, and by helping its members to build their capacity to support national and regional security and justice reform processes.