Venezuela’s Violent Death Rate is Probably 20% Lower than Estimated

David Smilde

The single most quoted estimate for Venezuela’s 2015 violent death rate has been the Venezuelan Violence Observatory’s astronomical figure of 90 per 100,000. However, political scientist Dorothy Kronick, using data from Venezuela’s Ministry of Health and from the CICPC, Venezuela’s investigative police, and confirming with Venezuelan colleagues, has come up with an estimate of 70 (see her piece today on the Caracas Chronicles blog. Read it in Spanish on Prodavinci.). 

The difference can be explained by two aspects of OVV’s methodology. First, as Kronick pointed out two years ago, OVV is not actually providing an estimate based on new data points. Rather it is projecting from data from previous years. That actually is understandable, given the tardiness or outright lack of official data. However it has the danger of not detecting turning points in trends. And some ways of doing it are better than others (for example triangulating with other data that tends to vary directly with the statistic of interest. See Kronick’s current post on how CICPC figures can be used to extrapolate the slower Ministry of Health figures). 

But secondly, and what is new here, the OVV’s all important 2013 data point appears to be incorrect. OVV takes the number of confirmed homicides and adds to them constants that will reflect police killings and “deaths under investigation” (deaths where the cause has not yet been determined). That is legitimate. But in 2013 it used as its base number an estimate from a journalist that already included these kinds of deaths. Put differently, they added their constants to include 2 important sources of violent deaths to a figure that already included them. 

The rub is that while for OVV the violent death rate has skyrocketed since 2012, in Kronick’s analysis the trend has significantly flattened since then. Of course the difference between 70 and 90 deaths per 100,000 is like the difference between terrible and horrendous. But trajectories are important as they lead to quite different assessments of what is happening and what needs to be done. This has led Francisco Toro to suggest that OVV should publicly retract its estimate.