Amid the many depredations of Hugo Chávez, it is easy to forget that Venezuela has turned into the most violent country in South America, and that Caracas has become a global murder capital. According to the independent Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, the annual number of homicides nationwide grew from 5,974 in 1999 (when Chávez took power) to 17,600 in 2010. Venezuela today is a haven for international terrorist groups (including the Colombian FARC, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, and the Spanish ETA), and it is also a veritable gangster’s paradise of narco-trafficking, kidnapping, and armed robbery, with brutal crime syndicates running drugs, transforming prisons into battlefields, and driving up the body count. The recent kidnapping and rescue of Major League Baseball star Wilson Ramos highlighted these problems in spectacular fashion, thereby drawing global attention to a frequently overlooked aspect of the Chávez legacy.
Indeed, to truly appreciate what the Bolivarian socialist has done to a once-prosperous country awash in oil, we must go beyond his vitriolic anti-U.S. rants, his attacks on democracy, and his disastrous economic policies. Here are four things you must know to understand (a) how the Chávez regime has survived this long and (b) where Venezuela might be headed: