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VENEZUELA is in turmoil. Tanking oil prices have taken a heavy toll on its income, along with years of economic mismanagement by the government. Inflation is running at nearly 200%—the highest rate in the world—according to the IMF, and a week ago it was awarded another dismal accolade. A ranking of the world's most violent cities by CCSP-JP, a Mexican NGO, reports that Venezuela's capital Caracas had the highest murder rate in the world last year. Some caution should be used when reading the ranking, which applies to cities with 300,000 people or more, and does not count war zones or cities with unavailable data. It is also notoriously difficult to compare crime statistics within countries, let alone across them. Murder statistics are usually supplied by police or from death registers derived from health-agency data. In countries with fewer resources the data are therefore less reliable. CCSP-JP uses estimates* in such cases, and cities with good records may therefore suffer from their efficiency.
Nevertheless, it is clear that Latin America is particularly blighted by violence. All but eight of the 50 worst cities on the list are to be found in Latin America and the Caribbean. Murders in El Salvador's capital, San Salvador, have almost doubled in a year to 1,900 in a city of 1.8m people, mainly as a result of the government ending a truce with drug gangs. The country’s national statistics also bear out this grim record; it has surpassed Honduras as the country with the world's highest murder rate. The numbers from Brazil are especially bleak, some 21 of its cities now feature on the list, up from 14 five years ago. Yet there are some glimmers of optimism. The number of Mexican cities in the ranking has fallen from 12 to five over the same period. Colombia’s progress towards peace is reflected in the figures; its second city, Medellín, had a murder rate of 70 in 2011 but no longer features at all. San Pedro Sula in Honduras, formerly the worst city for several years running, saw murders nearly halve.
Cities from only two countries outside Latin American and the Caribbean occupy places on the list; the United States and South Africa. Four American cities from the previous year remain, lead by St Louis, where murders rose slightly in 2015. Baltimore has seen the largest rise, from 40th to 19th. For cities in the world's biggest economy, this list is very poor company to be keeping indeed.
*For example, Caracas's rate of 120 per 100,000 people (3,900 murders in a population of 3.3m) is derived from counting bodies in the city’s morgue, which covers a slightly larger area than the city itself, and an assumption that 80% of these are the result of homicide.