With one of the world’s highest murder rates, Venezuela’s daily Russian roulette with violent crime now has an added spin: the threat of political violence due to the country’s election impasse.

Common crime and political violence get mixed up, so it is difficult to tell them apart.

Venezuela has the highest homicide rate in South America, with 54 murders for every 100,000 inhabitants. In the first four months of the year alone, there were 3,400 homicides, according to government figures.

A U.N. report published in September ranked it number six in the world for murders, out of 206 countries surveyed.

According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, a non-governmental agency, the fact that 90 per cent of violent crimes are never solved drives Venezuelans to take “justice” into their own hands.

With armed robberies or kidnappings for ransom sometimes playing out in plain view on busy streets in Caracas, daily life has turned into a wary quest for security that affects Venezuelans at all levels of society.

Meanwhile, the country is angry and on edge over disputed April 14 elections that erupted in violent protests after Nicolas Maduro was proclaimed President with a 1.8 per cent margin of victory over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.

The government, which blames Mr. Capriles for the violence and accuses him of seeking a coup, has said nine people were killed, 78 injured and 25 clinics for the poor were attacked. The clinics were apparently targeted because Cuban medical personnel work in them.

“We appeal for reflection, that they back off, that they not listen to those calls for violence that have been made in some cases,” Health Minister Eugenia Sader said on the state-run VTV television.

The opposition coalition, along with the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers and two human rights advocacy groups, said hundreds of people were arrested after the protests and some reported being beaten.

Government employees suspected of voting against Mr. Maduro also have been threatened with dismissal, according to rights groups, the opposition and the Catholic Church. So on top of violent crime — the top concern of 80 per cent of Venezuelans, according to polls — is an increasingly belligerent political climate of threats and non-stop verbal attacks.

“On the one hand, there is a kind of structural violence, and the other, politically induced attacks,” said sociologist Nicmer Evans. — AFP