CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is taking issue with the U.S. State Department for posting a statement advising travelers to beware of rampant violent crime in his country.
Chavez said Tuesday in Cuba during an appearance on Venezuelan state television that the South American country's security situation ought to be compared to that of the United States.
"Where would there be greater lack of public security on the streets? In Venezuela or in the United States?," Chavez said. "Let's look at the figures."
The website of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas includes a link to the statement on State Department travel site describing safety threats in Venezuela. The statement notes that violent crime in the country is widespread and says the murder rate has been cited as being among the top five in the world.
The statement refers to increasing numbers of killings and kidnappings in the country, and cites data from the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, a non-governmental group tracks crime. The organization's tally of homicide figures from police totaled more than 19,000 during 2011, and it described the year as the most violent in Venezuela's history.
Chavez's government has not released detailed annual murder statistics in recent years. Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said in early 2011, however, that the murder rate was 48 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2010. That was one of the highest murder rates in Latin America.
In the United States, the FBI reported in September that for 2010 the rate for murder and non-negligent manslaughter fell to 4.8 per 100,000 people, less than half what it was two decades ago.
Chavez defended his socialist government's anti-crime efforts and said violent crime is a problem "inherited from the capitalist time" before he took office in 1999.
The Venezuelan leader is in Cuba undergoing radiation treatment following an operation last month that removed what he said was a second cancerous tumor. The first was removed last June.
Chavez is running for re-election in October, and he warned that his political opponents could try to foment violence in Venezuela.
"We're the guarantee of peace," he said.