CARACAS (Reuters) - The murder rate in Venezuela, one of the world's highest-crime countries, dipped in 2018 as some criminals apparently joined millions of law-abiding compatriots in leaving the crisis-stricken country, a local crime monitoring group said in a report on Thursday.
The South American country is in a fifth year of recession caused by a crash in oil prices and an unravelling socialist economic model. Three million Venezuelans have fled violence, hyperinflation and shortages of basic goods, most since 2015, according to the United Nations.
The Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV) said in its annual report that Venezuela still had the world's highest murder rate, 81.4 per 100,000 inhabitants, but it noted that figure was down from 89 in 2017 and 92 the year before. Director Roberto Briceño attributed the drop in part to migration.
"The majority of the Venezuelans who emigrate are honest people who have been forced to look for work elsewhere, but many criminals are among them," he told reporters, citing press reports on crimes in other South American countries.
Briceño added that some prominent local gangs appeared to no longer be active in Venezuela, while crimes elsewhere in the region have been attributed to those same groups.
The total number of homicides fell to 23,047 from 26,616 the in 2017, said the OVV, whose researchers have access to police data.
Venezuela's government has accused non-governmental organizations of inflating crime statistics to create paranoia and undermine President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government. Even the most recent official national murder rate - 58 per 100,000 for 2015 - was among the world's highest.
World Bank data from 2016 put Venezuela's murder rate at 56 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2016, third in the world behind El Salvador and Honduras.
Venezuela's Information Ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the OVV's report.
The number of robberies of farmers and food distribution trucks increased in 2018, according to the report, a sign of growing desperation and hunger as inflation topped 1 million percent. In January, a video circulated on social media showing a hungry mob slaughtering cattle grazing in western Venezuela.
"They rob corn, coffee, sugar, cocoa and even onions," Briceño said.
(Reporting by Mayela Armas; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)