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PolitiFact FL: Trump exaggerates Venezuelan crime drop and misleads on root causes

A person rides a motorbike in the Catia neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, April 6, 2024.
Matias Delacroix
A person rides a motorbike in the Catia neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, April 6, 2024.

WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning team seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.

At his campaign rallies, former President Donald Trump usually repeats a vague, unfounded claim: Countries worldwide are emptying their prisons and mental institutions and sending those people as migrants to the United States.

The claim’s wording and the countries included have shifted, but multiple news organizations have fact-checked different iterations and reached the same conclusion: There is no evidence that countries are emptying their prisons or mental institutions to send people to the U.S.

Trump recently cited a drop in crime in Venezuela as evidence of this phenomenon.

"Crime is down in Venezuela by 67% because they're taking their gangs and their criminals and depositing them very nicely into the United States," Trump said April 2 at a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, earlier that day, Trump repeated the figure, saying crime in Venezuela had dropped by that much in the past year and a half. "Wouldn’t we love to have a statistic where crime is down 67%? Ours is only going in one direction," he said, pointing upward.

Overall, violent crime and homicides have declined under Joe Biden’s presidency. Homicides have also dropped in Venezuela, but not by 67% or because of mass criminal migration to the U.S., criminologists in the country said.

Available data shows crime in Venezuela has dropped, but not by 67%

It’s difficult to track crime statistics in Venezuela because its government doesn’t publish reliable data, said Mike LaSusa, deputy director of content at InSight Crime, a think tank focused on crime and security in the Americas.

EFE, a Spanish-language news agency, reported that Venezuela’s government hasn’t published the numbers of murders or robberies in 10 years.

Trump did not provide PolitiFact with evidence of Venezuela’s 67% crime drop and didn’t clarify what type of crime he meant. But LaSusa said available data does not support Trump’s claim.

"Independent assessments, including our own observations, don’t support the notion that crime has dropped by 67%," LaSusa said.

READ MORE: Are Biden — and I — guilty of Cuba-Venezuela double standards?

LaSusa also pointed to a recent press conference during which Venezuelan security official Remigio Ceballos Ichaso said crime had dropped by 32% in 2024 compared with 2023. The press statement from Venezuela’s Ministry of Interior Relations, Justice and Peace did not specify what kind of crime that figure included.

Data from the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, a Venezuela-based independent nonprofit that LaSusa said he trusts, also doesn’t support Trump’s claim.

There hasn’t been a 67% drop in the past few years, the group’s founder and director, Roberto Briceño Leon, told PolitiFact from Venezuela. The Venezuelan Observatory of Violence’s numbers show a 25% drop in violent deaths from 2022 to 2023, including homicides, deaths resulting from police intervention and deaths under investigation.

Despite that drop, the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence notes the national rate is still high compared with other countries in the region. In 2023, Venezuela had a rate of 26.8 violent deaths per 100,000 people, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence. Mexico had a rate of 12 homicides per 100,000 people in the first half of 2023, according to the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía. The U.S., in 2022 had a rate of 6.8 homicides per 100,000 people.

Crime has dropped in Venezuela because of the economy, migration, consolidation of organized crime, experts say

For years, Venezuela has faced a humanitarian crisis with an economy in rapid decline. The country has experienced hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages and human rights abuses. As a result, more than 7.7 million people have fled Venezuela according to the United Nations since 2014. Most have migrated to Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile, human rights group Amnesty International reported.

Briceño Leon said crime in Venezuela has been declining for years but that it’s not because the Venezuelan government is sending criminals to the United States.

"Crime dropped because the opportunities for crime were lost. Generalized poverty in the country, the absence of money circulating, the bankruptcy of companies and commerce all made the opportunities for crime in the country drop," Briceño Leon told PolitiFact in Spanish. "When crime opportunities drop, criminals don’t have people to steal from or extort."

Violent crime has also dropped because many people have left the country, but that does not substantiate Trump’s claim of criminals relocating from Venezuela’s prisons to U.S. cities.

Universidad Central de Venezuela criminology professor Luis Izquiel said many of the people who lived in poor and rural areas and were often the victims of crimes left the country. People who commit crimes have also left, partly because they had fewer opportunities to commit crimes, Izquiel said.

The migration of millions of young people has also shifted the nature of crime in Venezuela, Briceño Leon said. Small neighborhood gangs have vanished as young people have left and large criminal organizations have consolidated power.

"Crime has dropped because there’s more organized crime, and organized criminals act more rationally," Briceño Leon said. So, there’s a drop in lethality. For example, young people in small gangs might have killed each other over the same romantic interests. That is less likely to happen now.

Although some criminal groups continue to act and are not legally punished, Izquiel said, the Venezuelan government has cracked down on and attacked some others. Izquiel pointed us to the murder of Carlos Luis Revete alias "El Koki" whom government authorities killed in 2022, after he operated for years with impunity, according to InSight crime. Revete led a gang of around 120 men, Spanish-language newspaper El País reported, and was involved in kidnappings, extortions, drug trafficking and car robberies.

Some government actions have also led international and human rights organizations to accuse the Venezuelan government of carrying out extrajudicial killings. In January 2022, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights publicly condemned the "extrajudicial killings of young men who live in poverty" citing "at least 27 murders" by state law enforcement officers in the year’s first two weeks.

Criminologists say these killings have factored in decreasing the country’s violent deaths: The government killed people who kill.

"That action on behalf of the government doesn’t support the theory that the government is sending criminals to the U.S.," Briceño Leon said. "There’s less homicide because there’s fewer murderers."

No evidence of Venezuela’s government emptying prisons and sending prisoners to the U.S.

Over the past two years, U.S.-based immigration and Latin America experts have coincided with the Venezuelan criminologists we spoke to this month: The claim that Venezuela is moving its criminals to the U.S. is baseless.

"There is no evidence that (Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s) government is freeing prisons or sending prisoners to the United States," Izquiel told PolitiFact in Spanish.

LaSusa of InSight Crime told PolitiFact that Venezuela’s government "also has no known policy of selecting particular migrants to send them to any specific country, including the United States."

The Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones, an independent nonprofit that tracks Venezuela’s prison population, has not reported that prisons are emptying out. In its 2022 report, the group said there were more than 33,000 people imprisoned in Venezuela, despite a capacity for around 20,000 people.

Our ruling

Trump said "crime is down in Venezuela by 67% because they're taking their gangs and their criminals and depositing them very nicely into the United States."

Although Venezuelan government data is unreliable, some available data from independent organizations shows that violent deaths have recently decreased, but not by 67%. From 2022 to 2023 violent deaths dropped by 25%, according to the independent Venezuelan Observatory of Violence.

Criminologists told PolitiFact violent deaths have dropped because of Venezuela’s poor economy, and the government’s extrajudicial killings. So many people have left Venezuela that criminals have fewer people to assault, too. The experts say there is no evidence that the Maduro government is emptying its prisons and sending criminals to the United States.

We rate Trump’s claim False.

Our Sources

Maria Ramirez Uribe is an immigration reporter at PolitiFact.