Poverty dropped from 50.4 per cent in 1998 when Chavez was first elected to 28.5 per cent in 2009
, according to the World Bank, an impressive decrease by any standard. Government supporters credit the redistribution of oil wealth - Venezuela has the world's largest petroleum reserves - for reducing poverty.
Venezuela's Gini coefficient - an index that measures inequality by placing countries on a scale from 0 (perfect equality) to 1 (perfect inequality) - moved from 0.498 in 1999 to 0.412 in 2008, "a drop unparalleled in Latin America", according to the Brookings Institute.
"The Venezuelan numbers are surprising," Andromachi Tseloni, professor of criminology at Nottingham Trent University in the UK, told Al Jazeera. "Inequality is [normally] highly correlated to murder rates. I haven't seen another country where inequality has dropped sharply and homicides have risen sharply.
Venezuela is now described as "upper middle income" by the World Bank, but it has a far worse murder rate than Haiti -the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
So, if people are more equal and generally better off economically, why are murders rising at an alarming rate?