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This is an interesting question, but there may be no simple answer to it.

If one looks at the world crime map, demographics seem an obvious suspect. Most countries with a similar demographic composition have a homicide rate way above the world average. However, there is an exception (Chile) which suggests that there are additional factors at play.

One of the most important factors which determine the crime rate is the people’s sense of community. In places where people view their fellow citizen as enemies or competitors for some limited resource anti-social behaviors flourish and people make little effort to suppress them. A number of events in Chile and Venezuela’s history may have resulted in Chileans having a greater sense of community:

1) The biggest conflicts in Chilean history have been between Chile and its neighbors (such as the War of the Pacific). Few things unite people as effectively as a common enemy. By contrast, Venezuelans mainly fought each other in civil wars (the Federal War (1859-1863) alone claimed lives of hundreds of thousands in a country with a population of just over a million people.)

2) In general, different socioeconomic classes have two ways to increase their material prosperity: (1) try to get a bigger share of a pie (which leads them into a conflict with other classes); (2) try to make the whole pie bigger. The discovery of huge oil deposits turned Venezuela into an extractive economy where the size of the “pie” is largely fixed by the global oil prices. Consequently, there is a stronger stimulus for social strife.

3) During the 1970s, while experiencing an oil-export boom, Venezuela received millions of immigrants from Ecuador, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic.

4) Chile may have been simply lucky with its last dictator. Traditionally, Latin American autocrats built their powerbase by (1) fanning the antagonism between different social and ethnic groups; (2) buying the support of the army, the police and the government officials by allowing them to abuse their privileges and enrich themselves through corruption. Unlike Chavez, Pinochet used both options very sparingly. Ultimately, this cost him his position but allowed Chile to emerge from his rule with a much improved economy and relatively low corruption.