On August 13 El Nacional, a Venezuelan daily, published a disturbing photograph of corpses piled up in a Caracas morgue. The photograph drove home an indisputable fact: Caracas has become one of the most dangerous places in the Americas.

Reports the latest Economist:

Venezuela’s national murder rate is 75 per 100,000 people, up from 49 just four years ago, twice the rate in neighboring Colombia where guerrillas continue to wage war and an astonishing 220 per 100,000 people in Caracas, higher even than in Mexico’s drug-ridden Ciudad Juárez.

The Chávez regime immediately lashed out at El Nacional and the free press. It issued a gag order to forbid publication of crime photos for 30 days, the time remaining until the September 26 legislative elections. El Nacional fired back with a center space labeled “censored” reminding readers what censorship really means.

Rather than declaring war on crime and lawlessness, Chávez is taking aim at the messenger. Noted opposition daily Tal Cual, what Chávez fears most is that the Venezuelan people are starting to attribute responsibility for unchecked criminal activity to his 10-plus years in power.

Similarly, Chávez cannot hide from his current collision course with the Obama Administration.The standoff over the new Ambassador has intensified. The nominee—veteran diplomat Larry Palmer—is being rejected because he refused to lie to the U.S. Senate

The indictment of Guillermo Zuloaga, owner of Globovision, on spurious charges and a Venezuelan demand for his extradition from the U.S. will cause fresh friction.

As Chávez pushes ahead with providing refined gasoline to Iran, new conflict over Venezuela’s sanctions-busting activities will widen. And while Chávez has opened talks and restored diplomatic relations with Colombia, there has been no independent verification that the camps and narco-terrorists are gone. Drug trafficking through Venezuela is still on the rise and Chávez’s ties to terrorism are worrisome.

Like his mentor Fidel Castro, Chávez requires enemies, domestic and foreign, to help accelerate the jump to dictatorship. Either the opposition press or the U.S. works equally well.

Yet, the real enemy Venezuela confronts is Chávez and his increasing inability or unwillingness to tackle basic domestic security challenges.       Hiding an ugly reality with prior press censorship does little good, especially when fewer Venezuelans are buying the party line.