Dead wood can be an important component of the carbon pool in many forests, but few measurements have been made of this pool in tropical forests, To fill this gap, we determined the quantity of dead wood (downed and standing dead) in 25 long-term (up to 30 yr) permanent forest plots located in six different life zones of Venezuela. Downed wood was separated into fine (< 10 cm in diameter) and coarse (≥ 10 cm in diameter) classes, and three decomposition states (sound, intermediate, or rotten). The total quantity of dead wood, averaged by life zone, was lowest in the dry (2.43 Mg/ha), reached a peak in the moist (42.33 Mg/ha) and decreased slightly in the wet (34.50 Mg/ha) life zone. Most of the dead wood was in the standing dead category (about 42–76% of the total). The decomposition state of dead wood in all plots was mostly rotten (45%) or intermediate (44%); there was little sound wood (11%). Turnover rates of dead wood generally ranged between 0.03/yr to 0.52/yr with no clear trend with life zone. The large amount of dead wood in some plots was equivalent to about 20 percent or less of aboveground biomass, indicating that dead wood can represent a significant amount of carbon in these forests.