Thursday, October 6, 2011

Homicides Soar in Central America?

A recent report from the United Nations, as summarized by the AP, states that homicides have soared in Central America over the last few years. Well, sort of. 

The AP article doesn't actually give any evidence that it has soared - it just gives 2010 figures - but why quibble. To really show that homicides have soared you need to tell us how many murders there used to be. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say that's the evidence is in the UN document.

Here's more from the AP article.

Honduras and El Salvador have the highest homicide rates in the world as killings reach a crisis point in Central America, a United Nations report said Thursday.
The study on homicides by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime blamed organized crime for the region's surge in violence.
Honduras had 6,200 killings in 2010 out of a population of 7.7 million people, while El Salvador with 6.1 million people had 4,000 homicides.
The 2011 Global Study on Homicide calculated a rate of 82.1 homicides per 100,000 people for Honduras and 66 per 100,000 people for El Salvador. Cote D'Ivoire in West Africa followed with 56.9 and the Caribbean nation of Jamaica with 52.1. The United States had a homicide rate of 5 per 100,000 people in 2009, the report said.
Honduras Human Rights Commissioner Ramon Custodio said Thursday that he was worried about rising crime and feared worse figures are yet to come.
Notice anything? That's right, the AP story on the world's most violent countries didn't even mention Guatemala. I wouldn't go that far. While the murder rate has been declining for the last two years, Guatemala is still a very dangerous country in which to live, work and travel, particularly if you are in Guatemala City.

In addition, if your headline is UN study: Homicides soar in Central America, you need to write about more than El Salvador and Honduras. We already know that Guatemala wasn't mentioned, but the same goes for Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica or Panama. If you want to make the point that violence has soared in Central America because it very well might have, you need to mention more than two out of the region's seven countries.


  1. Did you see this IPS article speculating about why Nicaragua has been able to keep the violence down?

  2. Yes, I did. I'd say that community policing and greater social cohesion probably play a role in keeping the violence down in Nicaragua.

    1980s surveys indicated that Nicaraguans had a great deal of trust in their fellow citizens, comparable or even better than the Ticos and much much better than ES, HON, and GUATE.

    I would also add that it helps to have a very peaceful southern neighbor in Costa Rica.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the ability of traffickers to move their drugs further north before needing to make landfall helps as well.

    Poverty? Yes, but the causality is difficult given how poor Nicaragua is. Inequality might be a better explanation.

    Academics also think that migration patterns matter - refugees from the civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador headed to California where they had direct contact with LA gang culture. Nicaraguan refugees tended to be wealthier and left for Florida which lacked the gang culture of California. How Honduras fits here, I don't really know.

    I hope that you're enjoying your time in the US. Let me know if you are making your way across NEPA.