On Tuesday, I noted that Guatemala's murder rate had declined for the third consecutive year. On Wednesday, Prensa Libre provided more information on the decrease in 2012's murders under the headline Violence increased the last few months. Yes, I know. I just wrote that the media had done a better job with titles and placing murders in a better context of falling murder rates. Instead, they buried the good news under a bad headline.
Reuters did a little of the same. While the title of the piece says that Guatemala's homicide rate falls for third year in a row, they only present homicide statistics from 2009 - the worst year since the war.
But, technically, both are correct. Guatemala's murders decreased in 2012 even though the last few months, 476 in November and 514 in December, saw an uptick in homicides. And the number of murders in 2012 is much less than that of 2009.
Let's get back to the meat of the news. Prensa Libre reports that there were 5,174 murders in 2012. These numbers come from the National Civil Police (PNC) which tracks murders, as compared to INACIF which tracks violent deaths. Here is a figure that shows murders in Guatemala since 2001.
Why then are murders going down? There's no single reason but you can look to more and better police, CICIG, the strengthening of the attorney general and interior minister's offices, and a reduction in the number of extrajudicial killings by police and other vigilante groups. Some of the other contributors to the high murder numbers of the last few years were the abysmal Portillo administration, the entrance of the Zetas into Guatemala, and the instability brought on by the Rosenberg murder. Guatemala is by no means a safe place to live and/or work, but the odds that you will be murdered are much lower than they were just a few years ago.
According to Prensa Libre's reporting, the murder rate dropped from 37 in 2011 to 32 in 2012. I'm not sure where they got those numbers. Most of us having been reporting a murder rate of 39 (38.6) in 2011, not 37. There were 5,681 murders with an estimated population of 14,713,763. That gives us 39. Even if we held population constant, 5,174 murders in a population of 14,714,763 works out to a rate of 35.15. If we use 15,000,000 as our population, the rate is 34.49. It looks reasonable to use a murder rate of 34 or 35 - not 32 as does Prensa Libre.
To get to a rate of 32, one needs to increase the population to 16,000,000. It's not unreasonable to estimate the country's population at 16 million. However, if you do, you also need to revise upwards the last few year's population estimates - that would lower the homicide rates for each of the previous years as well.