Latin America is the world’s most violent region, accounting for nearly one in three global homicides, according to data from a new study by the United Nations. Latin America racked up some 134,519 homicides in 2012 alone, about 31% of the total for that year, according to a tally by The Wall Street Journal of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime’s Global Study on Homicide, its first since 2011. Yet the region’s 574 million people comprise just 8% of the global population, according to U.N. figures. As a whole, Latin America’s per capita homicide rate is 23.4 per 100,000 people, nearly double the rate in Africa, which is sometimes mistakenly believed to be the most violent continent. Venezuela is the only country in the region with a consistently rising homicide rate since 1994, the report said.
Parts of the region, like Chile and Argentina, have far lower homicide rates. The problem really is northern South America and Central America, including Mexico. A combination of factors is to blame, said Alejandro Hope, a security expert at the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a think tank: weak law enforcement institutions, a vibrant illegal narcotics trade that led to a growth in organized crime, a culture of violence, economic inequality, and the region’s chaotic urbanization of the past three decades, which created rings of slums around mega cities; Brazil has more overall homicides than any country, at 50,108, accounting for one in 10 globally, followed by India, with 43,355 murders in 2012. Parts of Brazil, including São Paulo, are indeed far safer than the country’s violent northeast, where crime is rising fast.
Just four Latin American nations – Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia – accounted for nearly 107.000 homicides in 2012, nearly one in every four global killings. Of the top 10 nations ranked by per capita homicide rate, and excluding tiny nations with fewer than 100 killings a year, Latin America has the top five nations and seven of the top 10, according to The Wall Street Journal’s ranking of the data. The only three non-Latin American countries in the top 10 were Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa. The most surprising thing in the data according to the study, is the persistence of criminal violence in the Americas over time. The U.N. group looked at data since 1955 and found the Americas, including the U.S., had at least five times higher homicide rates than Europe and parts of Asia.
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