Latin America's Murder Epidemic

How to Stop the Killing

Bullet holes scar the walls of the town hall of San Cristobal de las Barrancas, near Guadalajara, Mexico, May 2012.  Reuters

In Caracas, the killing is routine. Last year the city was described as one of the world's murder capitals, with a homicide rate closing in on 120 per 100,000 people. If the numbers are to be believed, that’s roughly 20 times the global average. The truth, however, is that there is no reliable count of how many Venezuelans are murdered each year; the public relies on estimates since Caracas stopped publishing figures a decade back. Whatever the real number, virtually everyone knows someone who’s been shot dead. In a survey conducted this year, two-thirds of Venezuelans reported a homicide in their neighborhood in the past 12 months. They can hardly be faulted for fearing that they could be next.

Venezuelans are not the only Latin Americans terrorized by lethal violence. Despite remarkable declines in homicidal violence over the past decade, Colombians still face one of the highest absolute numbers of murders on the planet. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s southern neighbor, Brazil, registers the world’s highest absolute number of homicides: more than 56,000 a year. Over 80 percent of Brazilians believe that they are at risk of being murdered. Meanwhile, in Central America, more than one third of all Salvadorans and Hondurans say that a murder recently occurred near where they live.

Across Latin America, death stalks the young. Every 15 minutes, a young Latin American—usually an adolescent male—is murdered. The corpses stack up quickly. There are roughly 400 killings a day, or 140,000 a year. In some countries, homicide is the number one cause of death for adolescent males, outpacing accidental injuries, cancer, suicide, and disease. More than 75 percent of the killings are committed with firearms, far above the global average. Paradoxically, lethal violence has persisted in spite of impressive reductions in poverty and widespread improvements in education, health, and living standards.

Every 15 minutes, a young Latin American—usually an adolescent male—is murdered.

Further, Latin America’s homicide rate is exceedingly high at a time when murder is declining virtually everywhere else. The region is

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