But while the region is looking up on the economic front, a new report authored by Gino Costa of the Washington, DC based Inter-American Dialogue on the state of crime and insecurity in Latin America tells a very different story. Using data from regional governments, think tanks and international organizations, Costa portrays regional governments as gravely threatened by drug trafficking networks, powerful organized crime syndicates and persistent high levels of violence.
The average homicide rate in Latin America has jumped in the last decade, growing 30 percent from 2000 to a 26 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2008. But while the media often tends to categorize violence in the region by country, the Dialogue’s report illustrates some surprising variations within countries which show that the region’s fiercest “drug wars” are often concentrated in just a few cities or municipalities.
For instance, Costa points out that some 80 percent of murders in Mexico between December 2006 and July 2010 were committed in just 7 percent of that country’s municipalities, mainly in the beleaguered states of Baja California, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Michoacan and Guerrero. In El Salvador, more than two-thirds of homicides are committed in only 30 (11 percent) of the country’s 262 municipalities. Similar “hotspots” exist in Guatemala, Colombia, Peru and other countries across the region, serving as a reminder that citizen insecurity often has as much to do with local dynamics as it does with national security policy.