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Mapping Guatemala's Murder Hotspots

A map showing Guatemala's murder rates by province A map showing Guatemala's murder rates by province

An analysis of Guatemala's homicide trends shows that homicides are unevenly distributed across the country, which may point to a spillover of violence from Honduras -- though drug trafficking is not necessarily to blame.

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The interactive report, written by security analyst Carlos Mendoza of Central American Business News, and elPeriodico reporter Claudia Mendez, breaks down homicide rates by province, gender, age, motive, and various other factors. Mendoza relied on various sources for his statistics, including the police, the Interior Ministry, and the national forensics institute, Inacif.image 3

The analysis finds that most of the country's violence is concentrated in southeastern Guatemala, near the border with Honduras. Some 79 percent of all homicides take place in 10 provinces in the southeast, which have an overall rate of 59 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. Two departments that border Honduras -- Zacapa and Chiquimula -- are in the top three most violent in Guatemala, with murder rates of 74 and 89 per 100,000, respectively.

Unsurprisingly, two northern departments strategic to the transnational drug trade -- Peten (bordering Mexico) and Izabal (which borders Honduras and Belize) -- are also among the top nine most violent departments, with murder rates of 50 and 59, respectively.image 4

Mendoz and Mendez go on to examine some common assumptions regarding trends in Guatemala's violence, including President Otto Perez's statement that between 40 to 50 percent of violence is linked to the drug trade. According to the authors, the president's spokesman explained that Perez quoted the figure from a weekly intelligence briefing by state intelligence agency SIE. As the analysis points out, police statistics say that just 1 percent of violent deaths in Guatemala City were related to the drug trade; at the national level, it is even less.

However, the police statistics may be flawed, as they are based on witness testimony rather than on full investigations. Going by the police figures, the bulk of Guatemala's homicides were due to "personal motives."image 1

The analysis even includes a breakdown for the days of the week and times of day mostly likely to see killings in the country's capital (see graph, right).

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Mendoza has published a series of critical takes on Guatemala's homicide statistics at his blog, and his collaboration with elPeriodico raises more questions. Perhaps one of his most relevant observations is that those who study the causes of Guatemala's killings are working mostly in the dark. As the police statistics are not based on the outcome of legal cases or on thorough investigations, their data on the motives behind Guatemala's killings is not entirely trustworthy. This makes it difficult to assess to what degree drug trafficking and organized crime account for Guatemala's homicide rate. While Perez apparently obtained his "40 to 50 percent" figure from state intelligence, it is worth questioning how the agency calculated this number.

This wouldn't be the first time that Perez's statistics have clashed with those kept by the police. Five months into 2012, the president and the police were reporting starkly different murder counts.

Mendoza's findings paint a picture of a Guatemala as a country with homicides concentrated in a few select areas, rather than a nation "overwhelmed" by violence. The stats could be read as supporting the argument that Guatemala is suffering from "spillover" violence from Honduras, given that most of Guatemala's killings appear to be concentrated in its southwest region, near the Honduran border.

Homicides have been steadily decreasing in Guatemala: 2012 marks the third consecutive year in which the murder rate has fallen, with a tally of 5,174 killings, or 35 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, almost on par with Colombia, which has seen its murder rate plummet in recent years. Some of these gains can been attributed to reformist Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, who has taken an aggressive stance on tackling organized crime.

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