• Connect with us on Linkedin

Exploring Guns Equals Homicides Debate in Central America

The arms trafficking industry is generally thought to be a significant contributor to drug violence in Central America. But do the region’s “rivers of steel” have a demonstrable effect on local homicide rates?

Linkedin
Google +

Crime analysts have long known that the porous borders of Central America are a major asset to the illegal arms trade. According to a recent article in Guatemala’s Plaza Publica, although there are only 17 official entry points into Guatemala from Mexico, there are at least 97 known illegal crossings that are used by criminal organizations to move illicit arms over the border between the two countries.

homzarmsPlaza Publica traced allegedly important gun-running routes on a map (right) showing homicide rates of sub-state regions in Central America. While it is not clear what the author based these "major routes" on, the comparison is made quite frequently. It is rooted in the generally-accepted notion that much of the violence in Central America is caused by the legacy of Cold War-era internal conflicts in the region. Indeed, as InSight has reported, many of the arms in the region are left over from the end of these conflicts, when both rebel and government weapons stockpiles slipped into the black market.

However, this causal relationship between war, guns, and high murder rates may not be the whole story. As Rodrigo Serrano-Berthet and Humberto Lopez argue in a recent World Bank study on arms trafficking in Central America, no significant relationship exists between which Central American countries have experienced an armed conflict in the recent past, and which have high homicide rates.

The study notes that El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have some of the highest murder rates in Latin America, and of those, two have experienced conflicts in the last 30 years. However, the homicide rates of Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica are much lower, even though the first two have had also seen armed conflicts.

As the charts below illustrate, the study’s authors also present some interesting data regarding the relationship between the availability of weapons in the region, and murder rates:

homirates_centam· · · · · · ·Firearms_Owned_by_Civilians

There seems to be little correlation between how many guns there are, relative to population, and the murder rate. While Costa Rica's low gun availability fits its low murder rate, and Guatemala has high levels of both, most of the other countries go against the trend. El Salvador has a homicide rate 25 percent higher than Guatemala's, despite having less than half the number of guns per capita. Meanwhile Honduras has a murder rate three times that of Nicaragua's, while having slightly fewer guns relative to population. A similar effect is visible in Panama, which has one of the region's lowest murder rates, despite gun availability approaching that of Honduras.

These comparisons suggest that gun availability is not the determining factor in levels of violence. Clearly, the availability of weapons alone cannot account for why murder rates are so high in Central America. A more accurate explanation would need to take into account the region's weak judicial systems, entrenched corruption, and high level of income inequality.

Linkedin
Google +

---

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We also encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, provided that it is attributed to InSight Crime in the byline, with a link to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

InSight Crime Search

The Complete Organized Crime Database on the Americas

InSight Crime Social

facebooktwittergooglelinkedin

InSight Crime Special Series

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

Los Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

After the capture of Zetas boss "Z40," Nuevo Laredo is bracing itself for the worst. This investigation breaks down what makes the city such an important trafficking corridor, and what it will take for the Zetas to maintain their grip on the city.

See entire series »

 

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill

Uruguay: Marijuana, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

Uruguay is poised to become the first country on the planet to regulate the production, sale, and distribution of the drug.

See entire series »

El Salvador's Gang Truce

El Salvador's Gang Truce

The truce between El Salvador's two largest gangs -- the MS-13 and the Barrio 18 -- opens up new possibilities in how to deal with

See entire series »

Juarez After The War

Juarez After The War

As a bitter war between rival cartels grinds to an end, Ciudad Juarez has lost the title of world murder capital, and is moving towards something more like normality.

See entire series »

The Zetas And The Battle For Monterrey

The Zetas and the Battle for Monterrey

InSight Crime delves into the Zetas' battle for Mexico’s industrial capital, Monterrey, getting to the essence of a criminal gang that defies easy definition.

See entire series »

Slavery in Latin America

Slavery in Latin America

InSight Crime coordinated an investigation into modern slavery, looking at how Latin America’s criminal groups traffic human beings and force them to work as slaves.

See entire series »

FARC, Peace and Criminalization

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is being dangled before Colombia. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, the enemies of the negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the process are high.

See entire series »

Displacement in Latin America

Displacement in Latin America

InSight Crime coordinated an investigation into the new face of displacement in Latin America, where organized criminal groups are expanding and forcing people to flee.

See entire series »

Target: Migrants

Target: Migrants

The growth of organized crime in Mexico and Central America has led to an increase in violence and insecurity across the region, posing challenges to citizens, public security forces, and travelers.

See entire series »

Zetas in Guatemala

The Zetas in Guatemala

Mexico's Zetas have taken Guatemala by storm, and they are testing this country and the rest of the region: fail this test, and Central America sinks deeper into the abyss.

See entire series »

Most Read

Guatemala Citizens Fight Back Against Expanding Extortion Tactics

Guatemala Citizens Fight Back Against Expanding Extortion Tactics

Authorities in Guatemala have highlighted the range of tactics used by criminals to extort money from businesses, a crime that has become so devastating that locals in one city have organized to put a stop...

Read more

'El Mayo' Rises to Lead a Sinaloa Cartel whose Future Is Uncertain

'El Mayo' Rises to Lead a Sinaloa Cartel whose Future Is Uncertain

The upcoming trial in California of a high-ranking operative from Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel raises questions about the state of the vaunted drug trafficking organization, and whether the one remaining capo can maintain the criminal organization's...

Read more

Mexico Prisoner Origins Insufficient Basis for Anti-Violence Program Placement

Mexico Prisoner Origins Insufficient Basis for Anti-Violence Program Placement

Mexico's Interior Ministry has identified the neighborhoods where most of the country's criminals originate, a strategy aimed at determining where to allocate government anti-violence funding, but one that has some inherent flaws. 

Read more

IDRC9-01