A police officer in Medellin, Colombia

By one watchdog's count, about 86 percent of the world's most violent cities are based in Latin America, a phenomenon that has remained constant for the past four years.

According to the non-governmental organization Mexican Citizens' Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice (or the CCSP-JP by its Spanish acronym), the world's most violent cities are predominantly found in Latin America. (The NGO explains its sources and methodology for calculating each city's homicide rate in a report accompanying the list.) 

The CCSP-JP has released this list every year since 2011, and comparing them helps illustrate a few interesting trends regarding homicide rates in the region. 

1) The concentration of violent cities in Brazil

The number of Brazilian cities violent enough to be placed among the 50 most violent in the world just keeps going up, from 14 cities on the list in 2011, to 19 cities in 2014. In 2011, just two Brazilian cities were among the world's ten most violent; that number has since doubled. One of those cities, João Pessoa, the capital of northern state Paraiba, has seen a particularly dramatic jump in violence over the years -- ranking 29th in 2011, and now ranking fourth. 

2) Steady improvements in Mexico

Since 2011, when Mexico had 12 cities that ranked among the world's 50 most violent, that number has now dropped to 10. Nine of those cities were among the 25 most violent in the world in 2011; now, there are only two -- Acapulco and Culiacan. 

3) Venezuela versus the US

Over the years, there hasn't been that much difference between the number of Venezuelan cities on the list, versus the number of cities in the United States. This year, both Venezuela and the US have four cities among the 50 most violent, but three of those Venezuelan cities are in the top 20, and just one is in the US. 

4) The 'miracle' cities  

Juarez had a staggering 148 homicides per 100,000 people in 2011, the second most violent city in the world. Now, it's the 27th -- with a homicide rate of 40. Torreon and Chihuahua saw similar improvements -- the homicide rate in these cities fell from 88 and 83, respectively, in 2011, to 28 and 33 in 2014. 

Meanwhile, Colombia's second-largest city, Medellin, is now safer than every other US city on this list -- Baltimore, New Orleans, St. Louis and Detroit. This is compared to 2011, when Medellin ranked at 14th.

However, as reported by InSight Crime, these improvements in Medellin may have less to do with government initiatives and more to do with an ongoing pax mafioso. Likewise, while the Mexican government remains keen on emphasizing the improvements in Juarez, the reasons behind the border city's declining homicides are a mixed bag.  

Another dramatic improvement was seen in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the 25th most violent city in the world in 2011. This year, it doesn't even rank in the top 50, an improvement that's been attributed to several policies, including more effective use of technology. Another city in the Caribbean, Kingston, remains among the top 30 most violent in the world, but saw a sizable drop in its homicide rate between 2013 and 2014, possibly helped by fewer police killings

On the flip side, one of the most dramatic upticks in violence was in Valencia, Venezuela. The city wasn't even ranked in 2011, then ranked 50th in 2013, with a homicide rate of 30 per 100,000. This year, it's the seventh most violent city in the world, with a homicide rate of 71. 

5) The effect of the gang truce in El Salvador 

After El Salvador negotiated a truce between its most violent gangs, its capital, San Salvador, went from the 20th most violent city in the world (in 2011) to the 44th, in 2012. After the gang truce fell apart, the city now has a higher homicide rate than it did the year before the truce -- it's currently the 13th most violent in the world.  

6) The degree of violence in Latin America 

It's not just the number of Latin American cities on the CCSP-JP's list, it's the degree of the violence found there. Of the 43 Latin American cities on the 2014 list, about 40 percent of them have homicide rates higher than 50 per 100,000, and about 46 percent have homicide rates at 30 per 100,000 or higher. The global homicide average is about 7 per 100,000.

7) Watch your back in San Pedro de Sula

It's been the world's most violent city four years running. 

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

The power of Colombia's elites is founded upon one of the most unequal divisions of land in the world. As of the early 21st century, one percent of landowners own more than half the country's agricultural land.1  Under Spanish rule, Colombia's agriculture was organized on the hacienda...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras is currently one of the most violent countries on the planet that is not at war. The violence is carried out by transnational criminal organizations, local drug trafficking groups, gangs and corrupt security forces, among other actors. Violence is the focal point for the international aid...

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Organized crime and the violence associated with it is the preeminent problem in Latin America and the Caribbean today. The region is currently home to six of the most violent countries in the world that are not at war. Four of those countries are in Central America...

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

In a new report based on extensive field research, InSight Crime and the Asociacion para una Sociedad mas Justa have traced how Honduras' two largest gangs, the MS13 and the Barrio 18, are evolving, and how their current modus operandi has resulted in staggering levels of violence...

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Transnational organized crime likes opportunities and little resistance. Bolivia currently provides both and finds itself at the heart of a new criminal dynamic that threatens national and citizen security in this landlocked Andean nation.

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

As Guatemala's Congress gears up to select new Supreme Court Justices and appellate court judges, InSight Crime is investigating how organized crime influences the selection process. This story details the interests of one particular political bloc vying for control over the courts and what's at stake: millions...

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

In August 2002, the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) greeted Colombia's new president with a mortar attack that killed 14 people during his inauguration. The attack was intended as a warning to the fiercely anti-FARC newcomer. But it became the opening salvo of...

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The mad scramble for criminal power in the aftermath of the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is over. The Urabeños, or as they prefer to call themselves, the "Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia," have won.

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Faced with the government's failure to rein in the criminals, communities across crime-besieged Mexico have been trying for years to organize effective civic resistance. Michoacan's vigilantes express the most extreme response by society to date, but other efforts have been less belligerent. In battle-torn cities along the...

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

If Uruguay's proposal to regulate the production, sale and distribution of marijuana is properly implemented and overcomes political and economic hurdles, it could be the most important drug regulation experiment in decades.