On January 10, Guatemalan political scientist Carlos Mendoza tweeted a series of graphs comparing Guatemala's steadily declining homicide rates with other Latin American countries. As analyst James Bosworth observed, the resulting visuals highlight pockets of improvement across the region, as well as areas of crisis. 

It's easy to get caught up in bad news about homicide rates in this hemisphere. Certainly, El Salvador and Venezuela saw horrific increases in 2015. Yet, there is some good news, as the graphic below shows (Graphics from Carlos Mendoza, who put together several graphs comparing Guatemala to other countries in the hemisphere). Both Guatemala and Colombia have seen sustained decreases in homicide rates. Guatemala peaked in the mid-40's per 100,000 in 2006-2009 and Colombia peaked at 70 per 100,000 in 2002.

 

16-01-12-HomicideRatesGTandCO

 

There are a lot of lessons you could take from these countries (and we're all at risk of confirmation bias, explaining these success stories post-hoc justifying the policies we support), but let me provide the most important point from that graph: There is hope. High homicide rates can be decreased sustainably. These aren't temporary gains as occurred with the El Salvador gang truce that briefly halved the number of murders before causing them to spike again. While there are reasons to be concerned about potential temporary new spikes in crime in both countries, the consistent improvements in recent years show that progress can be made and sustained over many years.

SEE ALSO:  Guatemala News and Profiles

I'll add that I'm optimistic that both countries have an opportunity to consolidate these gains in the near future. Thanks to recent successes and the CICIG, Guatemala's stronger institutions are better positioned in the coming years to prosecute the corruption and organized crime that have long plagued the country. Colombia has an opportunity with the FARC peace process and subsequent Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) effort to finally end one of the key drivers of the violence in that country.

All graphs below by Carlos Mendoza. Follow him at @camendoza72 or read more of his analysis on Guatemala's homicide rates on his personal blog or his column at investigative news website Plaza Publica.

 

Guatemala Homicide Rate vs. Mexico's, 2000-2015

 

16-01-18-Guatemala-homicidesmexico

 

 

Guatemala Homicide Rate vs. Honduras', 2000-2014

 

16-01-12-Guatemala-hondurashomicides

 

Guatemala Homicide Rate vs. El Salvador, 2000-2014

 

16-01-12-Guatemala-elsalvadorhomicides

 

Guatemala Homicide Rate vs. Venezuela, 2000-2015

 

16-01-12-Guatemala-venezuelahomicides

 

 

Investigations

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

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...