Crime scene in San Pedro Sula, Honduras

The 2012 list of the world’s most dangerous cities is again dominated by Latin America, and suggests violence is rising in Venezuela but waning in Mexico.

The list was compiled by Mexican violence monitoring group the Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice (Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal). For the second year running, the top spot was reserved for Honduras’ San Pedro Sula, which posted a murder rate of 169 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. The country remains the most violent in the world, with its capital city ranking as the world's fourth most violent.

Second place on the list was the Mexican city of Acapulco, which recorded a rate of 142 per 100,000. Acapulco replaced another Mexican city, Ciudad Juarez, which dropped to 19th after spending two years as the world's most violent place. Overall, there were nine Mexican cities in the rankings, down from 12 in 2011.

Venezuela registered the most striking increases, and is second only to Honduras for violence nationwide. The Venezuelan capital, Caracas, moved from sixth place to third, as its murder rate shot from 99 per 100,000 to 119. Another city, Barquisimeto, jumped from the 24th ranking into the top ten, while two other Venezuelan cities, Valencia and Maracaibo, entered the list for the first time.

Brazil once again posted the highest number of cities (15) in the rankings, with capital Brasilia entering the list for the first time after witnessing an alarming spike in crime in 2012.

Colombia saw some improvements, with the country's second-largest city, Medellin, dropping from 14th to 24th after registering a 20 point reduction in its murder rate. However, third-largest city Cali is now the seventh most violent in the world, while seaside resort town Santa Marta, which has been racked by a dispute between paramilitary successor groups, entered the list at the 29th spot.

InSight Crime Analysis

The shifting rankings of the list reflect regional trends in violence and crime. In Venezuela, insecurity is not only increasing but spreading, fuelled by weak and corrupt institutions and the growing influence of organized crime – as demonstrated by the ranking of Maracaibo, a city near the border with Colombia, growing in prominence as a main trafficking route and site for competing criminal groups.

However, in Mexico, as recent analysis shows, drug war violence is either dropping or levelling off, aided by the resolution of certain turf wars such as the battle for control of Ciudad Juarez between the Sinaloa and Juarez cartesl. However, the reductions are not significant enough that Mexico should lose its prominent position in the Council's rankings.

The fluctuations in individual countries aside, the most salient aspect of the list is the near complete dominance of the Americas, underscoring the depth of the security problems the region is facing, of which murders are simply the most visible and quantifiable elements.