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.
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.
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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
Guatemala Homicide Rate vs. Honduras’, 2000-2014
Guatemala Homicide Rate vs. El Salvador, 2000-2014
Guatemala Homicide Rate vs. Venezuela, 2000-2015