Police Report Highlights How Nicaragua’s Violence Differs from CentAm

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According to an annual report by Nicaragua’s National Police, capital Managua is the country’s most dangerous city, while the remote southern Atlantic is its most dangerous region, raising questions over why some of Nicaragua’s security dynamics are so different from its neighbors.

National Police Commissioner Aminta Granera said Tuesday that Managua is responsible for 25 percent of the country’s violent deaths, La Prensa reported. Last year, the report recorded 738 violent deaths for Nicaragua.

According to Granera, the most violent region is the remote Autonomous Region of the Southern Atlantic, or RAAS (see picture), with a rate of 42.7 homicides per 100,000 people in 2011, comparable to Nicaragua’s national rate of 12 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. Neighboring Guatemala has a rate of 43 homicides per 100,000.

The police chief said several other departments have murder rates on par with those seen in Europe, including Cazo, Leon, and Madriz, which saw rates of 2.2, 4.3, and 3.3, respectively.

InSight Crime Analysis

Violent crime throughout most of Nicaragua is low, setting it apart from its Northern Triangle neighbors. But the RAAS remains a hotspot for criminal activity, driving up the national homicide rate with murder rates that rival more troubled nations like Guatemala and Honduras.

One reason for the violence could be the tendency of local drug traffickers to steal cocaine shipments from larger drug cartels. Such thefts and double-crossing could be motivating revenge killings, amid an atmosphere of low police presence and rural poverty. According to Confidencial, a recent study by the think tank Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policy (IEEPP) found evidence of squads of hitmen working in the region to settle debts for drug traffickers, linked so far to 33 homicides.

Still, despite the troubles in the RAAS, Nicaragua is in a far better security situation than some of its neighbors, with a homicide rate that, at 12 per 100,000, is just a fraction of that seen in other Central American countries. None of the Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) have homicide rates lower than 40 per 100,000. This rash of violence may have spared Nicaragua thanks to its civic-minded policing model, in which officers cooperate with community organizations, a lingering effect of its socialist revolution.

For all its advantages, Nicaragua still faces public security challenges. Some criminal groups are reportedly beginning to see the country’s north as a valuable hideout. If this trend continues, it may lead to new patterns of violence in Nicaragua, if the RAAS is unseated as the center of violent crime.

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