Violence in Latin America is often talked about negatively. That’s no surprise: 15 out of the 20 most violent cities globally are Latin American, and 9 of them are in Mexico. In terms of total homicides, many countries in our region have had steady rises for years. However, one important metric is less discussed: homicide rate per 100,000 people.
In theory, this metric can tell us whether a population has become more or less violent over time because it factors population growth. For example, suppose a country composed of 100 citizens had 20 homicides in 1990. Then in 2019, that same country has grown to 200 citizens, and 21 homicides were reported, did that country become more violent? In fact, when we look at homicide rates, the story is positive for Latin America.
The homicide rate of every single Latin American country has dropped in the last 30 years. Peru stands out with the lowest homicide rate both in 1990 and 2019. Its current rate is lower than Europe’s average. The most significant drop came from Guatemala, which went from 71 to 38 homicides per 100,000 people. In 2007, the CICIG was formed in Guatemala, bringing the decades of unchecked violence and crime to a turning point.
The CICIG was an independent investigative body operating under Guatemalan law and reliant on the local justice system; it was commended for its fight against corruption and organized crime by the UN, the EU, and both US political parties. Tragically in 2019, then-president Jimmy Morales, who was under investigation for money laundering, terminated the CICIG with support from business elites and outrage from almost everyone else.