Friday, May 8, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, May 8, 2015

Tracking homicides around the world

The 18 countries with the highest violent death rates are home to only 4 per cent of the world’s population but account for nearly one-quarter of all violent deaths in the world, according to the UN "Global Burden of Armed Violence" report released today. 

Drug trafficking in the Northern Triangle -- El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras -- has driven up the number of homicides in Central America, which have risen to 33.6 per 100,000 population in 2007-2012, up from 29 in the 2004-2009 period, according to the report. 

Honduras (90.2 homicides per 100,000) and Venezuela (72.2) are considered to be among the world's most dangerous countries, only lagging behind Syria in numbers of violent deaths, notesEFE's coverage of the story. Excluding war zones, Brazil has the most murders overall, with 56,337 homicides in 2012, the most recent year with figures for all countries.

Irin emphasizes that while only eight percent of the world’s population resides in Latin America and the Caribbean, this region accounts for 33 percent of the world’s homicides. 

Of the world's 50 most violent cities, 43 are in Latin America.

The Homicide Map, launched by Brazil's Igarapé Institute yesterday, helps put all of these numbers in perspective. It is the world's largest publicly available dataset featuring information on over 200 states, territories and dependencies and well over 10,000 data-points. It includes subnational data for all Latin American and Caribbean countries, including states and cities with over 250,000 people.

"The Homicide Monitor demonstrates that Latin America and the Caribbean countries and cities are ground zero for homicidal violence," explain's the Igarapé Institute's Robert Muggah. "Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela account for 2 in 5 murders around the world. Indeed, Latin America accounts for 33 percent of murders worldwide despite being less than 10 percent of the global population."

But violence is not evenly distributed, notes Muggah in The Guardian. "In many US cities, for example, less than 5% of street addresses account for 75% of violence. In Bogotá, just 2% of street addresses are where 98% of homicides occur.” Poor areas in cities are far more affected by violence than their wealthier counterparts. 
Yet the broad numbers shouldn't elide achievements in the region. The Guardian notes that cities like Medellín, Bogotá, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, once known for violence, have seen murder rate declines of more than 60% over the past two decades thanks to improved living standards, better education, decelerating urbanisation and more effective policing.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' 2014 report, released yesterday, specifically notes the problem of citizen security in the region, noting the high rates of crime and violence in some Latin American and Caribbean countries. For the first time in decades the region's population listed crime as a major concern, more than unemployment, according to the report. Areas of particular concern include: treatment of victims of violence and crime; the privatization of security services; the governability of citizen security; the professionalization and modernization of the police forces; and the intervention of the armed forces in tasks related to citizen security.

On a grim related note, homicides in El Salvador rose by 44 percent in the first four months of the year, authorities reported yesterday: a total of 1,551 people were killed so far in 2015.

News Briefs

  • Mexican federal agents detained the former subdirector of Iguala's police force for his alleged participation in the disappearance of 43 students in September of last year. Francisco Salgado Vallares was one of the most wanted by authorities in relation to the crime, reports AFP.Salgado Valladares allegedly ordered police to hand 13 of the missing students over to the drug gang Guerreros Unidos. Security sources quoted in Animal Político say Salgado was tracked down over the past seven months using information from former municipal cops and hitmen for Guerreros Unidos. Salgado reportedly earned $40,000 a month in exchange for covering up for drug traffickers, according to AFP's piece. The students remain missing. Authorities say they were massacred by the gang, although relatives doubt the official account and DNA testing has only identified the remains of one of the victims.
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' report pays particular attention to Venezuela and Cuba. In Venezuela the report identifies the "persistence of a climate of hostility and intolerance against political dissidents and human rights defenders." Venezuelan authorities reject the report, saying it's politically motivated, according to AFP.
  • Brazil's diplomats pressured Venezuelan officials to set a date for National Assembly elections, which should occur before the end of the year.
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff did not receive the wives of two imprisoned Venezuelan opposition politicians, but sent a letter saying she seeks an end to the Venezuelan "political crisis," while professing utmost respect for the "democratic state," reports EFE. The Brazilian Foreign Ministry received the wives of Leopoldo López, an opposition leader, and Antonio Ledezma, the Caracas mayor, the former jailed for allegedly instigating violent protests and the latter for allegedly participating in a conspiracy against President Nicolás Maduro.
  • Coca crop eradication with aerial spraying of herbicide -- which risks the health and economy of local communities, destroys food crops and water supplies and causes forced displacement -- is an example of how prohibitionist drug policies transfer the costs of the drug problem from consumer to producer and transit countries, argues Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch in the Huffington Post. The world's poor bear greatest burden of the international drug regime, she says, and urges "drug policy reform that respects human rights, promotes public health and security, and democracy."
  • Uruguayans are frustrated with former Guantanamo detainees accepted as refugees in their country. Former President José Mujica's humanitarian gesture has proved unpopular, as the former detainees fail to adjust to life in their new country. While Uruguayan's complain that the men have not gotten jobs, the former detainees say they suffer from long-term health and psychological issues and that they need more assistance in order to settle in Uruguay. Several have been camped out in front of the U.S. embassy, demanding financial assistance, though American authorities say they have no obligation towards the men they incarcerated for over a decade. Uruguay is the only country in the region which has taken former Guantanamo prisoners, reports the AP.
  • U.S. authorities question the veracity of a Colombian historian's report of widespread sexual abuse by U.S. military contractors between 2003 and 2007. The report by Renán Vega, released in February, says 54 girls were abused in those years. But the American embassy in Colombia and Army's Criminal Investigation Command (CID) have cast doubts on the reports veracity, reports the Miami Herald. Colombian authorities are investigating the allegations.
  • The Miami Herald has a profile of Mark D'Sa, a former GAP executive who is promoting the Haitian apparel industry for the State Department. He is leading efforts to promote Caracol Industrial Park. The park has been criticized for failing to meet optimistic job creation promises, but D'Sa says the industry in Haiti has made important headway. Caracol employes 6,200 people and has produced $100 million in exports since its October 2012 opening, though it falls far short of the 60,000 jobs promised initially.
  • In a sombre Mother's Day reflection, a U.N. Population Fund representative noted yesterday that no Latin America country will reach the Millennium Goal of reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent by this year. To make matters worst, teen pregnancy in the region has not diminished in 15 years, according to Jorge Parra, UNFPA's Colombia representative. The region reduced maternal mortality by about 40 percent over the past 15 years, according to EFE.

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