- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
In Central America, the escalating drug-related violence involving drug trafficking, transnational and local gangs and other criminal groups has reached alarming and unprecedented levels, significantly worsening security and making the subregion one of the most violent areas in the world. Crime and drug-related violence continue to be key issues of concern in Central American countries. Drug trafficking (including fighting between and within drug trafficking and criminal organizations operating out of Colombia and Mexico), youth-related violence and street gangs, along with the widespread availability of firearms, have contributed to increasingly high crime rates in the subregion. There are more than 900 maras (local gangs) active in Central America today, with over 70,000 members. According to a recent report by the World Bank, drug trafficking is both an important driver of homicide rates in Central America and the main single factor behind the rising levels of violence in the subregion. The countries of the so-called "Northern Triangle" (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras), together with Jamaica, now have the world’s highest homicide rates.
Just how bad is it? To put things in perspective, in Syria, where the the United Nations is debating imposing international sanctions and many are urging humanitarian intervention, an astonishing 7,500 people are estimated to have been killed in the last 11 months. With Syria’s population, that’s almost 37 deaths per 100,000 people.
By comparison, Honduras has a murder rate of 82.1 per 100,000, the highest in the world. It’s followed by El Salvador at 66 and Jamaica at 60 — all driven primarily by drug violence. With only 8.5 per cent of the world population, Latin America and the Carribean account for 27 percent of homicides.
I don’t mean to minimize the tragic violence of the Middle East, but it’s a bit astonishing how little this carnage closer to home gets in U.S. political circles, particularly since, as the world’s largest drug market, North Americans are directly implicated in it.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano is visiting Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama this week where she faces the unenviable task of touting progress in the war on drugs.