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Five of the 10 most dangerous cities in the world are located in Mexico according to a recent study published at the beginning of the year by the Mexican research group Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal (Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice).
The study shows that 45 of the 50 cities most violent in the world are in South America and 19 between Mexico and Central America. Five Mexican cities, Torreon, Chihuahua, Acapulco, Juarez and Durango, are in the top 10 most dangerous cities in the world. The Honduran city of San Pedro Sula claimed the unfortunate honor as most dangerous on the list. This position is not surprising since Honduras is a transit country for the majority of cocaine smuggled out of South America. The list also includes American cities such as New Orleans (21st), Detroit (30th), and St. Louis (41st).
Kidnapping, killings, rape and armed robberies are common in Latin-America. In many of these countries, public life is almost paralyzing from the fear of being hit by a stray bullet or being kidnapped.
Jose Cunha, a native Brazilian, explained that, compared to Europe, an everyday routine like going to a cash point to withdraw money is seen by many Latin-Americans with envy. “In my country before we withdraw money from a cash point we have to check several times that the street is clear of danger because we are afraid of being kidnapped or assaulted,” he said.
The report Crime and Violence in Central America: a Development challenge pointed out that crime rates and violence is related to drug cartels’ operations such as turf wars and vendettas between rival gangs. The cartels control the trafficking of drugs from South America to the United States especially , a business that is worth an estimated $13billion a year. The Sinaloa and Los Zetas are the two biggest cartels in terms of geographic presence.
United States is responsible for being the main firearms supplier to Latin American countries. A Senate report in June 2011, Halting US Firearms Trafficking to Mexico, suggested that some 70% of firearms recovered from Mexican crime scenes in 2009 and 2010 and submitted for tracing came from the US.
A top US military official explained in the report that Mexico’s notoriously violent drug cartels get much of their weapons from stockpiles in Central America left over from conflicts in the region. General Douglas Fraser, head of the US Southern Command, said “there were between 45 million and 80 million weapons circulated in Central America, much of those left over from civil wars and other conflicts”.
Crime and violence related with drug trafficking hampers economic progress in Central America, obliging the states to divert their scarce resources to strengthen law enforcement instead of developing economic activity.
Therefore, many foreign companies or local entrepreneurs are put off to invest in Latin America. As a result, there are fewer jobs and more people, especially young teenagers that choose to enroll into drug cartels. According to the report, it is estimated that around 900 gangs are in Central America and most homicide victims are young men between the ages of 15 and 34.
Serrano Berther and Humberto Pérez, authors of the study, claim that weak criminal justice is the main issue regarding Central America drug trafficking. This weakness limits the efficacy of crime and violence punishment and prevention. “There is a vicious circle in the region where the high crime rates are contributing to weakening the criminal justice system,” they said.
The report suggests setting measures such as more transparent accusatory mechanisms, giving more power to prosecutors, strengthening public defense and changing sentencing mechanisms.