Crime rates and poverty
January 19, 2021
In a ruthless, never-ending cycle of violence and extortion, cartels’ actions have destabilized the whole of Central America, especially the countries in the Northern Triangle that face a frightening reality.
For example, they consistently rank among the top 10 countries with the highest murder rates.
Economic Conditions and Crime in the Northern Triangle by Hudson Fox
In 2011, Honduras had the world’s highest murder rate – 83.8 homicides per 100,000 residents that year. That same year, El Salvador had a slightly lower homicide rate of 70.4, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, while Guatemala’s murder rate stood at 38. By 2016, El Salvador had the highest homicide rate (83 per 100,000 people), Honduras’ was 55.6, and Guatemala’s was 27.3. In comparison, the U.S. had a homicide rate of 4.7 per 100,000 people in 2011 and a rate of 5.4 per 100,000 in 2016.
The astonishing rate of murder does not go unnoticed in the local communities. Residents are painfully aware of the violence and the challenges presented by the increased cartel and gang activity. A 2013 Pew Research Center survey in El Salvador found that a bulk of people living there – 90% or more – said crime, illegal drugs, and gang violence were major problems in their country. Fifty-one percent of respondents said they were afraid to walk alone at night within a kilometer of their home.
Not only do Northern Triangle residents have to contend with increased rates of violence, but the pervasive economic instability and high rates of poverty present in their countries contribute to their indigent state. Northern Triangle nations are among the poorest in Latin America. According to the latest data available from the World Bank, 24.4% of Guatemalans (2014), 30.6% of Hondurans (2018), and 7.9% of Salvadorans (2018) lived with an income of less than $3.20 per day.
In October 2018, the International Organization for Migration conducted a survey of a “caravan” of Salvadoran migrants who had banded together to make the journey north. It found that nearly 52% identified economic opportunity as their rationale for leaving the region, 18% cited violence and insecurity, 2% cited family reunification, and 28% cited a combination of those factors. Although reasons for immigration differ by individual, challenging socio-economic and security conditions — intensified by natural disasters and inadequate governance — seem to be the most significant drivers of the current migration flow.