Five of the top 10 most violent cities in the world for 2011 are in Mexico
Five of the top 10 most violent cities in the world for 2011 are in Mexico. As astonishing as that might be, it appears to reflect an unfortunate trend across the Americas, where 45 of the 50 most violent cities in the world are located, 40 of those being in Latin America.
Despite the horrendous violence taking place in some Mexican cities, the title of the world’s most dangerous city went to San Pedro Sula, Honduras with 156 homicides per 100,000 residents.
San Pedro Sula’s stunningly high murder rate is a reflection of what is known in policy circles as the “balloon effect” – police pressure in one area, in this case Mexico, will only cause the expansion of the drug trade in other areas.
Indeed, the year 2011 was notable as it marked a rapid expansion of Mexico’s drug cartels south into Central America, which has in recent years become the world’s most violent region.
Central America is characterized by weak governments unable to cope with the financial and organizational power of the drug cartels and is increasingly seen by cartel leaders as safer terrain in which to operate. Similarly, 2011 has witnessed an increasing shift of coca production from Colombia to Peru and Bolivia due to the pressure exerted on cartels by U.S. backed Plan Colombia.
Juarez, Mexico, which had held the title of “the world’s most dangerous city” for the three previous years, slipped to second place worldwide yet remained the most dangerous city in Mexico for 2011. Juarez remains a hotspot due the ongoing campaign by the Sinaloa cartel to dislodge the entrenched Juarez cartel in order to gain control of this coveted smuggling rout into the United States. Juarez is also known for its abundant U.S. style street gangs.
The most murderous cities in Mexico, measured by the number of homicides per 100,000 of the population for 2011 were (in order):
Both Juarez and Acapulco surpassed the dubious threshold of having more than 100 murders per 100,000 citizens.
Overall, Mexico has 12 cities in the top 50 most dangerous cities in the world. Brazil has 14, Colombia has 5, and the United States has 4. The county with the most problematic statistical homicide rate outside of the Americas is South Africa with 4 cities in the top 50.
Notably absent from the list are cities such as Tijuana, Mexico which has calmed down considerably following the demise of the Arellano Félix drug cartel. Rio de Janeiro, once perceived to be among the world’s most dangerous cities also did not make the list, nor did Washington, D.C., the U.S. capital.
Murder rates are typically expressed in terms of 100,000 residents in order to allow an undistorted statistical comparison of the prevalence of homicides across cities of different sizes. However these data do not, in reality, capture the element of “danger” for several reasons.
Violence in cities such as Acapulco, despite its astonishingly high homicide rate, rarely spills over to the civilian population and is mainly a result of war between rival drug gangs. In other areas of the world, a lower homicide rate might spell more “danger” in the classic sense as criminals focus on exploiting civilians.
The table below excludes cities with under 300,000 residents meaning that there may be many smaller cities with equally high statistical probabilities of homicide. Similarly, many cities known to be highly violent such as Mogadishu, Somalia do not collect or publish accurate statistics and were not included.
Ranking of the 50 Most Dangerous Cities in the World for 2011
|1||San Pedro Sula||Honduras||1,143||719,447||158.87|
|20||San Salvador||El Salvador||1,343||2,290,790||58.63|
|25||San Juan||Puerto Rico||225||427,789||52.60|
|34||Cape Town||South Africa||1,614||3,497,097||46.15|
|41||Port Elizabeth||South Africa||381||1,050,930||36.25|
Source: Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal A.C., 2012.