- Colombia – Murder rate per 100,000: 30.8 (Total murders: 14,670)
Colombia has evolved as a highly segregated society, split between the traditionally rich families of Spanish descent and the vast majority of poor Colombians. After over half a century of civil war and the rise and fall of drug trafficking empires, Colombia has made huge strides in improving its security situation in recent years. However, it remains beset by guerrilla rebels and criminal networks, and the Colombian underworld is a potent mix of ideological organizations and their remnants and organized crime where the boundaries between war and crime are fluid.
These armed groups and criminal networks are involved in an extensive range of activities including drug production and trafficking, arms trafficking, money laundering, extortion and illegal mining. The ownership of these lucrative exploitations has led to many ongoing gang feuds which account for a lot of the murders.
- South Africa – 31.9 (17,068)
Over 45 people are murdered a day in South Africa although this is considerably lower than in the late 80s and 90s. There are a number of reasons why the murder rate is so high in South Africa: The normalisation of violence is key; violence comes to be seen as a necessary and justified means of resolving conflict. There is a subculture of violence and criminality, ranging from individual criminals to informal groups or more formalised gangs. Those involved in the subculture are engaged in criminal careers and commonly use firearms, with the exception of Cape Town where knife violence is more prevalent. Credibility within this subculture is related to the readiness to resort to extreme violence. The high levels of inequality, poverty, unemployment, social exclusion and marginalisation enhance the chances that young people will become involved in criminality and violence.
- Saint Kitts and Nevis – 33.6 (18)
Saint Kitts and Nevis has a very small population and is geographically one of the smallest countries on Earth and due to these facts a small number of murders is proportionally much higher than most other countries. There are many low level crimes (e.g. muggings) as there is always a large population of visiting tourists because it is a popular destination for cruise ships however virtually all the murders are of locals.
- Guatemala – 34.6 (5,155)
100 people are killed a week in Guatemala and this is due to the fact that drug and human trafficking are rife and there many murders linked to transnational criminal organizations with less than 4% of all the murders committed in Guatemala lead to a conviction. Violent crimes (including murder) are high on American and other Western tourists especially in Guatemala City which has the third highest homicide rate of any city in the World (116.6 per 100,000).
Many young people are involved in violent gangs; the rivalry is so bad that members of MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs are kept in separate prisons. Children are recruited as young as 8 into the gangs and many see it as the only way to remain safe and make a living.
- Lesotho – 38.0 (764)
Naturally with South Africa on the list Lesotho was always going to have quite a high murder rate as it is surrounded by South Africa. Even though Lesotho has very strict gun-control laws, criminal elements smuggle firearms in from South Africa, through the porous border. Criminals desiring a firearm have little trouble getting one, and their use in conducting criminal acts is on the rise. As such, increases in the tactics more commonly seen in South Africa are on the rise in Lesotho.
- Jamaica 39.3 – (1,087)
Crime throughout Jamaica maybe as a result of several factors: poverty, retribution, drugs, gangs and politics. Organized crime and other criminal elements are prevalent and extremely active. Most criminal activity is gang-related. The police are only able to resolve (make arrests) in 45 percent of homicides annually, and they only convict perpetrators in seven percent of the homicide cases. This leads both the public and police to doubt the effectiveness of the criminal justice system leading to vigilantism, which only exacerbates the cycle of violence.
- El Salvador – 39.8 (2,499)
It is becoming a recurring theme but the Government of El Salvador lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases and to deter violent crime. The main sources of the murders are the two gangs; MS-13 and Barrio 18 (the same ones prevalent in Guatemala). They run the drug trafficking business. El Salvador serves as a drug recipient and storage point along the Pacific Coast, and a bridge via the Pan-American Highway, the Fonseca Gulf, and roads from Honduras that cut through relatively unpopulated areas.
- Belize – 45.1 (145)
Corruption, human smuggling/trafficking, the drug trade, money laundering, and organized gang activity remain significant problems in Belize, the only English speaking country in Central America. Criminal organizations and individuals often operate beyond the ability of the police. Compounding this problem is the very modest capacity to prosecute offenders. Most of the murders happen in Belize City which is the 4th most murderous city in the world.
- Venezuela – 53.6 (16,072)
The Attorney General’s Office announced that Venezuela registered 4,696 homicides between January and March 2016 which is from 3,192 in 2014 for the first trimester. InSight Crime said that causes of gun crime include high levels of corruption, a lack of investment in the police force and weak gun control – all of which has led to a proliferation of arms and a lack of coherent security policy. It also said that Venezuela has become a principal transit nation for Colombian cocaine. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said Venezuela does not produce sizeable quantities of cocaine, but it has become a transit country for cocaine from Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, which is shipped to the United States and Europe. Today many people in Venezuela have guns even if they’re not part of gangs and most people aren’t afraid to use them as other violent crimes such as rape and kidnappings are equally frequent.
- Honduras – 84.3 (6,757)
Official the most murderous country in the World Honduras is considered a major drug route to the US. Weak domestic law enforcement institutions, combined with Honduras’s long coastline and relatively sparse population distribution, make Honduras a popular point of entry for drug routes travelling through Central America.
Gang presence is rampant in Honduras, especially in big cities such as San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. In these cities, territory is controlled by members of rival gangs, the most powerful being the Mara Salvatrucha and the 18th Street Gang (Barrio 18). These gangs use violence and threats to enforce their power. Members of the community who do not pay their “war taxes” to the gangs for protection are threatened and oftentimes killed simply for their disobedience. As with every other Latin American country on this list drugs (specifically cocaine) and the gangs who operate the trafficking are the cause of the high murder rates.
Having recently returned from Central America where I visited El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras on this list as well as Panama City which isn’t here (25th) but has the 8th highest murder rate of any city; I have to say that these high statistics shouldn’t put you off visiting any of these countries. I walked around all the capitals of these countries and never once felt unsafe, I obviously took precautions but I was never even approached and I wandered around in the evenings by myself. Even solo female travelers shouldn’t write these countries off as they are such beautiful countries each with amazing, unique history and cultures.
Plus it’s quite cool to say you have been to such dangerous countries.