A new Gallup poll shows people in El Salvador and Venezuela feel less safe than in Syria and a host of other conflict-ridden nations, providing a global context for the severity of the security problem in these countries and throughout Latin America.
Gallup's 2016 Global Law and Order Report paints a grim picture of security perceptions in Latin America. Venezuela and El Salvador ranked as the worst and second-to-worst worldwide with scores of 35 and 48, respectively. Peru tied with Syria for third worst with a score of 50, and Bolivia came in next at 51.
The poll graded 133 countries on a 100-point scale based on responses to three questions related to security and trust in local police forces.
Venezuela received the lowest score of any country in the world since 2005, according to Gallup. Just 14 percent of Venezuelans said they feel safe walking alone at night; Syria and Afghanistan were the next-to-lowest with 32 percent each. Six of the bottom 10 countries worldwide for feeling safe at night were in Latin America or the Caribbean, while Nordic countries occupied many of the top spots. (See Gallup graph below)
As a region, Latin America and the Caribbean was perceived as less safe overall than any other in the world for the seventh year in a row. (See Gallup graph below)
No country in Latin America or the Caribbean scored above the global average of 72. (See Gallup graph below) Chile and Nicaragua ranked the highest, both receiving scores of 65. Paraguay, meanwhile, saw the biggest change in security perceptions between 2014 and 2015, jumping from 46 to 60. Gallup noted that it surveyed Paraguayans shortly after Pope Francis's visit to the country in July 2015.
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These are disturbing but not altogether surprising results. Venezuela's low ranking reflects that country's descent into a worsening economic and security crisis, while El Salvador likely became the most homicidal country in the world last year with a murder rate of over 100 per 100,000 residents. That citizens of these countries feel more vulnerable to violence than those scarred by years of intense warfare like Syria and Afghanistan lends some credence to claims that the region's crime-driven conflicts should be considered a humanitarian crisis.
Nor is it startling that Latin America and the Caribbean scored the worst among the world's regions. The Latin America and the Caribbean region is the most violent in the world, and many countries have murder rates above 10 per 100,000, the threshold for what the World Health Organization qualifies as an "epidemic."
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Perceptions of insecurity do not always match reality, however. Peru and Bolivia's poor scores are consistent with a 2014 security perceptions index released by the Latin American Public Opinion Project, but these Andean nations are generally regarded as some of the safest in Latin America. Last year, Bolivia and Peru registered murder rates of 5 per 100,000 and 7 per 100,000, respectively, among the lowest in the entire region.