A recent report ranking levels of peace around the world rates most Latin American countries as having medium or high levels of peace, a finding that stands in sharp contrast to the high rates of homicide and violent crime plaguing the region.
According to the 2014 Global Peace Index (GPI) (pdf) — which ranked 162 countries based on indicators measuring domestic and international conflict, safety and security, and level of militarization — Colombia and Mexico are the only countries in Latin America with low levels of peace.
The report listed Colombia as number 150 on a list ranging from most to least peaceful, four places below its 2013 ranking. The second worst classification in the region was given to Mexico (138), followed by Venezuela (129), Peru (119), Honduras (117), El Salvador (116) and Guatemala (115). Of these countries, only Honduras improved its ranking between 2013 and 2014. Mexico was one of the ten countries in the world to see the largest negative change in its GPI since 2008.
The report also states that despite the amount of money spent on violence containment in Colombia and Mexico — amounting to 9.7 and 9.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) respectively — in both countries the state’s capacity to deal with crime is insufficient, partly because of widespread corruption.
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According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) 2013 Global Study on Homicide (pdf), the Americas as a region had the highest homicide rate in the world in 2012, with 16.3 murders per 100,000 people. This murder rate contrasts sharply with the results of the GPI, which describe levels of peace in Central America and the Caribbean as being only “slightly below” the world average.
On a national level, the GPI of several Latin American countries also diverges from other indicators. Whereas Colombia’s murder rate was 30.8 per 100,000 in 2012, Venezuela registered 53.7 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants and Honduras reported 90.4, but both countries were ranked as more peaceful on the GPI.
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Similarly, although the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are plagued by gang violence and the region was classified by the UN as the most violent in the world in 2012 and 2013, it was ranked as being more peaceful than Peru, where the Shining Path rebel group poses a much weaker threat to the country as a whole.
While the protracted conflict in Colombia and ongoing warring between drug cartels in Mexico make their rankings unsurprising, it seems the GPI is not an accurate reflection of the actual experiences of insecurity faced by the citizenry of many Latin American nations. This points to the difficulty of applying indicators in a blanket fashion to measure a concept as complex as “peace.”
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