A new survey indicates that Panamanians are by far most concerned about insecurity, highlighting how the country's falling homicide rate isn't enough to convince the public that all is well.
According to a recent poll conducted by research network Dichter & Neira, 30 percent of Panamanians consider insecurity to be the biggest problem in their country, reported Critica. Insecurity far outranked unemployment (11 percent) and high cost of living (11 percent), the next most common responses.
This is a slight increase from a previous poll in May, in which only 23 percent of respondents said insecurity was the most pressing issue facing Panama, according to Critica.
The poll was released amid new numbers showing that homicides in Panama continue to decline: according to the government's crime statistics database, homicides have dropped nearly 22 percent so far this year, compared to the same time period in 2014. However, that same database shows a high rate of reported theft in Panama, with 8,127 cases registered since January 2015.
InSight Crime Analysis
The recent survey in Panama is illustrative of how falling homicides is not the only indicator that will influence public perception of insecurity. Panama has made undeniable gains in terms of reducing violence over the past five years: during that time, the country's homicide rate has steadily declined from 23 murders per 100,000 people in 2009 to just 15 per 100,000 in 2014. The country's security minister has said he wants to see 2015 end with a homicide rate of 9 per 100,000.
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One possible reason for the discrepancy between rising perceptions of insecurity and lower homicide rates is the explosion of gang activity in Panama. The number of gangs operating in Panama reportedly tripled between 2005 and 2010. Meanwhile, there is evidence that local gangs are becoming more sophisticated and even running "oficinas de cobro" -- a Colombian term for more sophisticated criminal structures that are more deeply involved in the drug trade. President Juan Carlos Varela recently asked for international assistance to combat the growing security threat posed by gangs and organized crime.
On the other hand, it is possible that perceptions of insecurity in Panama have simply not kept pace with real improvements in reducing crime and violence. This phenomenon has been seen in Mexico, while security analysts in Ecuador have told InSight Crime perceptions of insecurity have not improved despite the country's homicide rate reaching a 20-year nadir in 2014.