Countries across Latin America and the Caribbean continued to experience high murder rates in 2022, as cocaine production reached new heights, the fragmentation of gangs continued, and the flow of weapons across the region grew more acute.
For Ecuador, the situation was downright catastrophic. Historic amounts of cocaine entering the country fueled violence, with murders skyrocketing as gangs targeted judicial officials and killed police officers at record rates.
That cocaine came largely from Colombia, where recently inaugurated President Gustavo Petro has promised to shift away from the war on drugs in favor of efforts to achieve a “Total Peace” with the country's rebel and criminal groups. So far, though, levels of violence have remained stagnant.
In El Salvador, a decisive crackdown on gangs vastly reduced the murder rate, albeit at the cost of allegedly systematic human rights abuses. And in Haiti, a near-total lack of political capacity permitted violence to soar, as gangs paralyzed the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince.
The Caribbean became the region’s murder hotspot. Jamaica’s homicide rate jumped yet again as arms trafficking into the island continued to deliver its gangs with the weapons to kill, while the Turks and Caicos Islands proved the region’s deadliest country per capita as murders more than doubled.
This year, InSight Crime has expanded its homicide round-up to include smaller Caribbean nations and territories, many of which saw a sharp rise in murders in 2022. While aware of their comparatively small populations and homicide numbers, we include them in the ranking below to show how patterns of violence are affecting the entire region.
Read by Country:
Turks and Caicos Islands: 77.6 per 100,000 (Pop. 45,114)
A wave of violence came to the small Turks and Caicos Islands in 2022, according to official government statistics. While 35 murders may seem like little cause for concern, it represents a 150% jump over the 14 murders seen in 2021 in a country with a total population of just over 45,000.
Many of the homicides were concentrated in the last third of the year, with 21 killings happening between September 3 and November 8, culminating with a triple murder on November 1. Many shootings occurred in the Five Cays and Dock Yard areas of Providenciales, the country’s most-populated island.
While motives for the spike in violence remain unclear, the UK-appointed head of state, Governor Nigel Dakin, said in an Instagram post that Jamaican gangs are “attempting to remove all criminal competition in the territory” using “unprecedented levels of targeted violence”.
He blamed the islands’ proximity to unstable neighbors “awash with guns and drugs ... where criminals seemingly are able to move easily throughout the region.”
Jamaica: 52.9 per 100,000 (Pop. 2,827,695)
For the first time in three years, the Caribbean island did not top the regional murder rate charts. Unfortunately, this has less to do with success in stamping out Jamaica’s own violence and more to do with appallingly high rates witnessed elsewhere in the Caribbean.
The Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF) recorded 1,498 murders in 2022, 24 more than the previous year. This puts Jamaica’s homicide rate at nearly 53 per 100,000, a high not seen since 2017.
Several factors play into Jamaica’s unrelenting violence and the government’s seeming inability to stop it.
Gun trafficking is rampant in the island nation, with small arms from the US flooding the market. In February, Prime Minister Andrew Holness recycled a familiar strategy of cracking down on illegal gun possession, but as 2022 drew to a close, the government’s actions had not reduced Jamaica’s killings.
Alongside heightening consequences for illegal gun owners, the government resorted to another tried-and-tested, and usually underwhelming, approach: repeatedly enacting states of emergency across much of the island.
Seemingly at a loss for answers, Jamaica publicly turned to the United Nations for assistance to reduce arms trafficking into the country. Discouragingly, record-high weapons and ammunition seizures appear to have done little to turn the tide.
St. Lucia: 42.3 per 100,000 (Pop. 179,651)
A total of 76 murders may not sound like a lot. But for a country the size of St. Lucia, with a population of just under 180,000 people, this places it near the top of regional rankings.
In 2021, St. Lucia registered 74 murders, a record at that time. The increase in 2022 to 76 murders means that the country has broken its homicide record for a second consecutive year, and led to calls from the United Workers Party for Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre to step down from his role as National Security Minister.
The country’s street gangs are increasingly at each other’s throats as the island nation has become a transit hub for South American cocaine going to the US and Europe.
This has been worsened by an influx in American weapons, with one Pennsylvania man jailed last March for trafficking nearly 40 weapons to St. Lucia.
Elected officials have condemned “anarchy in our country” and promised “draconian penalties,” but few details have been forthcoming.
Venezuela: 40.4 per 100,000 (Pop. 28,199,867)
Violent deaths in Venezuela remained relatively stable in 2022 after several years of decline, with the overall rate falling just 0.5%, according to data gathered by the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia - OVV). The OVV figure includes proven homicides, police killings, deaths that are still under investigation, and disappearances. If disappearances are not included in the calculation, the overall rate drops to 35.3 per 100,000 people.
According to the OVV, there was a total of 10,737 violent deaths in 2022 or an average of 29 per day. Five of the top seven states with the highest rates are located in the northern-central zone of the country. Among them are Aragua, home to Venezuela’s most notorious homegrown gang, Tren de Aragua, Miranda, where ultraviolent gangs dedicated to kidnappings and extortion have taken over swathes of territory, and Caracas.
SEE ALSO: GameChangers 2022: Drug Bonanza Amid Prohibition Challenges in 2023
Much of the violence is being driven not by the largest organized crime groups, but by small predatory street gangs, the OVV reported. The de facto dollarization of the country has created huge opportunities for gangs, as individuals and businesses use US dollars for cash transactions but cannot deposit them in national bank accounts, leaving them in possession of large quantities of cash that make them targets for robberies.
Of the more than 10,000 violent deaths recorded last year, approximately 13% resulted from police interventions. This high rate is likely linked to the indiscriminate violence deployed in security operations in Venezuela, where police have become notorious for committing extrajudicial executions, as international human rights agencies have documented. Three of the five states with the highest rates of deaths resulting from police interventions, Aragua, Miranda, and Guárico, saw large-scale security operations in 2022, which were accompanied by widespread allegations of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial executions.
In addition, there were 1,370 reports of disappearances in 2022. Certain areas of Venezuela have become notorious for disappearances linked to criminal activities, above all the mining region of Bolívar, where the heavily armed gangs, known as sindicatos, dispute control of the gold trade. These groups have become notorious for disappearing their victims, as shown by the discovery of several mass graves in late 2022.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines: 40.3 per 100,000 (Pop. 104,332)
The reasons for St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ high homicide rate in 2022 are not so different from the region’s traditional violent hotspots: “A lot of it is intertwined with the cocaine trade, and other spin-offs with retaliation,” explained Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves during a radio interview in December.
In November, security forces destroyed 135 kilograms of cocaine and 18 tons of cannabis seized over the past three years. Traffickers from Trinidad and Tobago, which faces a major drug violence problem, have been behind some of these cocaine imports.
Gun-related deaths are the most common type of homicide, and Gonsalves is rallying regional allies to stop weapons coming in from the United States. “The US has to do something about … the easy access to guns and the easy exportation of guns. They have the resources to help us with that,” he said ahead of a meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Other Caribbean nations have followed his lead.
And a recent study has shown that the police are rarely trusted to handle investigations into violent crimes, with at least half of crimes going unreported.
Trinidad and Tobago: 39.4 per 100,000 (Pop. 1,525,663)
Trinidad and Tobago’s murder rate leaped by over 22% in 2022 against 2021, following a year of bloodshed in which the two-island nation’s gangland gained notoriety worldwide.
Data from the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service show that 502 murders were committed in the country between January and October, while police officials told InSight Crime that a further 47 homicides were committed in November, and 52 more in December, bringing 2022’s total to 601. This is the highest-ever number of murders in the country, far above the 550 set in 2008.
The are various reasons for the surge in violence. As InSight Crime reported, the murder of Anthon Boney, the alleged leader of the Muslims gang, destabilized the country’s criminal landscape and helped spark a chaotic splintering of larger gangs into smaller, far more violent factions. These factions are battling for control of the country’s multiple criminal economies, including human smuggling, quarrying, and organized robbery.
Intelligence estimates that some 12,000 weapons circulate in the country.
The police force has acknowledged the historic lack of trust that many in Trinidad and Tobago’s most deprived areas have for the force, yet internationally-backed police initiatives have so far struggled to slow the country’s spiral into violence.
Honduras: 35.8 per 100,000 (Pop. 10,278,345)
Honduras continued its streak as Central America’s deadliest country in 2022, with a homicide rate of 35.8 per 100,000 people, according to government figures.
Nonetheless, the country reduced homicides by 12.7% compared to 2021. The government has not registered such a low number of deaths since 2006, according to a statement from the Security Ministry.
President Xiomara Castro stirred controversy near the end of the year by implementing an anti-gang crackdown that arrested 652 suspected gang members and dismantled 38 gangs, according to statistics reported by the newspaper El Heraldo.
Many of the violent deaths in Honduras are attributed to gangs known for retail drug trafficking and extortion. Honduras's transport sector has been particularly persecuted by extortion and ensuing violence, with at least 60 workers losing their lives in 2022. While Castro’s state of exception targeted gangs carrying out extortion schemes, it is too early to tell how the strategy will impact the country's homicide rate.
The Bahamas: 32 per 100,000 (Pop. 407,906)
The Bahamas finished 2022 with 128 murders. This was far higher than the target set out by Bahamas’ Commissioner of Police Clayton Fernander, who had hoped to finish the year at under 100 homicides.
The country has been and continues to be a cocaine trafficking hub. In March, Fernander identified a turf war for control of drug sales on the island of New Providence was driving homicides there.
Coming into 2023, the government of Prime Minister Philip Davis is facing a backlash. Political opponents have lambasted him for not doing enough to address an increase in crime, which reportedly includes an uptick in armed robberies and gun crimes. Fernander has blamed some of the violence on criminals released on bail who have gone on to re-offend, while a task force has been created to review a backlog of criminal cases.
Colombia: 26.1 per 100,000 (Pop. 51,516,562)
The 13,442 homicides recorded during 2022 by Colombia’s National Police gave the country a homicide rate of 26.1 per 100,000 for the year, down slightly from 26.8 per 100,000 in 2021.
Perhaps not surprisingly, homicides were higher in regions where armed groups were more active, according to a report by the Universidad Externado de Colombia, which recorded 12,221 homicides for the year, slightly lower than figures presented by the police.
The departments of Arauca, Putumayo, Cauca, Chocó, Guaviare, and Valle del Cauca had the highest concentration of homicides, the report noted. Most of these departments are strategic drug trafficking corridors over which criminal groups fight for control and criminal revenue.
The National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN) and ex-FARC mafia groups have been fighting a bloody battle for control of Arauca since the beginning of 2022. InSight Crime verified during fieldwork that Putumayo has become a strategic route for cocaine shipments to the south of the country along the border with Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil.
The murders of social leaders continued unabated in 2022. By December last year, 33 social leaders had been murdered in Nariño, while another 25 had been killed in Cauca. The ELN and the ex-FARC mafia are present in both departments, as are the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia - AGC) also known as the Urabeños or the Gulf Clan (Clan del Golfo).
President Gustavo Petro came to power with ambitions for “Total Peace.” Several large armed groups signed a bilateral ceasefire that should run for the first six months of 2023, though the ELN is a noticeable absence. It remains to be seen how the measure will play out.
Ecuador: 25.9 per 100,000 (Pop. 17,797,737)
For the second year in a row, Ecuador had one of the fastest-rising homicide rates in the region. In 2022, the country was riven by gangs fighting over staggering amounts of cocaine coming from Colombia and saw 4,603 murders, according to data collected by investigative news outlet Primicias.
This represents an 82% rise year-on-year, according to the outlet. InSight Crime's calculations put the rise slightly higher at 86.3%.
Experts placed the blame squarely on violence associated with drug trafficking. That is largely correct. Two gang federations, led by the rival Choneros and Lobos outfits, have employed acts of extreme violence as they fight over control of vital drug trafficking infrastructure, including the seaport in Guayaquil -- the epicenter of violence in the country. Esmeraldas, a province that borders Colombia and is a drug transit hub, has also seen murders reach a new high. Bodies have been left hanging from bridges, and large-scale killings have taken place across the country.
Smaller yet highly organized groups are now appearing, brutally carving their own piece of the drug trafficking pie. Arms trafficking is steadily rising, with semi-automatic weapons, handguns, and ammunition flooding into the country, mostly from the United States and Peru. And the influence of both Mexican and Colombian organized crime only further stimulates the violence.
Mexico: 25.2 per 100,000 (Pop. 126,705,138)
Although there was a slight drop in homicides in 2022, the total number of murder victims in Mexico topped 30,000 for the fifth consecutive year.
Last year, Mexican authorities recorded at least 30,968 homicide victims, or 85 per day, according to government data, while 947 femicides were also reported. This figure is tallied separately.
Combined, the total number of murders in Mexico at 31,915, giving the country a homicide rate of 25.2 per 100,000 residents, a slight drop from 2021’s rate.
Almost 50% of these killings were concentrated in the same six states as 2021: Guanajuato, which saw the most murders of any state with 3,260, Baja California, Chihuahua, Jalisco, Michoacán, the State of Mexico.
The border states of Baja California and Chihuahua are long-standing areas of violence in Mexico, as organized crime groups fight continually for control of drug trafficking routes into the United States. Meanwhile, Jalisco is located north of Michoacán and Colima, whose ports -- Lázaro Cárdenas and Manzanillo -- are arrival points for precursor chemicals from Asia that are needed to produce synthetic drugs.
Belize: 25 per 100,000 (Pop. 400,031)
Belize ended 2022 with 113 murders, a decrease from 125 in 2021, for a homicide rate of 25 per 100,000 people, according to government figures.
Police Commissioner Chester Williams told local media the country has now dropped out of the top ten most murderous countries in the world.
Nonetheless, the US State Department posted a travel advisory for Belize in October, warning that much of the violent crime in Belize occurred in the southside of Belize City and is “gang-related.” Violent crimes, including armed robberies, were "common even during daylight hours and in tourist areas,” it added.
Brazil: 19 per 100,000 (Pop. 214,326,223)
Brazil experienced a small 1% drop in homicides in 2022, with 40,800 murders registered, according to the National Homicide Index created by media group Globo.
In 2021, the country registered 41,069 murders according to the same index.
Last year’s homicide count marked the lowest-ever number recorded by the Brazilian Public Security Forum (Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública), a non-governmental organization that has collected homicide data since 2007. However, the last quarter of 2022 was particularly violent with a 6.4% increase in deaths during the period, Globo warned.
The northeast of Brazil, which has long been an epicenter for gang violence due to gangs seeking to control drug trafficking routes toward Europe, saw a 5% drop in homicides. Pernambuco, a northeastern state that was among those caught up in a wave of violence between 2015 and 2017 as the First Capital Command gang expanded (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), was the state with the highest murder rate (35.3) in the country last year.
Brazil’s northern region saw the highest drop in homicides. Amapá, a small northern state, saw a 29% drop in homicides, likely due to a natural drop in violence after a particularly bloody 2021, when large gangs including the PCC battled for control of drug trafficking against several local pretenders.
Mato Grosso, a state that borders Bolivia, saw a 24% rise in murders, the highest nationwide. Mato Grosso has been a battlefront for the PCC’s longstanding war with their Rio rivals, the Red Command (Comando Vermelho - CV), for control of the hyper-lucrative Bolivia-Brazil cocaine route.
While drug trafficking gangs may have driven much of the violence, Brazil’s notoriously trigger-happy police also contributed. While in the first half of 2022, deaths caused by police were down, thousands of Brazilians continue to be killed by security forces. In 2021, 84% of these police killings targeted Black people.
- Brazil’s homicide rate was updated on March 24, 2023.
Puerto Rico: 17.4 per 100,000 (Pop. 3,263,584)
The US territory saw a welcome drop in violence in 2022, recording 567 homicides, compared to 616 in 2021, according to local media.
The availability of firearms remains an issue for Puerto Rico’s authorities, with gun-related crime remaining much higher than in US states and other territories. Illegal arms traffickers have brought thousands of guns into the country, while the Puerto Rico Weapons Act of 2020 has made legally obtaining and carrying a firearm much easier.
And cocaine trafficking, which has been blamed for much of the violence in the territory, continued apace with massive seizures made regularly throughout the year.
Guatemala: 17.3 per 100,000 (Pop. 17,109,746)
The 3,004 homicides registered in Guatemala in 2022 gave the country a homicide rate of 17.3 per 100,000 according to the government’s Center for National Economic Research (Centro de Investigaciones Económicas Nacionales - CIEN). This was a 5.7% rise from the 2,843 registered last year by the same institution.
Non-governmental organizations offer slightly different figures. According to Mutual Support Group (Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo - GAM), a Guatemalan human rights group, there was a 7% rise in homicides between January and October 2022 compared to the same period in 2021. The group puts the number of murders at 3,609.
GAM’s findings also revealed a worrying jump in the number of murder victims who showed signs of torture, from 104 in all of 2021 to 164 in the first 10 months of 2022.
Criminal activity is likely behind these rises. In October, at least seven people were shot to death in the pool of a hotel in El Semillero on Guatemala’s Pacific coast, with police suggesting the killings were connected to Barrio 18. Also in October, five Nicaraguans were found slaughtered with their hands tied behind their backs in the Atescatempa municipality.
Barbados: 15.3 per 100,000 (Pop. 281,200)
As with its Caribbean neighbors, the ready availability of firearms has been blamed for a sharp rise in murders in Barbados in 2022. Of the 43 homicides reportedly registered, over 75% were committed with a gun.
This is despite Barbados police claiming success in an ongoing gun retrieval campaign, with 75 weapons seized between January and September 2022. This was up from 36 retrieved in all of 2021.
A persistent increase in murders, despite more weapons being collected, can only mean one thing: Plenty of guns are entering Barbados. In June, three American men were sentenced for shipping at least 30 firearms to Barbados through courier services such as FedEx.
SEE ALSO: Caribbean Nations Call for US Gun Crackdown as Murder Rates Soar
In September, Barbados’ police commissioner confirmed that the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was working with Barbados to stem the gun flow.
But there is persistent confusion about the country’s organized crime landscape, despite its modest size. In a television interview in November, the ranking cabinet member for crime prevention, Corey Lane, stated there were only two gangs in Barbados and not 52, as some unspecified sources claimed.
Guyana: 15.1 per 100,000 (Pop. 804,567)
Guyana’s Police Force recorded 122 murders through the middle of December 2022, according to local media. This represented only a small drop from 2021, but still gave the country its lowest homicide count in a decade.
Nevertheless, illegal firearms continue to enter the country from the United States and Brazil, adding fuel to the country’s violence. Guyana is also dealing with the spread of illegal mining, as the encroachment of Venezuelan gangs threatens to increase violence surrounding this criminal economy.
Costa Rica: 12.2 per 100,000 (Pop. 5,153,957)
Costa Rica experienced its bloodiest year on record in 2022 with 628 homicides committed, when not counting cases of euthanasia and professional negligence, which are included in the official homicide statistics. This marked an increase of 54 murders from 2021, and pushed the country above 600 murders for the first time since 2017.
President Rodrigo Chaves acknowledged the problem, admitting that violence was “getting out of hand.”
With 167 killings, the province of Limón on the Atlantic coast was far and away the most dangerous of Costa Rica’s seven provinces, despite having the second-smallest population. It accounted for more than a quarter of the national total and gave the province a homicide rate of 35.9 per 100,000, a slight increase from the year before.
The uptick in murders there is linked to a rise in fighting for control of the port of Limón, a vital asset for groups seeking to export cocaine to Europe. Up to 90% of the province’s killings were reported as being connected to organized crime, the Judicial Investigation Department (Organismo de Investigación Judicial - OIJ) said.
- Costa Rica's homicide figures were updated on 02/02/2023.
Dominican Republic: 11.9 per 100,000* (Pop. 11,117,873)
The Dominican Republic registered 661 homicides in the first six months of 2022, according to the Center for Analysis of Citizen Security Data (Centro de Análisis de Datos de la Seguridad Ciudanana - CADSECI). Extrapolating from those figures for a 12-month period means that the Dominican Republic is likely to have ended the year with a homicide rate of 11.9 per 100,000 citizens. If confirmed, this would represent a significant increase from the 9.2 homicides per 100,000 in 2020, and 10.6 per 100,000 in 2021.
Despite this rise, the country has much lower violence than many other Caribbean countries. The Dominican Republic’s position as the main cocaine transit country in the Caribbean has not brought the associated waves that many other countries experience. Multiple sources told InSight Crime that the business-first attitude of the island's underworld may provide an explanation for this relative peace.
In fact, homicide data from CADSECI suggests that just 8.8% of murders were linked directly to drug trafficking or drug use. The majority of the murders in the Dominican Republic took place in the interpersonal sphere.
Panama: 11.5 per 100,000 (Pop. 4,351,267)
Panama managed to reverse its recent trend of gradually increasing murders. The 501 homicides registered in 2022 represent an 8.9% drop in the number of murders compared to 2021, when 550 homicides took place, according to the country’s Attorney General’s Office.
Prior to 2022, the country’s homicide rate had been slowly rising, from 9.6 per 100,000 in 2018 to 12.8 per 100,000 in 2021.
While some countries have continued to take the militarized approach to tackling crime, police in Panama have taken a different strategy. Panama's national police director John Dornheim underlined the importance for law enforcement to incorporate technological solutions and rely on information. “You don’t chase crime with muscle, you chase it with intelligence,” he told TVN.
The decision appears to be paying off, with a quarter of charges against homicide suspects coming thanks to video surveillance.
However, problem areas still exist. Although it only makes up around 7% of the population, the northern coastal province of Colón accounted for 21% of murders in the country last year, and its homicide rate is close to that of Honduras. Indiscriminate killings linked to organized crime in the province saw homicides occurring in hospitals and schools, with disputes over territory and a rise in unemployment also among the causes blamed for the killings that have blighted the region. Colón holds the Atlantic entry point to the Panama Canal and is a crucial hotspot for cocaine trafficking logistics. The country again broke its annual drug seizure record, amid news that it acted as a significant hub for sending cocaine to a coalition of major drug traffickers in Europe.
Panama’s top drug trafficker, Jorge Rubén Camargo Clarke, head of the Bagdad gang federation, was arrested in February 2022, yet figures do not suggest that a bloody fight for control of the market among rivals ensued.
Uruguay: 11.2 per 100,000 (Pop. 3,426,260)
There were 383 homicides recorded in Uruguay in 2022, according to Uruguay’s Ministry of the Interior. This figure represents a 25% increase in 2021’s homicides, the ministry reported, and marks a saddening reversal of the drop in homicides achieved in 2021. InSight Crime's calculations show a slightly higher increase of 27.6%.
President Luis Lacalle Pou has squarely placed the blame for rising violence on gang clashes related to the drug trade.
Fights between criminal groups for control of drug sales in Montevideo, the country’s capital, appear to have increased. In June, Uruguayan police reported that they had identified up to 45 criminal family clans in Montevideo, and in November, shootouts between some of those clans confined residents of the Villa Española and Peñarol to their homes.
These gangs have also been crucial to Uruguay’s rising profile as a transit nation for the cocaine trade. Connections to Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina have seen a greater quantity of drugs flow through Uruguay, bringing higher rates of criminal violence.
Meanwhile, the emergence of the First Uruguayan Cartel (Primer Cartel Uruguayo - PCU), headed by mysterious drug trafficker Sebastián Marset, has upped the pressure on the country’s security forces and lifted the lid on important cases of corruption within the country’s political ranks.
El Salvador: 7.8 per 100,000 (Pop. 6,314,167)
Homicides in El Salvador tumbled in 2022 as the police registered just 495 murders, compared to 1,147 the previous year. The steep decline in homicides continued a trend that has seen killings fall year-on-year since 2015, when a murder rate of 103 per 100,000 inhabitants made El Salvador the most violent country in the Western Hemisphere.
Last year’s drop-off in murders came amid one of the most brutal anti-gang crackdowns ever seen in Latin America, enacted by President Nayib Bukele in response to a gang murder rampage in March that claimed 87 lives. The government has leveraged emergency powers to pummel the country’s main street gangs, the MS13 and Barrio 18, locking up around 60,000 people, or nearly 2% of the adult population in the process.
The results have been striking, with murders and extortion both sharply down. The crackdown has forced the gangs into hiding, though they remain well-armed.
Suriname: 7.7 per 100,000 (Pop. 612,985)
South America’s smallest country recorded 47 murders between January and mid-December 2022, corresponding to a preliminary murder rate of 7.7 per 100,000 citizens. This is a sharp increase compared to the 32 murders recorded in 2021 but lower than the 54 registered in 2020.
It is unclear why homicides increased as much as they did in 2022, but the rise could stem in part from Suriname’s role as a transit country for cocaine.
President Chandrikapersad Santokhi told InSight Crime in October 2022 that the drug trade seriously affected violent crime in Suriname. A number of experts interviewed by InSight Crime during fieldwork in Suriname also identified the cocaine trade as the biggest threat to Suriname’s national security.
Some of the most violent events in recent years were linked to organized crime, particularly the cocaine trade.
In July 2021, three charred bodies were found in the west of Paramaribo, Suriname’s capital. One of the reported perpetrators of the crime declared they were killed in relation to the seizure of around 1 ton of cocaine by authorities.
But compared to its neighbors, particularly in the Caribbean, Suriname has a low homicide rate. One of the factors possibly explaining the difference between Suriname and countries like Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and St. Lucia is that Suriname does not have sophisticated urban gangs.
Paraguay: 7.6 per 100,000 (Pop. 6,703,799)
The Paraguayan National (Policía Nacional del Paraguay - PNP) reported 512 murders in 2022. According to the PNP's calculations, the country ended the year with a homicide rate of 6.33 per 100,000. InSight Crime's calculation put that total at 7.6 per 100,000, which means the country surpassed 2021’s homicide rate of 7.4 per 100,000.
Last year saw more of the same violence, as high-level assassinations and inter-gang killings seemed to bookend the year.
At the forefront of the targeted killings remains the First Capital Command (Primeiro Command da Capital - PCC), Brazil’s most powerful drug gang and a long-time rival of the local Clan Rotela. Both gangs have fought over territorial control of critical drug trafficking corridors, particularly Paraguay’s Amambay Province on the eastern border with Brazil.
Smaller gangs also contribute to the killings in Paraguay’s more violent areas. Familial clans remain involved in territorial disputes, and the well-known Insfrán Clan has reportedly been connected to the May 2022 assassination of Paraguayan prosecutor Marcelo Pecci.
The country’s violence is aided partly by the fact that weapons and ammunition supplied to the military routinely find their way into the hands of criminal organizations.
Paraguay’s ascendant role as a key node in Europe’s cocaine pipeline means that conflict between the country’s top gangs will likely continue to boil over.
- Paraguay's homicide figures were updated on 02/09/2023.
Nicaragua: 6.7 per 100,000 (Pop. 6,850,540)
A stark lack of trustworthy data or reporting on homicide in Nicaragua once again makes a homicide roundup difficult for the country. Official sources put the country’s homicide count at 460 last year, according to Agence France-Presse, though sociologist Rodolfo Calderón of Costa Rica University said the figures were “not reliable.”
The country’s lack of transparency looks unlikely to change soon. In November 2022, President Daniel Ortega won a fourth term in office in an election roundly criticized by the international community. US President Joe Biden called it a “pantomime election.” During Ortega’s rule, 160 journalists have been forced into exile, according to the Salvadoran newspaper, El Faro.
Chile: 4.6 per 100,000 (Pop. 19,493,184)
Homicides grew by over 32% in Chile in 2022 against 2021, marking the year as one of the country's deadliest ever. Police figures show that 960 murders were committed last year compared to 726 the year before.
The northern Tarapacá region again saw criminality propel homicide rates to new heights, while migrant smuggling controlled by Venezuelan gang, the Tren de Aragua, has emerged as a serious threat to national security. Drug trafficking into the country has grown, copper theft has expanded, and timber mafias controlling illegal logging have become more violent.
While the increase in murders is alarming, authorities warned that the return to pre-pandemic regulations and life had abetted the rise in crime, which was artificially low in 2020 and 2021. "The increases registered in 2022 are irregular because as daily life has resumed, the number of crimes that occurred has also normalized to before the pandemic," Colonel Gutiérrez, a commander for Chile’s military police, told local media.
Despite all of this, Chile’s homicide rate of 4.6 per 100,000 means that the country remains among the least violent nations in Latin America.
Argentina: N/A (Pop. 45,808,747)
Argentina typically publishes its annual crime statistics in April of the following year, thus its exact homicide figures could not be included here. In 2021, the Ministry of Security did record 2,092 murders, for a homicide rate of 4.6 per 100,000, continuing its downward-sloping trend in murders since a particularly violent year in 2014.
Certain hotspots for violence though, are accessible, most notably Santa Fe Province. Santa Fe is home to the city of Rosario where 406 victims were killed in 2022, the highest number since 2015. This brought the province’s homicide rate to 11.31 per 100,000 residents, again a record high for recent years.
Rosario’s bloodstained year captivated headlines, given the fact that its homicide rate quadruples that of the national average. A rivalry between local drug trafficking gangs, the Monos and Clan Alvarado, fuels much of the city’s killings.
Just east of Santa Fe, the province of Entre Ríos recorded its third straight year of reduced homicides, with authorities lauding a tough stance against drug trafficking as the key to success. Cocaine trafficking has indeed been climbing in the province, but local authorities have stepped up efforts to combat traffickers in the hopes of staving off a further descent into violence.
Bolivia: N/A (Pop. 12,079,472)
Bolivian authorities have not released official homicide statistics for the last three years, but the criminal interests of both local and regional outfits -- particularly in relation to Bolivia’s expanding cocaine production abilities -- have ensured that violence continues.
In March 2023, Interior Minister Eduardo del Castillo announced that Bolivia had a homicide rate of 4 per 100,000, which would, if true, give the country the lowest rate in Latin America. However, the announcement provided no data to support the claim nor have figures been made available anywhere else.
In February last year, the murder of two Brazilian drug traffickers in the department of Santa Cruz highlighted the ongoing threat of Brazil’s First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC) and rival, fellow Brazilian gang the Red Command (Comando Vermelho - CV), to Bolivia. Santa Cruz is a key trafficking hub for cocaine being smuggled to Brazil or Paraguay from both Bolivia and Peru.
In July of last year, the village of Porongo on the outskirts of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the capital of Santa Cruz department, was the scene of uncommon violence against police forces in Bolivia. Three were shot dead after attempting to arrest a local man. The murder suspect was the son-in-law of a local drug trafficker, El País reported.
- Bolivia was updated on March 24, 2023, to reflect Eduardo del Castillo’s announcement.
Haiti: N/A (Pop. 11,447,569)
Gang violence caused the deaths of a reported 2,183 people in 2022, according to the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti, released in January 2023. The report claims homicides increased by 35.2% compared with last year.
But these numbers verge on being meaningless. The security catastrophe on the island has reached such unprecedented levels that no national-level elected officials are believed to remain there. Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021, any political influence that might have reined in the country’s gangs has evaporated.
The gang war that once opposed the country’s two largest criminal organizations, G9 and G-PEP, has further dissolved into a patchwork of turf wars around the capital, Port-au-Prince, which has seen the bulk of the murders, including summary executions and teenagers toting military-grade weapons. Kidnappings have more than doubled. Sexual violence and rape are similarly commonplace.
“This is the first time I think we have seen this level of lawlessness, this level of gang violence where people's lives do not matter," said Cécile Accilien, a professor of Haitian studies at Kennesaw State University, in an interview with NPR.
Peru: N/A (Pop. 33,715,471)
Peru has not released official homicide figures for 2022.
While the Ministry of Health stated there were 1,307 murders last year, which would give Peru a homicide rate of just 3.9 per 100,000, these figures do not necessarily reflect the true situation. For instance, the Ministry of Health’s figures for 2020 show around half the number of homicides given by the National Institute of Statistics and Information (Instituto Nacional de Estadística e Informática - INEI), and less than half for 2019. The Ministry of Health has not responded to InSight Crime’s request for clarification, and INEI explained that homicide data from 2021 is still being processed.
The homicide rate for 2021, in which there were 2,166 murders, was 6.6 per 100,000, an increase on 2020’s figure but still lower than any year since 2013.
Although the government declared multiple states of emergency with the aim of tackling criminality in the capital Lima, bodies continued to pile up. Earlier in the year, one coroner told TV Perú that murders in parts of the capital had doubled or even quadrupled.
Elsewhere, a spate of killings that came as a result of gangs battling over illegal mining in La Libertad, a region on the western coast, led authorities to impose a state of emergency. Four leaders from Indigenous communities who openly opposed illegal mining and drug trafficking in their territories were killed in a single week in March.
Amid social upheaval following former President Pedro Castillo’s ousting in December, Ayacucho’s Attorney General’s Office confirmed it had opened homicide investigations against military and police chiefs following the deaths of protestors.
*Estimates for these countries are projections. The entire year's data was not available for these countries at the time of publication. Homicide rates calculated by InSight Crime are based on the best available homicide data and the country’s 2021 estimated population, according to the World Bank. Any data points not calculated by this method have been attributed to their sources. This list will be updated as more data becomes available.
**Parker Asmann, Douwe den Held, Alex Papadovassilakis, and Juan Diego Posada contributed to this article.