Every year, think-tank Seguridad, Justicia y Paz releases a list of the Most Dangerous Cities in the world. Statistics are based on the city’s murder per capita rate, or how many murders per 100,000 residents.
As a region, Central and South America bests all others becoming the most deadly due to the War on Drugs, gang violence, a weak economy and police corruption. Outsiders are quick to blame the citizens of Central America for not being proactive in dealing with crimes, but in a place where law is subjective it’s better for residents to fly under the radar than become a target. Contract killers can be hired for less than $100 USD and gangs will rid themselves of anything, or anyone, that gets in the way.
Hundreds of thousand of tourists visit the listed cities and their areas every year without problem, but heed caution and take into account the price paid to travel among the most dangerous cities in the world.
Top 15 Most Dangerous Cities in the World 2013
2012 Homicides: 1,218
Murders per capita: 169.30
Two years running, San Pedro Sula, Honduras, has taken the #1 spot for most dangerous city in the world. With the government in a steep, downward spiral since the 2009 National Coup, it’s no surprise San Pedro Sula is able to maintain top honors.
In 2012, the Honduran government recorded 1,218 homicides in a population of 719,447 citizens, ranking its murder per capita rate at 169 murders per 100,000 residents. The city is a known cocaine hub where the drug is refined before being smuggled into the United States. The city’s crime is not only reserved to residents and gang members; tourists and expats are often targets of violent crime as well. As of January 2012, the Peace Corps pulled its volunteers from the country until further notice and developed nations have raised travel warnings, with discussion of possible travel bans. Recently, in January 2013, a British man was murdered on the city’s streets for no reason other than his camera.
Keep in mind these numbers only count for the recorded death toll. It’s estimated hundreds of murders go uncalculated annually.
2012 Homicides: 1,170
Murders per capita: 142.88
Since December 2006, more that 60,000 people have been killed in Mexico, topping the country as the most dangerous in the world and christening 9 of its cities on the top 50 most dangerous cities list.
Leading the way as Mexico’s most dangerous city, and second in the world, is Acapulco. This picturesque city is known just as much for its beautiful beaches as it is for its violence. During its golden age in the 40′s and 50′s, Acapulco was a top tourist destination for celebrities and wealthy families sung about in Frank Sinatra songs and framed in Elvis Presley movies. Now the city is known for its body dumping, beheadings, and drive-bys. The spike in violence is contributed to its location along the drug transport route. Once controlled by the prominent Beltran Leyva Cartel, gangs now fight to the death to control its valuable routes.
Gang violence is a heavy burden for Acapulco citizens to bare. Respectable locals who once depended on tourism to maintain a living are now struggling to get by, which only encourages its desperate youth to get involved in cartels and gangs.
2012 Homicides: 3,862
Murders per capita: 118.89
The Venezuelan capital city of Caracas is known as a Central American business epicenter with a large number of business centers and Universities, causing a large riff between its economic polars. On one end, there are the wealthy business families; on the other, and its majority, are families living in strict poverty. Pair the division in lifestyle with a high inflation rate and it’s easy to account for Caracas’ daunting crime statistics.
Police efforts to bring down crime numbers in Caracas have been met with resistance from criminals, resulting in 101 police homicides for the city’s 2012 year. Compare that number to only 72 police deaths in the entire United States.
2012 Homicides: 1,149
Murders per capita: 101.99
The Honduran Distrito Central, with capital city Teguciglpa at the center, is considered the country’s most dangerous municipality. While relatively safe in the city’s wealthy business district, outskirts are almost exclusively governed by gangs. Gang tactics include extorting homeowners with ‘taxes’ and imposing curfews. Residents unwilling to comply with gang demands are promptly controlled through punishments including torture, blackmail, and death.
The infamous gang MS-13, is prominent in Distrito Central with many of its members deported from the United States when American prisons’ fundings were cut. Reintroduced to Honduras from the US, members return with tactics and sense of authority. Members will even target police in attempts to maintain status. The rise in violent crime keep police occupied and without the resources or manpower to deal with petty crime, such as robberies. Most crime goes unpunished and allows for the brazen criminals to escalate their tactics.
2012 Homicides: 1,087
Murders per capita: 94.72
A decade ago, Torreon demonstrated promise of becoming Mexico’s upcoming industrial center. Fast-forward to today and Torreon is known as the country’s new heart of violence. 2007 brought with it the Zetas Cartel to Torreon, a gang acting without principals and no distinguish between rivals and innocents. No one is safe from their killing factory of gruesome kidnappings, beheadings and dismemberments.
Law enforcement has lost all control of the city, including its main prison, to the gang. Prior locals and businesses fled Torreon to escape the violence when its region was faced with 830 murders in the first nine months of 2012. Becoming desperate for a solution from the Zetas, police have brainstormed the notion of coming to an agreement with rival Sinaola Cartel, to come in and deal with the merciless Zetas.
2012 Homicides: 801
Murders per capita: 85.88
Maceio, located in a provincial Brazilian area, is dotted by sugarcane and cattle farms. Agriculture business is booming, but disputes are often settled violently in a gang-like style and can include contracted killers. The city’s large numbers of impoverished further heighten its homicide numbers when the desperate seeking drugs are met with conflict.
To combat the violence, politicians for the region have divided its regions to bottleneck crime in certain neighborhoods while keeping its wealthy regions relatively free of crime. Abounding in beautiful beaches and promise of tourism, Maceio seeks solution in its crime problems so the city can become one funded by tourism, not violence.
2012 Homicides: 1,819
Murders per capita: 79.27
Colombia is notoriously associated with drugs and violence. Cali, Colombia, is no exception as it’s a large distributor and port for all sorts of drugs. However, Cali faces a new threat in the form of youth gangs. Machine-gun wielding, teenage gangs have risen 13-fold since 1992, to 134 known groups. 13% of the city’s murders are committed by the more than 2,000 youth specializing in drug trafficking, robberies, and casual violence.
Youth gangs are funded by established drug-cartels, providing cheap labor to the gang and are seen as easily disposable if need-be. Youth enter into these gangs seeking a “family” unit and money to supplement their lifestyle. Combined with little education, if any, youth members likely don’t realize the brief life-expectancy they’re ensuring themselves.
2012 Homicides: 288
Murders per capita: 72.85
Hugging the US Texan border, Nuevo Laredo is not only a Mexican problem, but a US problem. Most crime in Nuevo Laredo is associated to drug smuggling and turf wars between cartels due to it prime location adjacent to Texas.
In a distinguished news story from May 2012, 23 people were found dead with 14 heads stuffed in a car and 9 bodies hung from a bridge. Now, as of February 2013, the police chief is missing along with his 2 brothers, who were found shot dead. Residents complain of constant gunfire and gang-caused home destruction. Desperate citizens are beginning to take matters into their own hands by hunting down and making examples of known criminals, then displaying their bodies in public places with written warnings to other gangsters.
2012 Homicides: 804
Murders per capita: 71.74
In a prison riot mid January 2013, 61 inmates were killed and 120 injured in a Barquisimeto prison. Authorities evacuated all other prisoners to, “close this chapter of violence,” but with a history riddled by violent crime, it’s going to take more than a chapter to close the entire book on Barquisimeto. There are 33 prisons in Venezuela built to hold 12,000 inmates, though numbers are over 47,000, contributing to the January outbreak.
The country’s future has been left hanging since the death of Huge Chavez at the beginning of March. Numbers estimate 57 Venezuelans are murdered daily, guiding the people to seek reform and take back their country.
2012 Homicides: 518
Murders per capita: 71.59
Joao Peesoa is a city with a geographically and demographically segregated distribution of crime rates. Most of the city’s crime occurs in slum areas and associated with drugs. No shocker there, but the city has a strangely high rate of prison partner and social violence. The status of females in Brazil is much lower than other parts of the Americas, especially in its capital cities, leading to high numbers of spousal abuse.
Consequently, crime statistics are rising in the coastal city ten-fold every year, which may earn it a higher spot among the list in coming years.
11. Manaus, Brazil
2012 Homicides: 945
Murders per capita: 70.37
The drug trade coming out of Rio has transformed this once quiet town along the Amazon River into a crime capital of Brazil. Since Rio doesn’t produce its own drugs or weapons, the goods are imported and traded through the city along distribution routes. Manaus lies along one such route in between Tabatinga, where the drugs are imported, and Rio, where they are sold.
Violence is not restricted to those directly involved in drug trade, but to innocents as well. In Manaus, the body of a 10 year-old girl was found on the city’s outskirts with her hands bound, a signature in drug cases. Family members and friends of those involved in drugs are commonly killed or threatened, such as in the Manaus case.
Officials are hopping the coming World Cup in 2014 will aid in boosting the local economy and lower crime rates.
2012 Homicides: 2,063
Murders per capita: 67.36
Guatemala City is the country’s capital and receives many visitors annually. Located along what is known as The Gringo Trail, backpackers typically start their journey here before heading off to other parts of Central America. Petty crime is rampant and pick-pocketing is almost considered a profession. Tourists are cautioned to stay near main areas, stay in at night and keep their wits about them.
Averaging 40 deaths a week, the city’s death toll has taken an unexpected turn causing overcrowding in cemeteries. Survivors of deceased family members are required to pay rent on tombs, otherwise risk eviction of the buried to mass graves.
Wealthy developers have begun the building of a secluded private-city within the city called Paseo Cayala, where the wealthy can escape and live without the threat of crime.
2012 Homicides: 1,628
Murders per capita: 66.39
Fortaleza adds one more city to the list boasting beautiful beaches only to be tainted by the stench of crime. The city’s streets may not be as corrupt if the police were present to clean them up. In January 2012, the city’s police went on strike for higher wages. Cases have been filed reporting police observing a robbery, but fail or care to do anything about it. The strike has since been resolved, but with an unsteady police force trouble still looms in this paradise city.
14. Salvador, Brazil
2012 Homicides: 2,391
Murders per capita: 65.64
Salvador is another Brazilian capital having trouble with dependable police. Shortly after Fortazela’s police had their strike, Salvador followed suit. Added with the strains of a rise in the city’s consumerism, an evolving drug trade and the FIFA World Cup, it’s plain to see how the police have become overtaxed in their efforts. Police strike issues have been solved and with it new policies. Police Pacification Units, like the ones used in Rio, act as police ambassadors by performing community service and building local relations. It will take some time to see if this strategy will prove effective.
15. Culiacan, Mexico
2012 Homicides: 549
Murders per capita: 62.06
Culiacan, on the West coast of Mexico, is the base of the Sinaloa Cartel. The Sinaloa Cartel is the oldest and considered the most powerful cartel, though its rivals, The Zetas, are getting too close for comfort both figuratively and literally. As the Zetas have gained power and aligned with two other cartels, they have begun to encroach on the city of Culiacan. In an industry worth $25 billion the Sinaloas have been forced to defend their home turf violently.
The Top 15 Most Dangerous Cities in the World 2013.