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From issue: Memos to the President Elect (Fall 2008)

AQ Feature

Growing Public Insecurity in Central America

Diana Villiers Negroponte

Crime has replaced soccer as the hot conversation topic among business leaders, journalists, construction workers, and secretaries in Central America’s Northern Triangle—El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Although the problems of delinquency, particularly maras (youth gangs) and organized criminal networks, are not new to the region, public skepticism—bordering on contempt—for all three governments’ inability to deal with the issues is rising.

The harsh mano dura programs that began in 2003 deemed mere membership in a youth gang as sufficient for criminal conviction. The strategies have had little effect on crime rates. Homicide levels are the most visible benchmark for gauging fluctuations in violent crime. In El Salvador, the 2006 figures from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime indicate that homicide rates have risen to 56 persons for every 100,000 citizens. In Guatemala, the homicide level is 55, and in Honduras it is 52. This compares to a homicide rate of 6.8 for every 100,000 people in the United States.

As worrying as these figures are, they do not accurately capture the daily crime that affects most citizens...

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