The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is concerned about the increasing lack of citizen security in Latin America and the Caribbean, and specifically an increase in gun-related murders.
In an article published on Thursday, the UN development agency that works to reduce poverty and inequality in some 170 countries said citizen insecurity in Latin America and the Caribbean has long been considered an important factor hindering development in the region.
“Recent data show that although homicides have decreased in many countries in recent years, Latin America and the Caribbean remains the most violent region in the world, with crime consistently above epidemic levels,” it said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies a homicide rate above 10 per 100 000 inhabitants as an epidemic.
The UNDP indicated that a number of factors were encouraging criminal activities in the region, including a culture of impunity, weak justice systems, lack of trust in police forces, persistent inequalities and lack of socioeconomic opportunities.
It said data from three different sources gave an insight into the “shifting landscape of insecurity – expressed in international homicide rates – in the region”.
“The region has maintained its homicide rates at epidemic levels with an average increase of 3.7 per cent a year throughout the last decade,” it said. “While Central America used to be the sub-region with the highest rates of homicides, we have seen that in the past few years, this profile has shifted. South America and the Caribbean experienced a significant spike in criminal activities in 2022.”
The UNDP said structurally weak social protection, gang fragmentation, increased and diversification of production of cocaine, fentanyl and other drugs, the effects of COVID-19 and the circulation of weapons in the region “seem to be some of the driving factors contributing to the spread of violence even in countries previously considered safe”.
The report further pointed to political violence as a concern for some countries in the region.
“However, some of the underlying drivers seem to be similar – persistent inequality, weak institutions, poverty, and limited economic opportunities,” it said. “Addressing these root causes, through informed policies and programmes underpinned by effective governance, is crucial to ensure citizen security. Equally important is the need to strengthen information and data systems to better diagnose, monitor and evaluate the effects and costs of crime in the region.”
Pointing out that there was no silver bullet when it came to addressing the issue, the UNDP said it would require “strong institutions, context specific policies based on rigorous data, and a human rights-based multisectoral perspective”.
It noted that, ultimately, citizen security required people-centred integrated approaches that include transformation of social and cultural norms, as well as solutions at the local and community levels for peaceful coexistence and resilience.
According to InSight Crime, a Washington-based non-profit think tank organisation on organised crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, countries in the region 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.
In its 2022 Homicide Round-up for Barbados, InSight Crime said the island’s homicide rate stood at 15.3 per 100 000. Barbados has a population of just over 280 000 people.
Noting that like other Caribbean countries, firearms have been blamed for the rise in murders here last year, the report said this was despite success reported by law enforcement in gun retrieval.
Of the 43 homicides reported last year, 32 of them were committed with a gun. Between January and September last year, some 75 weapons were seized, which represented an increase over the previous year.
Up to the middle of this year, police authorities have been able to retrieve some 46 firearms.
“A persistent increase in murders, despite more weapons being collected, can only mean one thing – plenty of guns are entering Barbados,” said InSight Crime.
Up to July this year, police officials reported 12 murders, compared to 17 for the same period last year. They have attributed the reduction in murders so far this year to the “hard work” of lawmen and the daily interventions to ensure the island is safe.
So far this year, minor crimes have gone just above 2 800, representing a minor increase over last year’s figure up the first six months of the year, while major crimes have declined marginally to reach 550 so far this year.