Nicaragua’s homicide rate—already the second-lowest in the region behind Costa Rica—dipped even lower last year to 12 murders for every 100,000 people, strengthening the country’s claim to the superlative distinction of “safest in Central America,” according to National Police.
Police Chief Aminta Granera said last night in her annual report to the president that Managua now averages one homicide every two days—remarkably below the average murder rate in other Central American capitals, where 10 to 20 people are killed every day.
Comparisons to the rest of the region should, however, come with an asterisk explaining that the northern triangle of Central America is a complete mess. El Salvador and Honduras have the two highest homicide rates in the world, nearly six-to-eight times that of Nicaragua’s, while Guatemala and Belize are doing their best to keep pace with the violence, posting homicide rates around 41 to every 100,000 people.
With neighbors like that, it’s not hard to look good. Still, Nicaragua’s National Police have demonstrated in the past year that they are not content with the dubious honorific of being the safest country in the most violent region of the world. Instead, police insist they have worked hard to improve their own effectiveness, community relations, crime-prevention and response to delinquency.
As a result of those efforts, total crimes—or at least the ones the cops were told about—dropped last year by 6.6%, from 161,904 reported crimes in 2010 to 151,228 crimes last year, according to police numbers. Overall, reported crimes are down more than 8% since 2009, according to official statistics.
Of the crimes reported last year, 75% were classified as lesser crimes and minor offenses, while only 7% were considered major crimes representing a danger to society.
The police’s numbers appear consistent with the public’s perception of citizen security. According to an M&R Consultants poll released last March, crime has dropped to fifth place on Nicaraguans’ worry list, down from third place just two years ago.
“There has been a decrease in [crime] due to the increase in the presence of police on a national level and because the population and families have an opportunity to report crime, even though many times the population complains that the police don’t pay attention to them when they report crimes,” President Daniel Ortega told police during Tuesday night’s event.
Drugs & hooch are a major problem
Nicaragua’s claim to safety isn’t the same across the country, however. While the government boasts “European homicide levels” in municipalities such as Carazo, León and Madriz—all of which have a murder rate under 5 per 100,000—Nicaragua’s drug-ravaged South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS) has a homicide rate on par with Guatemala’s, with almost 43 murders per 100,000 people.
Still, Nicaragua’s police force is fighting back hard against drug trafficking and organized crime. In 2011, police busted 18 organized crime syndicates, intercepted 7 tons of cocaine, and confiscated 294 drug vehicles, 38 drug boats, 141 firearms and $5 million in drug booty. Police also arrested 2,271 alleged drug dealers last year, Granera said last night.
“We don’t want drugs passing through our national territory, because when they pass through they leave residual contaminates in our society, they contaminate our institutions and they contaminate our youth,” Granera said.
The police commissioner said that in recent meetings with the population (a series of neighborhood chats between police and Sandinista Councils of Citizen Power (CPCs) that First Lady Rosario Murillo called “a journey of reflection,” or some such thing), a leading complaint was that police are targeting transnational drug traffickers but are not doing enough to capture neighborhood pushers.
“[The population] has demanded that we be more belligerent with local drug dealers,” Granera said. “People tell us, ´How is it possible that everyone knows where drugs are being sold and no one does anything about it?’ We have told people that it’s not that easy because we need search warrants from the court, but we have promised to be more belligerent.”
Granera said lots of communities are also complaining about the abundance of neighborhood liquor stores. The police chief said that 48% of homicides in the country involve drugs and alcohol.
Also related to alcohol abuse is the number of traffic deaths, which increased by 7.4% last year. According to police numbers, 613 people died in car accidents in Nicaragua last year, compared to 840 total homicides and murders. If the current trends continue, vehicular stupidity will eventually become the leading cause of violent death in Nicaragua.
Savage Capitalism should face hard time
President Ortega, perhaps out of habit more than anything else, told police Tuesday night that crime and murders are due to “a model of savage capitalism imposed upon the planet.”
Without blushing, Ortega said the “accumulation and concentration of wealth in the hands of few” has exacerbated crime and “multiplied criminal acts.”
“The biggest crime that has been committed against humanity is the imposition of this model of savage capitalism,” Ortega said. “That is the essence of criminality that today burns on the entire planet…the first people who need to be judged and jailed by international tribunals are those who promote and benefit from this model.”
At press time, Nicaraguan police hadn’t made any arrests.