The website, Knoema, which describes itself as the “most comprehensive source of global decision-making data in the world”, says that the murder rate (persons murdered per 100,000 people) in Nicaragua in 2016 was 7.4. The country with the next lowest murder rate in 2016 was Panama, with 9.7 persons killed per 100,000 of their population, and Costa Rica was just a little worse than Panama, with 11.9 persons killed per 100,000.
The other four countries in Central America – Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – are just absolute disasters. The murder rate in 2016 in those countries, going from “worse” to worst, was Guatemala, 27.3; Belize, 37.6; Honduras, 56.5; and El Salvador, 82.8.
The trend is near consistent over the decade between 2007 and 2016. If we compile the statistics provided by Knoema for that decade, with just a minute adjustment for ease of handling the data, we see, for that decade, that Nicaragua had a total of 113 murders — a murder rate of 11.3; Panama had 135 murders — a murder rate of 13.5; Costa Rica had 105 murders — a murder rate of 10.5; Guatemala had 367 murders — a murder rate of 36.7; Belize had 353 murders — a murder rate of 35.3; Honduras had 613 murders — a murder rate of 61.3; and El Salvador had 649 murders — a murder rate of 64.9.
So, if we go with the year 2016, we see Nicaragua (murder rate of 7.4/100,000) as the safest place to live in Central America, and if we go by statistics for the decade we see Costa Rica (murder rate of 10.5/100,000) coming out as the safest place to live in our area, by just a narrow margin over Nicaragua (murder rate of 11.3/100,000), with Panama a close third (murder rate of 13.5/100,000). If it was decreed that you were to be born in the Central American Isthmus, or you were a man or woman wanting to start a family, those three countries would definitely be at the top of the list, in which to grow up, or to raise a family.
One of the explanations for the horrific murder rate in our country is our location, the region where we live. The United States has an ongoing war against drugs, and we are situated in a major shipment lane for cocaine coming from South America, on its way to the lucrative streets of America. The huge profits associated with the transshipment of cocaine have fostered the formation of gangs armed with the deadliest of weapons, and have corrupted politicians and police officers.
But not all countries along that very same route are as murderous as we are, and as El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are. Largely, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama have escaped becoming war zones.
Six countries in our region follow the dictates of the USA in their politics and in their “management” of the drug trade. In the matter of drugs, specifically cocaine, the USA supplies equipment (boats, planes, guns, finance) and intelligence to help these countries help them, and themselves, fight the transshipment of cocaine. Corruption of persons in high places in these countries is high, because there is a lot of money to be made in the aiding of the transshipments, and in the laundering of big bucks made in the trade.
Nicaragua, unlike its six neighbors in Central America, does not allow the USA to dictate how it manages the drug cartels that use their country to move cocaine toward its main destination, the USA. Some analysts suggest that Nicaragua “accommodates” the drug cartels, instead of following the big stick policy implemented by the Americans in the other countries in Central America.
Even if it were so that Nicaragua accommodates the drug trade, that wouldn’t fully explain their comparatively low murder rate. We can say that because the USA dictates the drug enforcement tactics of two other countries in our region, Costa Rica and Panama, and they also have comparatively low murder rates.
If we focused on the murder rates of the six Central American countries that are considered subservient to the USA, those being Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama, we see that it is mostly about their economies.
By Central American standards, Panama and Costa Rica are rich. World Bank statistics for 2017 puts the GDP per capita earnings for Panamanians at US$15, 196.40, and that of Costa Ricans at US$11,677.20. Citizens of both these countries earn more than double what citizens in the other four – Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras – earn.
The GDP per capita earnings (that’s the gross domestic product divided by the number of citizens in a country) of Belizeans in 2017 was estimated at US$4,971.20; the estimated GDP per capita earnings for Guatemalans was US$4,470.99 (2017); El Salvadorans’ estimated GDP per capita earnings was US$3,889.31 (2017); and the estimated GDP per capita earnings for Hondurans was US$2,480.13 in 2017.
The murder statistics show that some capitalist countries in our region have largely escaped the violence. The wealthier ones, Panama and Costa Rica, are stable, while the other four are not. The statistics from those six Central American countries suggest that GDP per capita tells a compelling story. However, the story of Nicaragua, the poorest Central American country, cannot be ignored.
If wealth, as in GDP per capita, was the great indicator, then Nicaragua should be coming apart at the seams. By the World Bank barometer of GDP per capita, Nicaragua, with a GDP per capita of US$2,221.81, is the poorest country in Central America.
Some people blame Nicaragua’s “poorness” on its economic system, which is described as socialist. In socialist states, like Nicaragua, there is private ownership of lands and businesses, but the state also controls some factors of production, and ensures that the basic needs of the people are met. Remarkably, despite its very low GDP per capita, Nicaragua’s unemployment rate is under 5%.
From the facts presented here, we would not be far off the mark if we concluded the following: (1), while there is disparity of wealth in Panama and Costa Rica (there is disparity of wealth (money, properties) in all capitalist countries), there is enough for all; (2), there is not enough wealth for all in Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and some people are barely getting any of the pie; (3), there is little wealth in Nicaragua but everyone gets a share; and (4), the illegal drug trade is disastrous when injected into a scene where there is disparate wealth and impoverished people.
Murder is not the only negative story in the world. There are other crimes that are a blot, and rent a nation’s fabric. A justice system that doesn’t work, corruption in government, and robberies are examples of other factors that contribute to a nation’s pain. But those are not “ready” studies because they involve opinion and/or are subject to government manipulation.
The murder rate does not say all about a society, but it is apparent, based on the statistics in our region, that where there is enough for all (Costa Rica and Panama), or where there isn’t plenty but what exists is shared so that all get a share (Nicaragua), there exists a stable society.
We will close with a point that is made by every balanced economist that has reviewed the financial affairs of our country. They all say that the wealth of our country is not increasing and there is a great disparity in earnings in Belize; they all say that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. And the divide is increasing.