On Friday, September 21, 2018, The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page article by David Luhnow under the headline, 400 Murders a Day: The Crisis in Latin America. Here are some of the highlights:
A chart on the front page showed the violent deaths (per 100,000 people) by firearms in 2016, by country:
El Salvador: 40.29
Latin America and Caribbean: 16.21
A sub-headline on the chart notes that some of the smaller countries lumped under the Latin-America-and-Caribbean category, notably El Salvador, have disproportionately higher rates even than the region generally
To put this in context, you would be safer living anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa, where violent deaths by firearms per 100,000 are 1.22, North Africa and the Middle East (1.50), or Asia (0.77). Syria is safer than Latin America. So are Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. Luhnow’s depiction of death rates per 100,000 as caused by firearms may actually be slightly off, as one of the murders he describes occurring on a typical day in Acapulco included a cabdriver who was hacked to death, while others were caused by garroting or dumping victims in vats of acid, but it is certainly close enough for the purposes of this article. Acapulco, in case you were planning to take your significant other there this winter, had 953 people murdered last year, more than in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Portugal, and the Netherlands put together. That’s in a single city of 800,000.
Mr. Luhnow points out that in Latin America, every day, more than 400 people are murdered, for an annual total of 145,000, and that with just 8% of the world’s population, Latin America accounts for approximately one third of global murders, and that nearly one in four murders around the world are committed in just four countries: Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, and Columbia. El Salvador’s 2016 murder rate of 83 per 100,000 was the world’s highest, nearly 17-times higher than America’s. (Note the disparity between this figure and the one cited above in the chart. I assume that is because this one is an updated figure reflecting recent unhappy events in El Salvador where things appear to be spiraling ever further out of control.)
A few more factoids: Violence cost Latin America 3% of its annual economic output, or twice the level of developed countries; 43 of the 50 most murderous cities in the world are in Latin America, including all of the top ten; between 2000 and 2017, approximately 2.5 million people were murdered in Latin America and the Caribbean, equivalent to wiping out the entire city of Chicago, which is frequently in the news for its own problems.
There are more fascinating—or horrifying—facts cited by Mr. Luhnow, but let me skip now to his findings.
Some of this violence is attributable to Latin America’s having the world’s greatest gap between rich and poor;
Much of the economy of those countries is off-the-grid, illegal family-run street businesses that operate without government control or taxation, which contributes to a culture of scoffing at the law;
What little law exists is so riddled with corruption as to hardly qualify as law;
Most Latin American cities have woefully inadequate services, particularly schools and honest law enforcement;
Law enforcement and the legal structure generally are both weak and corrupt;
The percentage of single-parent homes has skyrocketed in the last twenty years;
And, finally, the presence of powerful drug cartels and violent gangs is both pervasive and seductive, a world of crime that offers young men with few other options jobs, services, and an identity.
Does any of that sound familiar, Gentle Reader? As I have written multiple times before, study after study after study of American inner-city crime, by a wide range of impartial think-tanks and universities, have all come to precisely the same conclusions as to the causes of the problems we read about daily in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, New Orleans, Washington, DC, Newark, Milwaukee, and on and on.
So when you go to the polls this November, if a politician tells you he or she is going to get tough on violent crime by banning guns or passing newer, better, tougher, more draconian laws, just remember that in all those countries lumped under the banner of Latin America, from Mexico to Cape Horn, gun ownership is nearly impossible, limited exclusively to those with the financial means and political connections most people do not have. In some countries, notably Mexico, it is virtually and totally impossible, no matter what. Think of how well those laws are working down there, and then vote for someone else. Vote for anyone who has the wisdom and the courage to talk about:
The importance of family structure;
Changing a culture that glorifies the absentee father and encourages detachment from economic and cultural norms;
Better schooling and mentoring for at-risk youth;
Mental illness as balanced between threat to society and right to privacy;
Reconsidering some of the popular public policies that were well-intentioned attempts to relieve social ills, but which have in fact contributed to them by creating a socio-economic underclass;
And above all, it is time to rethink the war on drugs, because we’ve lost that one, baby.
I do not recommend anyone hold their breath waiting for a politician to address these issues.