Each year more and more people are leaving behind the rural lifestyle and heading into the cities for better opportunities and work. With this mass exodus from small towns and villages comes greater competition and overcrowding in some of the world’s poorest economies. Just as the shape of urban demographic diversifies, it seems so too, do the opportunities for crime and punishment.
According to research conducted by the Mexican government in 2014, three world cities, all European, saw zero murders (Valdez in Lichenstein Valetta in Malta, and Monte Carlo). What follows are the world’s top 20 most murderous cities. None are areas of war – such cities would be discounted. Instead, the statistics come from violent crimes committed by citizens, against citizens. Some cities stand out for a startlingly high murder rate with a 1 in 10 chance of being murdered. Latin American countries stand out by far as the most murderous cities with 43 of the top 50 places.
To offer a sense of perspective, in 2013, Glasgow was the UK’s most murderous city with 2 murders per 100,000 people. London comes in second with 1.3 per 100,000.
20. Teresina, Brazil
Rate: 49.49 per 100,000
Teresina is victim to Brazil’s spiraling youth problem. With exceptionally low employment rates, extreme poverty, and a cavernous class divide, Brazil’s youth see crime as the only possible way to afford the life they want and see elsewhere in the country. Over the past ten years, according to one report, arrests of children have leaped 138%. There are frequent stories of criminal gangs of under-tens, and the film City of God further illuminates the problem.
This is thought to be down to the lack of childcare with no pre-school care and no day-care, Brazil’s poorest children are left to fend for themselves on the streets while their parents try for work. With robbery and drug crime out of control, there are plenty of opportunities for juvenile criminals to make a living.
19. St Louis, USA
Rate: 49.93 per 100,000
America’s only entrant into the top 20 murderous cities, St Louis, Missouri is suffering from a rising homicide rate concentrated in just a small area. One report puts it that: “Since 2008, about 80 percent of homicides have occurred in just a third of city neighborhoods”. In addition, most murderers in St Louis are known to their victims – reassured yet? 91% of homicide defendants were male, and 55% were under 25.
The city has an exploding drug problem and 132 criminal gangs known to be at work all over the city. With a lax police force and poor rates of incarceration also being blamed, the St Louis situation is unlikely to resolve anytime soon.
18. Belem, Brazil
Rate: 53.06 per 100,000
Home to South America’s largest outdoor market, Belem is surrounded by the Amazon river and jungle and is a huge exporter of wholesome products like Brazil nuts, mangoes, pineapples and hardwoods. A beautiful city, it boasts numerous attractions such as its cathedral and art galleries… and also a shockingly high murder rate.
Belem is a gateway for Brazil’s drug distribution. More than half the population of the city live in a favela. In early November 2014, there was an explosion in the murder rate in retaliation for the killing of a military policeman, Corporal Figuerido. The official death toll for the night of November 4th was nine. Disturbingly, the military police are on record as designating the deaths as homicides. In a country where the police are openly responsible for the deaths of nine citizens, you can start to see why Brazil ranks so frequently on our scale.
17. Salvador, Brazil
Rate: 54.31 per 100,000
Salvador is the largest city of the North East coast of Brazil and has the third largest population. Salvador, Brazil’s capital of happiness, is famed for its street carnivals, beautiful beaches, and its historic center, one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. This is all well and good but does not explain the city’s place as the seventeenth most murderous city.
According to one report, Salvador’s murder rate can be explained by an influx of organized drug-related crime along with associated gang culture. Thanks to security initiatives including Police Pacification Units and gun control laws in Brazil’s more southern cities like Rio, organized crime has migrated north. The two most notorious gangs are Comando de Paz and Grupo de Perna and between them, they control most of the drug trade.
16. Cuiaba, Brazil
Rate: 56.46 per 100,000
Cuiaba stands out for its natural beauty. Bordering two of Brazil’s most outstanding wildlife areas: the Amazon and Pantanal, the city often ranks highly on the tourist agenda. This has lead to a huge rise in prostitution and sex tourism of young women and children. As it lies to the West of the country, Cuiaba’s crime rate is down to the sex industry rather than drugs. This makes it stand out in Brazil’s murder rankings.
Nicknamed the Green City, Cuiaba was chosen to host part of the 2014 World Cup. July 2011, saw 32 murders in just one week of out of control gang warfare.
15. Vitoria, Brazil
Rate: 57.00 per 100,000
Vitoria sits on the South East corner of Brazil and is made up of an archipelago of thirty-four small islands. It occupies a strategic position being just one hour away by plane from Brazil’s larger cities Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Despite its awesome beaches and stunning weather, Vitoria has a major problem with violent crime including murder, rape, theft, kidnapping, and extortion.
Vitoria is climbing up the rankings in part because of the decline in violent crime seen in Brazil’s better-known cities. As ever, the drug trade is blamed for the crime rate with almost 80% of America’s cocaine and heroine traveling through Brazil before being smuggled. One particularly bloody week during 2012, saw five deaths by murder in just three hours.
14. Cape Town, South Africa
Rate: 60.00 per 100,000
Cape Town, South Africa’s second city, now has the highest murder rate for the continent – outside of zones of conflict and war. Taking over from Johannesburg, Cape Town seems to be a hotbed of domestic violence that spirals out of control, alongside the ubiquitous gang crime that runs rampant through all of our murderous cities.
Unemployment, overcrowding, police corruption, and disenfranchisement are thought to be to blame for the city’s descent into crime. With gangs targeting twelve-year-old children in their warped recruitment policies, it is not a safe place for young children to grow up.
13. San Salvador, El Salvador
Rate: 61.21 per 100,000
According to recent reports, gang violence in El Salvador has pushed the murder rate to a postwar record. Almost 30 people are murdered every day. Thanks to the break down of a fragile truce between two rival gangs, revenge killings, and drive-by shootings have gone through the roof.
San Salvador is a wealthy city with leafy suburbs, malls, and fast-food restaurants but it is a city of inequality too. In low-income communities, small-scale drug dealing and robberies prevail. Thought to be the result of US deportation of illegal migrants from LA back to San Salvador, two main rival gangs control the city: Mara Salvatrucha (or MS-13), and Barrio 18.
12. Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela
Rate: 62.13 per 100,000
Venezuela features three times on the top twenty most dangerous cities table. This may go some way to explaining why its citizens are demanding something to be done. Minister of Internal Relations, Miguel Rodríguez Torres has enacted the Patria Segura Plan (Secure Homeland Plan) in an effort to crack down on crime in general, and homicide in particular.
The plan involves new National Guard Patrols, community police groups, and intervention in the form of community groups that work from inside the poorest communities. Given the President’s unusual criticism of video games being to blame for a high crime rate, there is some doubt as to whether an out-of-touch and the chronically underfunded state can make any difference.
11. Natal, Brazil
Rate: 63.68 per 100,000
Desperate not to put off an increasingly wary tourist population, Natal sells itself as being one of Brazil’s safest cities. With its own tourism website admitting that pickpocketing is commonplace but that violent crime is rare, what has Natal done to deserve its eleventh place ranking? Situated on the Atlantic coast, Natal forms part of the extensive Brazilian drug distribution hub and as such, armed robberies, assaults, and prostitution are rife – even amongst the tourist population.
There are high hopes for Natal as the government recognizes its importance in the tourist industry. If any of Brazil’s numerous cities on the list were to improve, Natal is the most likely candidate.
10. Sao Luis, Brazil
Rate: 64.71 per 100,000
In contrast to the image Brazil wants to project ahead of the 2016 Olympics, Sao Luis is just one amongst many Brazilian cities in the grips of a crack cocaine epidemic. In February 2015, a Dutch yachtsman from Edam, Ronald Francis Wolbeek, was brutally shot dead on the deck of his boat by opportunistic criminals. His wife managed to swim ashore to safety. It is highly likely according to sources, that the shooting was related to the current crack situation.
Brazil borders the world’s largest cocaine-producing countries and as its borders are largely unpatrolled and insecure, there is a massive influx of cheap crack onto the streets of its major cities. Where there is crack, there is crime.
9. Cali, Colombia
Rate: 65.25 per 100,000
According to the medical examiner’s office, the murder rate in Colombia overall has dropped to its lowest since the 1970s and has been steadily dropping since 2009. As with every other example on this list, Cali’s problems stem from the drugs trade and gang turf wars. After the extradition of the leaders of the notorious AUC gang, turf wars broke out across the major cities only being somewhat resolved by a non-aggression pact between the major players.
The city of Cali has maintained a high murder rate thanks to immigration to the city from smaller villages and towns. Given the lack of funding to the area, the local infrastructure is unable to cope with the influx of new inhabitants and so they become vulnerable to local criminal gangs who control un-policed areas.
8. Fortaleza, Brazil
Rate: 66.55 per 100,000
Fortaleza in Brazil manages to maintain a tiny tourist industry but one that carries firm warnings. Tourists are advised to avoid smaller local neighborhoods as these areas are rife with crime and are largely completely unpatrolled by police officials. They are particularly warned against quick-napping; the practice of street robbers kidnapping ATM users and releasing them in exchange for their bank cards and access to their accounts.
Again, most crime is related to the thriving drug trade and the extreme poverty suffered by certain sections of Brazilian society. Tourists are advised to avoid walking in unpopulated areas at night, and not to wear any jewelry or carry mobile phones.
7. Valencia, Venezuela
Rate: 71.08 per 100,000
Any discussion of the murder rate in Valencia starts with the brutal murder of Monica Spear, actress, and former Miss Venezuela. Spear and her husband were shot dead after getting into a car accident on the infamous and treacherous mountain highway that connects the port and the city. The couple’s five year old not only witnessed the shooting but was herself shot in the leg.
Although the government has long since stopped publishing crime statistics, Venezuela’s current President, Nicolás Maduro curiously blames his country’s problems on capitalism, and violent video games. He argues that the transition to complete socialism will solve Venezuela’s problems yet that remains to be seen.
6. Maceio, Brazil
Rate: 72.91 per 100,000
Thanks to concerted efforts in Brazil’s major cities, gang, and drug-related crime have moved to the country’s lesser-known metropolises. Maceio sees the murder of 2000 of its citizens every year. With a booming population of young men and a growing economy in the country as a whole, there seems to be an especially persistent crime problem that can only partly be explained by the drugs trade.
Massive inequality and a corrupt police force mean that turning to crime is seen as one of the only options open to young men from impoverished areas of town. Brazil is a country of extremes: from the very rich to the very poor, and un-contacted tribes of people in between, Brazil has it all.
5. Distrito Central, Honduras
Rate: 77.65 per 100,000
Distrito Central in Honduras is yet another example of a city where extreme poverty, government corruption, and a heavy Mafia presence are to blame for an out of control murder rate. The Honduran government introduced the Mano Dura, Iron Fist, laws in 2003 in an effort to wrest control of its cities from the hands of criminal drug-trafficking gangs.
Designed so that police officers can arrest anyone for their mere association with a gang, the laws have in fact strengthened transnational gang culture, with members seeking out protection in other countries – even Canada. Mano Dura also means that gang members are much harder to spot as they have had to cover up identifying features like tattoos and have parted from typical gang clothing.
4. Joao Pessoa, Brazil
Rate: 79.41 per 100,000
One of Brazil’s oldest cities, Joao Pessoa lies on the Easternmost coast. With a historic center, forty kilometers of amazing beaches, and its status as the second greenest city in the world it is a crying shame that this city has just a few brave tourists and visitors thanks to its horrifying reputation as one of the murder capitals of the world.
Although considered to be fairly safe on the main coastal drag, stepping just a few meters in the land during the night is a big mistake. As with our other entrants, murders are localized to poor areas and largely center around drug and gang crime. President Dilma Rousseff has gone on record to say that three in every 1000 Brazilian teens are murdered before they reach adulthood.
3. Acapulco, Mexico
Rate: 104.16 per 100,000
Mexico has worked hard to reduce crime rates and disband vicious gangs over the last few years as illustrated by the high-profile arrest of the notorious, El Chapo. Despite the murder rate actually decreasing over the last three years, Acapulco remains stubbornly high coming in at third place. Ever since a surge in drug crime from the 1990s, Acapulco has been at the center of the drug smuggling trade.
With the arrest of head honcho, Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, an all-out war has erupted between smaller gang leaders jostling for dominance. There has been an influx of public funding including the creation of three different branches of the police.
2. Acapulco, Mexico
Rate: 104.16 per 100,000
Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela wherein 2013, 24,000 people were murdered – that’s one every twenty-seven minutes. What stands out about Caracas is that unlike the other cities on the list, it is a relatively wealthy city and country thanks to large oil deposits. So what accounts for the fast-growing murder rate? Many blame police corruption and the failure to prioritize crime fighting by dishonest political leaders, along with chronic under-funding.
With only 8% of crimes ever seen through to an indictment, it’s easy to see why bringing the murder rate down is near impossible. Many blame out of touch leader, Maduro who has in the past blamed ‘decadent’ films like Spiderman. Whatever the reason, Caracas is deep in the grip of a murder epidemic.
1. San Pedro, Honduras
Rate: 171.20 per 100,000
According to a report in The Guardian, San Pedro is: “The most violent city in the most violent country in the world.” Where morticians are permanently on duty, in 2014, an average of 20 people per day is murdered in cold blood. This is the highest murder rate in the world outside of countries in conflict. But why? Corrupt police, political upheaval, land disputes, out of control gang crime, and drug trafficking make San Pedro a nightmare for its law abiding citizens. It’s not just gang members who fall victim, with 80% of America’s drugs being trafficked through San Pedro, the stakes are high for everyone.