Crime Falls in Latin America Lockdown, But Domestic Abuse, Gang Activity Rises

Date: 2020-04-20 23:47:44

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In crime-ridden Rio de Janeiro, killings by guns in the past month were a third of the same period a year ago. In El Salvador, one of the deadliest countries, March saw the fewest homicides in its history. And in Caracas, the often lawless capital of Venezuela, crime has fallen to near zero.

In Latin America, as in most of the world, coronavirus has driven people into their homes, disrupting patterns of work and school. One change has been welcome — a huge drop in the burglaries and killings that mar daily existence across much of the region, the global leader in crime.

Unfortunately, there are countervailing trends: like in the U.S., a spike in domestic violence as abusive men beat partners and children cooped up with them. And — unique to the region — gangs, which run vast swathes of territory, are entrenching control, often enforcing government lockdown or food distribution as self-appointed guardians of civic responsibility.

“Criminal gangs are seeing what they can get away with,” noted Falko Ernst of the International Crisis Group in Mexico. In Michoacan state, he said, some gangs are extorting businessmen or robbing semitrailers to distribute food and goods, Robin-Hood style. “It might be a renaissance of benevolent displays,” he added.

In Medellin, Colombia 18 murders were recorded in March, down 46% from a year earlier and the lowest in 40 years. Shootouts in Rio have halved since the quarantine began. And in El Salvador, the 65 homicides last month were the lowest ever registered.

Mexico’s crime data for March contrast with those of most of the region — they were up, including drug-related murders and lootings. But Mexico bucked international trends in March by keeping markets and shops open, shutting society down only toward the very end of the month.

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