People in Latin America and the Caribbean report feeling less secure than residents of any other region in the world. Within Latin America, Venezuela is the least safe country according to its own citizens.
Gallup’s 2013 Law and Order Index found that people living in Latin America and the Caribbean were least likely to report feeling safe in their communities, while people in southeast Asia, east Asia, the United States and Canada were most likely to report a high sense of security.
Latin America came in last on the regional list with a score of 56 out of 100 — 3 points below sub-Saharan Africa and a full 24 points below both southeast and east Asia, which both received a score of 80. Though Latin America’s 2013 numbers were a few points above the region’s 2009 total of 54, the Gallup researchers noted that “the relatively poor personal security situation in Latin America and the Caribbean has not significantly improved over the past five years.”
The index was developed from a poll asking residents in more than 150 countries about their confidence in local police, feelings of personal safety and self-reported incidence of theft.
Venezuela: No safe place
The report pointed out that Latin America is a hotspot for violent crime and murder, accounting for 36 percent of global homicides. The region is home to eight of the 10 countries with the highest homicide rates in the world.
Honduras, with a staggering homicide rate of 90.4 per 100,000 people according to the 2013 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Global Study on Homicide, has the world’s highest murder rate — yet it was not the lowest-ranked nation on the Gallup poll, or even in the bottom five.
Instead, the dubious honor of pulling in the lowest score went to Venezuela.
Venezuela’s score of 41 was the lowest not only in the region, but in the world. The poll found that fewer than 20 percent of Venezuelans polled said they felt safe walking alone at night in the city or area where they lived. In addition, only 26 percent of Venezuelans said they felt confident in the local police, and 22 percent reported that they or a family member had had money stolen from them at some point in the last 12 months.
The response is not entirely surprising, as many Venezuelans report going to extreme measures to avoid falling victim to the skyrocketing rates of violence and crime in their country. Even the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, has acknowledged the widespread security issues in the capital, blaming high levels of impunity.
The 2013 UNODC report found that Venezuela had the world’s second-highest homicide rate, at 53.7 per 100,000 — far below that of Honduras, but still extremely high. Some experts suggest the real statistics may be even higher.
“We think that in reality it’s higher,” Roberto Briceño Leon, director of the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, told the Nuevo Herald. “Our estimations, and the data we have, as well as that based on official information, indicates that Venezuela’s homicide rate is 67 per 100,000 citizens.”
Whatever the precise statistics, the results of the Gallup poll suggest that repeated efforts on the part of the Venezuelan government to combat crime and security issues, including President Nicolás Maduro’s Patria Segura (Secure Homeland) plan, have been far from successful.
After Venezuela, the countries with the lowest scores were Bolivia, with 47, and Peru at 48, with Paraguay (52) and the Dominican Republic (53) rounding out the bottom five. The highest-scoring countries were Nicaragua (67), Panama (67), Chile (66), Ecuador (63) and Uruguay (62).
Michael Shifter, president of Diálogo Interamericano, told news agency EFE that high scores like that of Chile were due to respect for institutions. “Solid institutions and a high human development index contribute to citizens’ perception of security and confidence in authorities,” said Shifter.
Despite its astronomical homicide rate, Honduras was squarely in the middle of the pack in the Gallup poll, with a score of 56 — a 4-point drop since 2009, but still not among the lowest of the countries surveyed.
Mexico, too, was above average, with a score of 59, up 6 points from the 2009 poll. These results could be fodder for debate on the effectiveness of the security policy of current President Enrique Peña Nieto, who took office in 2012, as well as that of his predecessor, Felipe Calderón, who based his administration’s identity on an anti-crime crackdown that led to waves of violence and disappearances across the country.
The poll’s methodology was fairly simple, based on asking respondents three yes or no questions:
- In the city or area where you live, do you have confidence in the local police force?
- Do you feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where you live?
- Within the last 12 months, have you had money or property stolen from you or another household member?
While these questions are hardly broad enough to give an in-depth analysis of the complex issue of security, the scores on the poll do correlate to overall trends in security and violence throughout the region. The countries with the highest scores in the poll have some of the region’s lowest homicide rates and report overall low rates of other violent crimes.
However, such results depend on the questions asked, phrasing of the questions and the population answering. InSight Crime points out that a 2012 survey by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP – pdf) found that the five countries with the worst perceptions of security were Peru, Venezuela, Bolivia, Haiti and Ecuador.
While several of these countries also scored poorly on the Gallup poll, the inclusion of Ecuador, which scored high among Gallup respondents, indicates that these kinds of results can vary significantly between different studies, and that a more comprehensive survey is needed to get at the root of citizen perceptions of insecurity in different countries.