InSight Crime delves into Guatemala's homicide data (April 24, 2017)
It has become commonly accepted knowledge that Central America's homicide epidemic -- concentrated in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador -- is driven by gang violence and drug trafficking organizations. That "truth," has been touted by government officials who use it to justify iron fist approaches to battling gangs, and international aid, which is funneled into programs focused on international narcotics trafficking and gangs.
But, "the reality is that we do not know how much of the homicides in the Northern Triangle are related to DTOs and gangs," explains ground-breaking research project by InSight Crime. "When faced with an incomplete picture as we frequently are when it comes to rising presence of gangs and DTOs, and increasing violence in the region, the easy conclusion is to say that these events are related, but the fact is that there are few analyses of the homicide data to tell us who the victims are, how they have been killed, what the official investigations tell us about these criminal events, and who the presumed murderers are."
The project takes on two areas in Guatemala -- one controlled by gangs and another a drug trafficking corridor -- and delves in depth into disaggregated data available in an attempt to pinpoint homicide causes and how they relate to gangs and drug trafficking organizations.
Researchers found that in the case of the drug trafficking corridor, only 28 percent of the homicides could reasonably be attributed to organized crime-related activities -- less than is normally chalked up to organized crime by authorities. But in the case of the gang-controlled area, about 41 percent of the homicides could be linked to gang-related activities, in line with Guatemalan authorities' statements.
Methodology buffs will also be interested in the conclusions of the report, which point to the potential of the data available from public sources. The investigation process generates a tremendous amount of information, though much of it is lost and undervalued. The data could be applied to actually solving crimes -- most of which go unpunished -- but also for mapping homicide hotspots, and crossing data to see trends in victims, weapons, suspects, etc, notes Stephen Dudley in his write up.
"To date, the emphasis on the data gathering has been to satisfy a political appetite, to show that there is someone paying attention and, in the best case scenario, that these statistics are moving in a positive direction. But this is short-sighted and ignores the underlying issues that lead to this violence in the first place. Data is not a bureaucratic burden to be used for career advancement or political benefit. It is the core upon which strategies are made, resources are deployed and lives are saved."
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