Understanding the uneven distribution of the incidence of homicide in Latin America

Int J Epidemiol. 2008 Aug;37(4):751-7. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyn153.


Background: Throughout the final years of the twentieth century and into the beginning of the twenty-first, violence has been one of the main public health issues in Latin America, a region which has some of the highest mortality rates due to violence in the world. However, there seems to be an uneven geographical distribution of such instances.

Methods: We reviewed epidemiological data on violence globally and in Latin America, and here, we discuss differences between the Latin American countries in the context of a sociological framework as well as from a public health perspective.

Results: Our results indicate marked differences by country in terms of rates of violence. Countries such as Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay, have low violence mortality rates; Peru, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Panama, and Paraguay have moderate rates, and Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras and Venezuela have high to extremely high mortality rates. Factors related to violence include social inequalities, lack of employment opportunities, urban segregation, a culture of masculinity, local drug markets, and the availability of firearms and widespread use of alcohol.

Conclusion: The observed homicide variability between Latin American countries can be explained largely by differences in the countries' social contexts and political models. In those countries where homicide rates are extremely high, governments should review their current policies and take preventive actions. Fortunately increasingly nowadays there are promising advancements in that direction.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Culture
  • Developing Countries / statistics & numerical data*
  • Homicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • Homicide / trends
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Latin America / epidemiology
  • Politics
  • Population Dynamics
  • Public Health
  • Social Class
  • Substance-Related Disorders
  • Unemployment
  • Urbanization