Costa Rica cities reach world-class murder rates in 2008

January 23, 2009

If downtown Limón, on the Caribbean, and Tibás, on the north side of San José, were major U.S. cities, their murder rates would rank right up there with cities like Detroit, Baltimore and Newark.

The Limón canton counted 48 homicides in 2008, jumping 33 percent from the 36 in 2007, giving it a rate of 45.8 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. The canton of Tibás, home to León XIII, one of the country´s most notorious neighborhoods, hit a rate of 39.2.

Downtown San José wasn´t far behind, reaching a rate of 28.

All three numbers are considerably higher than the national homicide rate of 9.6, or even those of the greater Limón and San José provinces at 17.5 and 13.5, respectively.

Both Central Valley cantons saw their homicide numbers increase significantly over 2007, too: Tibás´ doubled from 12 to 25, and San José´s went up 52 percent from 63 to 96, according to numbers released by the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) on Thursday.

Homicides nationwide increased 25 percent, from 349 in 2007 to 435 in 2008. The national homicide rate in 2007 was just under 8 per 100,000 people.

Homicides in Alajuela and Puntarenas provinces each went up 27 percent. The number of murders in the provinces of Guanacaste rose from 16 to 24, in Cartago from 7 to 14, and in Heredia from 18 to 20.

Murder numbers in the Limón province, on the other hand, only went up 12 percent on the year, from 67 to 75.

These rates in Costa Rica are low compared to other countries in the region such as El Salvador and Honduras, who usually record over 50 murders per 100,000 citizens per year nationwide. Central America typically has one of the highest regional homicide rates in the world.

The U.S. national murder rate was 5.6 in 2007, the most recent year for which final stats are available, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. That number saw no statistically significant change from 2006. In 1993, the homicide rate in the U.S. was 9.5, the highest of the last 20 years.

Detroit, for its part, saw the number of murders plummet from 182 in the first six months of 2007 to 136 in the same period in 2008.

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