San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Violent deaths in Guatemala down in 2011

GUATEMALA CITY – More than 5,600 people died violently in the Central American nation of Guatemala in 2011, a decrease from the previous year, according to National Police figures out Tuesday.

The figures come out to an average of 15.4 deaths a day – better than the average of 19 a day recorded in 2010, police said.

Central America has become one of the most violent areas in the world, according to the United Nations, and Guatemala, with a population of around 14 million, has increasingly become tainted by violence from Mexican drug cartels.

Mexico and Guatemala share a 1,000 kilometer (600-mile) border, and Mexico’s feared Zetas drug gang is known to be active in at least three Guatemalan provinces.

Of the 5,618 Guatemalans murdered last year, the overwhelming majority – 82 percent – were shot dead, while the remainder were knifed, strangled or beaten to death, police said.

That comes out to nearly 36 violent deaths per 100,000 people, one of the highest in Latin America.

Police Director Jaime Otzin told reporters that in the last month of the year 58 murders were recorded in the country.

Central America has become a staging ground for illegal narcotics, especially cocaine coming from South America and making its way north to the lucrative US market.

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