Even while crime statistics fell in Detroit in 2013, it was not enough to knock off the Motor City as reigning champion of the most dangerous large cities in the United States, according to the FBI.
In a report released on November 11, Detroit topped all the other cities of 100,000 people or more for murders and violent crime. Baltimore is number 36, with about 38 homicides per every 100,000 residents. Two more perennial winners in Michigan, Flint and Saginaw, were among the top five in the nation, according to the FBI, for cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants. This federal data dump comes even while Detroit emerged from bankruptcy on November 7. City officials have admitted that Detroit has a great deal of ground to cover. Famously, it was just two years ago that a former Detroit city police chief was robbed at gunpoint on the front lawn of his home. Violent crime continues to hobble renewal in the three Michigan cities, which are also coping with thousands of vacant homes and buildings, crumbling infrastructure and school, unemployment and out-migration.
Both Flint and Detroit have long been bastions of industrial giants such as General Motors and Ford, as well the Democratic Party and labor unions such as the UAW. Flint has sent a Democrat to Congress since 1976. It was then that former U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee was elected to the House, who remained until his retirement in 2013. He was succeeded by his nephew, U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, who has proven to hew even closer to the progressive Democrat line. Michigan just elected another Democrat to the U.S Senate in the person of U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, who will take over the spot held for decades by retiring Sen. Carl Levin. Michigan has also had other notably long-serving Democrats, including U.S Rep. John Conyers - who has served since 1965 - as well as U.S,. Rep. John Dingell, who has served since 1955. Since he did not run for re-election during the 2014 mid-term election, Rep. Dingell will be succeeded by his wife, Debbie Dingell, who won handily this year.
The rate of violent crime in Detroit, and other U.S. cities, has not escaped the notice of foreign observers. In a study published this month on crime and murder statistics for world cities by Consejo Ciudadano de Seguridad, Paz y Justicia (Citizens' Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice) – an advocacy group based in Mexico – for instance, Detroit came in at 34th and New Orleans at 26th place in a list of the fifty worst cities on the two continents. Other U.S cities named were St. Louis (Missouri), number 45. San Juan (Puerto Rico) was ranked at 38th place with a rate of 37 murders per 100,000.
Latin America, which is perennially riven by violence linked to narcotrafficking and related political and economic instability, thirty-four of the 50 worst cities were there. Taking first place in the region, and the world, for the third year in a row is San Pedro Sula, on the Caribbean shore of Honduras. The city had a murder rate of 187 murders per 100,000 people in 2013. The rate in the Central American republic is actually getting worse. Latin America sees a full one-third of the world’s homicides, not including armed conflicts such as in Iraq and Syria, despite the fact that the region has only 8% of the global population. Latin America is thus the most murderous region in the world.
In the Mexican study, Caracas, Venezuela, was in second place at 134 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, while Acapulco, Mexico, came in at 113. The figures for San Pedro Sula, which is constantly bleeding over turf fights between narcoterrorists and government forces, have shown a steady increase since 2010. At that time, the city was in third place in the world rankings at 125 homicides per 100,000 people, while in 2011 it surged forward to first place with a rate of 159 and in 2012 the butcher’s bill ran to 174 per 100,000.
Ciudad Juárez, which is the Mexican city just across the border from El Paso, Texas, has actually seen a decrease in the number of murders. In the years 2008-2010, the border city held first place in the world for homicides, but in 2011 it dropped to second place. In 2012, it dropped again to 19th place in the world, and for 2013 it now occupies 37th.
Oakland, California, which is just across the bay from San Francisco, joined several Latin American cities in dropping out of the deathly list of 50. It has joined Brasilia and Curitiba of Brazil, Barranquilla (Colombia), and Monterrey (Mexico) with rates below that of Valencia (Venezuela), which occupies the 50th slot in the rankings.
New to the list for 2013 are Campina Grande, Natal, and Aracaju (Brasil), and Palmira (Colombia). Tijuana (another Mexican border town) had been dropped from the list between in 2011 and 2012, is now back on.
There were no figures listed for cities in Europe, Asia, Australia, or Oceania. However, three in South Africa, including Durban and Nelson Mandela Bay, made the list.
The top 10 most violent cities are:
1. San Pedro Sula, Honduras
2. Caracas, Venezuela
3. Acapulco, Mexico
4. Cali, Colombia
5. Maceió, Brazil
6. Distrito Central
7. Fortaleza, Brazil
8. Guatemala City, Guatemala
9. João Pessoa, Brazil
10. Barquisimeto, Venezuela
The study noted, “The Latin American countries with the worst violence are Honduras, Venezuela, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, and Brasil. Also, the most successful and praiseworthy reduction in violence is in Colombia. It is especially noteworthy that over the last 11 years that the incidence of homicides and other violent crimes has dropped, due to the ever greater efficiency of the police, and not as a result of negotiating with criminals (as in the case of El Salvador).” Narco-trafficking, and the lack of effective judiciary and police, have sundered most of the Central American republics.
The summary of the study went on to note that one of the greatest obstacles faced by the study was the lack of transparency found in several countries, “But even worse is the practice of falsifying figures that is done by officials in some countries, specifically Mexico and Venezuela.” Venezuela, noted, the report “has demonstrated that is not interested in transparency and the provision of figures but in hiding them, or in propaganda, which is often based on lies. The policy of the Venezuelan government of issuing propaganda instead of solving the problem confirms the fear that Venezuela is headed towards the abyss.”
Mexico’s president is Enrique Peña Nieto, a member of the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI), which has ruled the country for decades since the 1910 revolution. For decades, it was guaranteed renewal in power through rigged elections and socialistic schemes in which the petroleum industry was nationalized and civic institutions such as labor unions co-opted and corrupted. It is only this year that Mexico is considering the sale of off-shore oil leases to foreign firms. The report by Consejo Ciudadano called into question Peña Nieto’s veracity about an alleged drop in homicide rates, while pointing out discrepancies in government crime data and independent figures. This comes while Mexico is trying to woo foreign investors. Another blow to the credibility of the government came in September in Iguala, a city in Guerrero – the state that is home to violence-prone Acapulco. The wife of the mayor of Iguala has been linked to the disappearance and presumed death of 43 students who had dared to protest against hikes in public transportation costs. She is alleged to be the kingpin of a powerful criminal narcotics organization. So far, no culprits have been indicted in that scandal.
Under Pena Nieto's predecessor, who came from the opposition National Action Party (PAN), there was declared a war against the various narcotics cartels. With the PRI back in the saddle, critics have pointed out that instead of the "peace and security" campaign promise made by Pena Nieto, it appears that the government is actually cooperating with the criminal organizations. In Iguala, it has emerged that local police, after firing live rounds at the student protesters and killing several, arrested and then turned them over to a group of narcotraffickers who promised to make them "disappear."
As for Venezuela, its government has been at odds with the United States for a decade during the presidency of Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013, and again under his successor Nicolás Maduro. Chávez and his Colorado Party remained in power due to high oil prices and considerable social largesse doled out to his supporters, especially the poor. Low oil prices are hitting the oil-rich nation hard, as unemployment remains high and as scarcities of basic consumable commodities. Paul Shortell, in the World Politics Review, wrote recently, “With crude oil prices down 25 percent since June and holding at roughly $86 a barrel on Tuesday, Venezuela is getting nervous. Lower prices will put greater strain on Venezuela’s oil-reliant economy as its government struggles with growing macroeconomic imbalances.”The Maduro government, as under Chávez, has been accused of systematic human rights abuses in trying to stem dissent, especially on the part of Venezuela’s educated middle classes who have demanded transparency and economic growth.