Christmas Plagued by Violence in Central America

PHOTO: A woman carries her dog past an armory shop in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Honduras has more homicides than any other country in the world with 91 per 100,000 people, the World Health Organization says.

Although Christmas is a sacred celebration in the heavily Catholic countries that make up Central America, this year, the holiday offered no reprieve from the violence and killings which plague the region.

According to reports from the Spanish news agency EFE, at least 88 people died and 241 were injured in "incidents of violence" across the region on Christmas day and Christmas eve, making it one of the most violent Christmas seasons in recent memory. This estimate excludes the death toll of Costa Rica, because authorities from the nation have not yet released violence statistics for the holiday season.

A large portion of these killings occurred in the region's most violent countries, as ranked by the World Bank: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. And many of the deaths were linked to gang violence associated with the drug trade. In El Salvador, at least 19 were reportedly killed, and 144 were injured. In Guatemala, at least 8 were reportedly killed, and 15 were wounded. And in Honduras, at least 50 were reportedly killed and another 73 were wounded. Most of the deaths were caused by firearms, according to EFE.

Violence is one of the biggest factors hampering economic growth in the region which includes Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

"From threatening the well-being of citizens and the investment climate, to weakening the legitimacy of government institutions, violence affects all spheres of life in Central America," social development expert Rodrigo Serrano- Berthet said last year in a report for the World Bank regarding violence in the region.

"More tellingly, 71 percent of Central Americans identify crime as the main threat to their well-being," he said.

In a region which has also been afflicted by lengthy civil wars, firearms are commonplace. The vast majority of the 4.5 small arms estimated to be in the region in 2007, were not legally licensed. Most homicide victims in the region are men between 15 and 34, and the World Bank estimates that there are around 900 gangs in the region, with a total of 70,000 members.

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