SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador—Killings spiked by nearly 70 percent last year in this gang-plagued Central American nation, authorities said Monday, resulting in a homicide rate that could make it the world’s most violent country.
National Police director Mauricio Ramirez Landaverde said El Salvador officially registered at least 6,657 homicides in 2015, up from 3,942 the previous year.
The overall yearly homicide rate was the country’s highest ever at 104 per 100,000 inhabitants, putting it in a position to take over the dubious title of the world’s murder capital from neighboring Honduras.
“It puts us at the head of the world’s most violent nations” including Honduras and Venezuela, said Jeannette Aguilar, a researcher at Jose Simeon Canas Central America University.
Honduras has led the world in homicide rates in recent years. It hit 92 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011, according to World Bank data, before falling off somewhat since then.
Venezuela, meanwhile, has seen its murder rates tick upward. The South American nation has not released official homicide statistics since 2013, when authorities put it at 39 per 100,000 people. But last week a non-governmental organization that tracks violence put Venezuela’s 2015 homicide rate at around 90 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Authorities in El Salvador blame most of the killings there on gangs that are deeply involved in drug trafficking, extortion rackets and other criminal activity. The “maras,” as they are known, have a heavy presence in poor neighborhoods across the country and have increasingly moved into rural areas as well.
The wave of violence in El Salvador came after a truce between the country’s two largest gangs fell apart, and despite police initiatives to crack down on organized crime.
“The homicide rate reflects the inability of the Salvadoran state and the Salvadoran society to guarantee the most fundamental right there can be in a society, which is life,” Aguilar said.
Authorities also say most of El Salvador’s homicide victims are gang members slain by rivals.
The country’s 2014 homicide total also was a significant rise from the previous year; 1,429 killings were registered in El Salvador in 2013.