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Is El Salvador the most dangerous country in the world?

by Katherine Platt

If we define “dangerous” based solely on homicide rates, El Salvador is the most dangerous country in the world. The current homicide rate in El Salvador is 71 per 100,000 inhabitants a year, the highest in the world. To put things into perspective, Mexico (currently experiencing a war on drugs) has a murder rate of 15 per 100,000.

I had the fortune of briefly visiting San Salvador in 2007. I never felt in danger; on the contrary, the people of El Salvador were very kind to me. I didn’t know a single person in this country, but the random Salvadorans I met offered me rides from point A to point B. They took me sightseeing. We went shopping. We ate pupusas in one of the many pupuserias in town. I certainly did not feel El Salvador was one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

But we cannot cover the sun with our thumbs. We have to acknowledge that post-Civil War violence is a reality in El Salvador. The two groups accountable for most of the violence today are the Mexican drug cartels and the maras (youth gangs).

Central America is a bridge to South American drugs en route to the United States. Drugs shipped out of South America (mainly Colombia) via boats and planes must land somewhere south of the U.S.-Mexico border. Since the Central American nations, most notably Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, have weak and corrupt governments, the Mexican cartels have infiltrated into Central America to receive drug shipments coming from Colombia.

The maras is the other group responsible for the high homicide rate in El Salvador. The maras terrorize the nation by demanding La Renta (extortion fees) from small businesses and bus drivers. The  extortion fees are usually $5/day for larger businesses and $2–$3 for smaller businesses. If the victims do not pay la Renta, they will most likely be murdered by the gang members. Furthermore, the maras are constantly warring with one another since they are fighting for each other’s territory. Often, innocent people fall victims of the shootings.

It is my experience that the average Salvadoran is a friendly and cordial human being. Sadly, the drug cartels and the youth gangs are spilling the blood and tainting the image of this beautiful country.

To learn more about Katherine, visit Twitter.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


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About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. Katherine,

    Similar to your experience I visited El Salvador back in the 2002 on a humanitarian mission with the U.S. Army. Although my interaction was more limited that I would have wanted being the translator on the team made me understand many of the things that happen in El Salvador day by day.

    I had great experiences and even though I was in U.S. Military uniform they all treated me as family. I have to say that the places i visited in el Salvador where unique. But the people I met I have never forgotten. I wonder what happen to two kids which know should be young men they where my assistants in getting wait I need to the rest of the Marines and Soldiers that where working with me.

    I think a good measure would be if similar to Puerto Rico most homicides are linked to a passional crime or the victim and aggressor had a business or personal relationship.

    I would love to visit el Salvador Again any day I sincerely felt safer than visiting many U.S. Metro areas.

  2. Cynthia Pleitez says:

    Katherine! This article was very informative,thank you! My parents were born in El Salvador and they are afraid of me wanting to fly out there because of the high crime. Things are subjective though, I have extended family that visits every year! It’s a beautiful place with beautiful people!

  3. Jessica says:

    Sad but true! I was born in Guatemala but have been a US Citizen since I was very young. Central America has a warm and rich culture. It’s too bad people feel unsafe in their own homeland and can’t freely enjoy it. And I agree Katherine the government in those countries are weak and corrupt. My question: How can we (those living abroad) contribute to making a change?

  4. Thank you Raul. I would love to visit El Salvador again too. I wanted to take an excursion to see the volcanoes over there, but did not have enough time.

  5. Thank you Cynthia. I agree with you: things are subjective. I enjoyed my visit to El Salvador, but we cannot deny violence is a problem in this country. Hopefully, the government of Mauricio Funes is doing something to alleviate the violence.

  6. Good question Jessica. I guess we can start by acknowledging the problems endemic in our countries. But, I suppose, real change must come from the people who live within. Just look at Egypt. By the way, I lived for a year in Antigua, Guatemala. Magical city!

  7. Rosa Elena says:

    Katherine, I think before posing such a question, you should do some further research. As a Salvadoran-American, I grew up hearing about the brutal 12 year civil war that not only destroyed the country’s economic system, but also breaded an entire generation of violence. Post war era, soldiers and guerillas became unemployed creating a desperate situation for economic survival and violence. Maras/drugs, yes they plague the country, but it’s much much deeper than that. I’ve had the fortune of visiting El Salvador since a very young age (even during the war) and never was my life threaten. I find this article insulting and bold. What exactly does the “average Salvadoran” mean? Also, ES is smaller than the state of Massachusetts, how can you compare that to Mexico.

  8. I appreciate your feedback Rosa Elena. If you notice, the title of this article is posed as a question instead of a statement. Of course, there is more to “dangerous” than the murder rate. I was actually surprised when I found out El Salvador has the highest murder rate in the world. My intention was not to insult anyone, but to let the reader know of this statistic. But, I think instead of denying how dangerous El Salvador is, we should brainstorm for solutions on how to reduce the violence in your country. Both El Salvador and Guatemala are currently experiencing higher levels of post-Civil war violence than during the Civil War. We are not helping at all if we keep ourselves silent from the sad realities in our countries.

  9. Rosa Elena says:

    You are completely missing my feedback. It’s not as easy as “brainstorming solutions” to fix the problem (very gringo hipy mentality of you). Trust me, I am well aware of the situation that my parent’s tiny country endures, but your article misses the point. You should listen to the feedback you are receiving. Check out the conversation on facebbook.

  10. Carlos Alberto says:

    We cant expect someone from abroad to understand what or wich are the biggest issues in our country, nor ask them to do a complete work after a week visit, however i never felt insulted or demissed by this article, i found it very objective, it doesnt denied our problems and also recognized what is good in us.

    I do enjoy your article Katherine, and brainstorming is always good!!! (we used daily in our company) and its not “gringo hipy mentality” its a global thing lately… jejeje

    Many of us who still live in here are working daily, being social responsible, helping in many NGO (ONG… Non Gubernamental organization) to improve our lifestyle… it wont happen over night time, but hopefully if u visit us again will see some improvements.

  11. Nice to hear someone who lives in El Salvador finds this article objective. Like I said in the article, the Salvadorans I met were very good to me. You sound like a good person too Carlos Alberto.

  12. jaimeq says:

    The drug cartels in Mexico, stemming from Colombia, have taken charge of many parts in Central America, mainly: El Salvador. The ‘maras’, as you rightly point out in your article, are the pawns of the drug cartels, are handed weapons, given a way to make income, while terrorizing each other and the citizens who strive to make a good living in the country. I doubt the average Salvadorean citizen actually understands how deepened the cartels are and how much control they have over the country. They blame government officials for not doing anything about the widespread homicides, but the cartels have full address books with names, family members, addresses, etc., and police and government officials know that if they interfere or do not collaborate (when ‘respectfully’ asked to), the price they will pay will be too great. It’s truly sad. Latinos in general could have never imagined another human being easily and without concern committing some of the atrocities that are becoming routine in our countries, such as decapitations, body members being cut off, etc. Our culture of old did not allow us to ever even think of such things, because we tend to respect each other so much and with that, the human body. I don’t foresee a way for it to ever stop. Someone mentioned Egypt in the comments… Seriously? You can’t even compare. Drugs signify millions and millions of dollars to organized crime, corrupt politicians, etc. They got weapons. Average citizens don’t have anything, but a voice that can be easily silenced with the weapons the criminals have. If in the USA, a country that seems to be highly organized with a very complex government, the corruption and greed of a few people was able to give path to global widespread financial crisis that was later put on the back of tax-payers, of which tax-payers had no say, no fault, and no recourse of action…but to simply abide to what they were told to do, which was subsidize the losses of billionaires. Then, how can you expect a people in a country where laws mean almost nothing and who are greatly oppressed by their own governments already who loot without regard to the citizens, to stand against ruthless organized crime as has never been seen before and stop their way of doing business? What will it take? Peaceful demonstration? Another Civil War? … This is bigger than all that and it greatly saddens my heart to see it happening and to see to what extent of violence it has all reached. And will it get worse? Who knows…but it looks like it.

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