Vieques, Puerto Rico, Murder Rate Highest in the World


EspañolThis week the El Vocero newspaper reported murder number 16 for 2013 on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. Then a possible 17th occurred at the Fajardo Courthouse, when gunmen from a moving vehicle opened fire and killed a woman entering the courthouse parking lot. Published reports indicate the shooting was drug related and the woman was a resident of Vieques.

In the grand scheme of things, 16 murders in 10 months may not seem like such a big deal. However, when you consider the population of the Vieques — less than 10,000 — it starts coming into perspective. After reading the Vocero report, I did a little research and found that the murder rate on Vieques is actually the highest reported murder rate in the world by about 100 percent (when compared to nations).

Normally when calculating a murder rate you take the total population and divide it by 100,000. Let’s say you have a population of one million, and you have 100 murders in a year or given time frame. To calculate your murder rate you divide the population by 100,000 (1,000,000/100,000), which gives you 10. You then use that number (10) to divide your murders (100 murders/10), and you get a murder rate of 10.

In the case of Vieques, the sample is too small to calculate down, so you have to extrapolate the number by multiplying up. Statisticians will tell you that you have a less reliable number, given the smaller sample size. True, a larger community would enable a better comparison, but the rate remains the best data point we have to compare Vieques’s murder rate to elsewhere.

So in the case of Vieques, it would be 10,000 times the number needed to reach 100,000. You would then need to use that same factor to increase your murder numbers to match the larger number: 16 x 10 = 160. So the extrapolated murder rate for the island of Vieques Puerto Rico is 160 per 100,000.

Let that sink in a bit, and then look at these statistics from 2011: the top 20 countries in terms of murders.

The 20 Most Homicidal Countries in the World

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It’s bad enough that Puerto Rico came in at number 19, with a murder rate over 26 per 100,000 residents. The highest official number, however, went to Honduras, with a murder rate of just over 82 per 100,000. When you consider the global murder numbers the Vieques murder rate takes on a whole new and frightful dimension: 160/100 thousand versus 82/100 thousand.

The cause? The war on drugs. Plain and simple.

When the US Navy closed down Roosevelt Roads and its range on Vieques, the infrastructure that was used for defense training, which had a dual purpose of anti-drug operations, left. From that moment on, criminal drug organizations which had always kept an eye out for Federal assets had a much freer rein in the land, air, and sea on the eastern end of Puerto Rico. With those criminal organizations, comes enforcement.

The mafia soldiers keep order by blood. Defy the local boss, try to compete, threaten to tell or even associate with someone who might and you get an instant death penalty. No trial, no jury, no appeal; execution plain and simple.

While I did serve as the public affairs officer for Roosevelt Roads and would not mind seeing the base itself return, that alone will not solve the problems on Vieques. Only legalizing, regulating, and taxing drugs will end the associated violence and corruption — and this can only occur under independence.

There is yet another aspect of the Vieques situation that continues to boggle the mind. After the accidental death of one security guard after 60 years of live ammunition training on the eastern end of the island, thousands of people, politicians, actors, artists, and even reporters violated federal law to occupy the bombing range in order to get it to close down.

After years of trying, they succeeded. The range and the base with its 5,000 jobs closed.

Yet the murders of 16 people in 10 months have received almost no media attention. No protests, no new laws, no new regulations, no attempts to occupy the local housing project or the homes of the drug lords. How is it possible that one accidental death in 60 years holds more political clout than the murders of 16?

That is something to really think about.

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