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Friday, January 29th, 2016  |  USD: Buy 531.29 / Sell 543.92
20 years

Efforts by police make Nicaragua the safest country in Central America


By Malcom Alvarez-James

August 22nd, 2014 (Diálogo) Seizures by Nicaraguan National Police of nearly 20,000 illegal firearms during a recent five year span have been a key factor in reducing the homicide rate in the country, authorities said.

Nicaraguan security forces seized more than 19,000 weapons between 2008 and 2013, according to El Nuevo Diario – including illegal pistols, machine guns, shotguns, rifles, and grenades.

In 2013 alone, Nicaraguan security forces seized 5,500 illegal weapons.

Fewer killings

The seizures of illegal firearms helped bring down the level of deadly violence in Nicaragua in 2013.

The country had a homicide rate of 11 killings per 100,000 residents in 2012. That rate dropped to 8.7 killings per 100,000 residents in 2013.

Nicaragua is the safest country in Central America as measured by homicide rates, assault victim rates and the authority and influence of national police forces, according to a 2013-2014 Human Development Regional Report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Community policing

Increased seizures of illegal firearms is not the only reason the rate of violence decreased. Under the leadership of Aminta Granera, director of the Nicaraguan National Police, the police department is emphasizing “community policing” methods, in which police officers interact closely with local neighborhoods.

Expanded police presence in neighborhoods has reduced illegal activity by gangs. By spending time in neighborhoods,

Nicaraguan police also become closer to the civilian population, earning the trust of law-abiding people who can provide information that helps authorities fight crime. Nicaragua has 13,000 police officers for a population of about 5.8 million people.

Each year, authorities add about 1,500 new police officers to the ranks of the National Police.

Fighting gun violence

Seizing illegal firearms is an important component in the fight against crime because many criminals in Nicaragua use guns to commit their offenses, said Monica Zalaquett, director of the Center for Violence Prevention in Managua.

In Nicaragua “there are a lot of crimes of robberies in which firearms . . . are generally used and there are many young people with signs of bullet injuries,” Zalaquett said.

Nicaraguan police have demonstrated their effectiveness by seizing high numbers of weapons, said Sandino Asturias, director of the Center for Guatemalan Studies (CEG) in Guatemala.

“The seizure of these weapons shows the professionalism of the police and the country’s (criminal justice) institutions,” Asturias said. “Safety programs in Nicaragua are comprehensive.”

Police in Nicaragua are “efficient” in their efforts to dismantle drug trafficking organizations and confronting weapons smugglers, the security analyst said.

There is no major Nicaraguan transnational criminal organization. Two Mexican drug trafficking organizations, the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas, operate in Nicaragua, transporting drugs through the country, often along Atlantic coastal regions. A Colombian drug trafficking group, the Norte del Valle Cartel, also operates in the country.

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  • jude

    Great article, so much villifying of Nicaragua here in Costa Rica.

  • duke ster

    Nicaragua is the scariest place on earth! Of all my worldly travels==only in Managua was I kidnapped, stabbed, beaten and robbed by taxi robber teams–DO NOT believe this article and DO NOT travel to Nicaragua if you value your life.

    • David Jones

      I can say Alajuela is the scariest place on earth since I had a gun stuck in my face by some guy while his accomplice was rifling my pockets. Never happened to me in Nicaragua. Also, most articles about Nicaragua always bring up it being the safest country in C.A. The article was a United Nations report, not Nicaragua reporting on itself. Do not travel to Alajuela if you value your life.

      • turbooperator

        El Nuevo Diario is a Nicaraguan party run newspaper. In this article are the the conclusions of Alvarez-James based on a UN report. The UN report makes no such statement. (that Nicaragua is the safest country…) The report does state “In Costa Rica, a country with low levels of murder, the homicide rate decreased by almost 15 percent between 2011 and 2012″. The UN report receives its information for the Nicaraguan National Police and the OAS. FYI

        • David Jones

          Is the Economist a Nicaraguan party run newspaper?

          • turbooperator

            No, I believe the Economist is a well respected London based “newspaper”. From the article: “Nicaragua is…..less violent than booming Panama, and may soon be safer than Costa Rica, a tourist haven”.

          • Ken Morris

            Good article, thanks.

    • disgusted

      duke ster, What a horror story. I can understand your warning . It is so personal

    • John

      Managua is not all Nicaragua. Been here a year, guess what? I’m still alive.

    • SarongGoddess

      That’s REALLY unfortunate you experienced that Duke.
      I would like to know if you had been drinking when this happened as that seems to be a them around the world often when people have problems with taxi drivers.

      I’ve been doing my Visa Runs in Nicaragua for over 5 years – that’s 4+ times a year. I’ve traveled solo on most of my trips – & I feel LOTS “safer” in Nicaragua than I do in CR overall (maybe it’s because of ALL the stories MANY have shared with me of things that have happened to them which happens because of my blog).

      For starters – IF you see bars on windows or barbed wire – MAYBE it’s on the first level only. I have hardly ever seen guards with big guns standing in front of non-expensive stores let alone malls.

      Heck, most people I know when they go on vacation trust their housekeeper or groundsman so much they leave them there to watch their house or pets! Even in the gringo community.

      In San Juan del Sur MANY people leave their front door open to the street (kind an invitation to come on in) & they go about doing their thing – sometimes hanging out right there in the livingroom – sometimes going to the kitchen – but that door is often still left open.

      2 years ago I left my cell phone on the arm of a sofa in a little cheapo hostal ON the main street as you enter town – door wide open. & when I returned the owner had moved it onto the coffee table – 2 HOURS later.

      Sure there’s crime – there’s crime anywhere – but – I can just say for ME – a 57 years young female – I overall feel LOTS safer in Nicaragua when I’m traveling there & this year so far I’ve spent 2 months in total there & in ’13 – 3 months.

      #1 way I’ve found to avoid being a “victim” (based on MANY people owning the truth when they got rolled) – don’t get drunk & stupid. Come on, MOST of us have done it at some time – especially on vacation. Admit it!

      #2 – Keep your Street/Life Smarts about you (& you’re more of a book smarts than Life Smarts kinda – don’t have much Street/Life Smarts – hire a driver TO help keep an eye on you).

      #3 – Don’t walk around with ANY watch or jewelry or designer clothes on – let alone flashy bling stuff – PERIOD!!! I don’t care if it’s “only” a $50 knock-off – it’s bling & has some value to someone – even if it’s just $5.

      #4 – Don’t go “advertising”/boasting about ANYTHING you have – be it in your home country or where you’re living. That includes a $200 backpack & NorthFace hiking shoes, a nice car, a nice home, a good job, etc.

      #5 – If you’re going to do a hooker, do NOT have her go back to your room where your stuff is (& where she can slip you a Mickey & take your things).

      True, crime is EVERYWHERE in the world – but I think (from what MANY have shared with me with THEIR experiences), the BIGGEST difference between crime in the rest of the world & CR is it’s SOOOO RARE for criminals to even get caught in CR, let alone prosecuted, let alone put in jail. It sure seems that the cops hands are tied with the limits on what they can even do.

  • turbooperator

    pura paja, Nica propaganda. I just read the report twice ( I will read again) and saw nothing to suggest Nicaragua is the safest country. The only reason statistically they have a lower robbery rate is that nobody has anything worth stealing there.

  • Ken Morris

    The core claim of this article really can’t be disputed. Data on homicide rates are very difficult to fudge, since dead bodies are pretty darn easy to count. (This is why criminologists often use the homicide rates as their core data.) The difficulties always arise when it comes to counting other kinds of crimes, like being robbed by cab drivers. Here reporting is often faulty, as can be government collection methods. Meanwhile, even the best crime statistics can often be misleading for the average person, since crimes aren’t randomly distributed but concentrated in certain areas and populations. Basically, regardless of the data, YMMV.

    The puzzling thing to me though is that this article purports to explain Nicaragua’s relatively low homicide rate by its success in confiscating guns and good policing. Both of these are interpretations of the data, not facts, and it doesn’t seem right to present interpretations as facts in other than an opinion piece.

    Actually, the evidence for an association between rates of gun ownership and the homicide rate is at best mixed in cross-national studies. Some societies have high rates of gun ownership but low homicide rates, others the reverse. Similarly, it’s simply not clear that police have much of an effect on crime rates, mainly because the cops tend to be called only after a crime has already happened. They rarely prevent crime in the first place.

    Besides this, I don’t have much of an opinion, but a fair amount of curiosity. The homicide data are not fabricated, and it seems true that Nicaragua has done better than even CR in keeping the drug gangs at bay. However, I don’t know why, and suspect that some kinds of crime (usually petty theft) are quite high in Nicaragua. I think it is true that the Nicaraguan police tend to operate with more professionalism than many other police forces, and are generally liked and respected by the Nicas, so this counts for something. Yet it’s also a pretty authoritarian state these days, it’s hard for some not to suspect that the police are sometimes taking orders, and authoritarianism itself can be associated with low crime rates (e.g., Nazi Germany).

    The only thing I’m convinced of is that Nica national character is not accepting of crime, and the only way I can explain the Tico prejudice that Nicas are crime-prone is in terms of the normal prejudice the more affluent have against the less affluent. My experience has been that on the average Nicas are more honest and otherwise of better characters than Ticos–at least to me. But the data also show this in general, so it’s not just me. However, there are of course bad Nicas too, plus Nicas are on the average poorer so they can sometimes rationalize crime more easily. Nicas also don’t have the pacifist tradition that Ticos have, so you can’t assume that a Nica won’t be violent with the same degree of certainty that you can assume that about a Tico. It’s therefore as always a mixed bag. Even so, it has never suprised me that Nicaragua gets pretty decent marks on crime, since my experience with Nicas tells me that crime is simply not part of their culture or character.

    • turbooperator

      I am reminded of the time my wife sold some clothes to a young Nica couple on credit during one of her “yard” sales. They came back a few hours later and returned $135us that they had found in one of the items of clothing. They stated that they could not keep it as it was not their money. My wife offered them $20 which they did not accept.They made regular payments and paid off the purchase.

      • disgusted

        Now those are the kind of people with character.

      • Ken Morris

        Yeah, this is remarkable even for Nicas.

        In fairness, one explanation for this may be the way your wife treated the couple initially. Although there are plenty of exceptions, in general people treat others the way that others treat them. I’m betting that your wife was good to the couple, so they were good to her in return.

        The reason I mention this is my suspicion that some of the Tico prejudice against Nicas is actually a consequence of that prejudice. Nicas are not unaware that many Ticos harbor prejudices against them, and at least privately some Nicas admit that they don’t like Ticos either. Given this mutual animosity, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nicas actually are less honest and upright with their dealings with Ticos than say with gringos. When you already resent someone, it is probably quite easy to rationalize theft or whatever. My suspicion is therefore that Nicas may act more badly toward Ticos than others, which if true reinforces the initial Tico prejudice against them by grounding it in fact.

        Though Nicas and Ticos share a long history together–there are lots of friendships and even marriages between the nationalities–so I doubt that many Nicas in Costa Rica wear their anti-Tico prejudice on their sleeves. However, I bet they are quite sensitive to hints of prejudice from a Tico, and thus how they are treated by any given Tico probably influences how they treat the Tico.

        That is, with Nicas especially I think the law of reciprocity operates. If you treat them fairly and with respect, you usually get the same treatment in return. I’m betting your wife treated the couple fairly and with respect.

        • turbooperator

          Well said Ken! you caught, and expanded on, the essence of my post. My wife (a Tica as you may recall) grew up with the usual Nica prejudice but always treats everyone the same, as you state, fairly and with respect, and we usually receive the same in return. Nicas o no this was remarkable.

          • turbooperator

            While discussing this article with family and friends one Tico commented ” of course crime is down in Nicaragua, they all come here to rob and steal”.

          • John

            Nah…They are smarter then that. They go there, squat on fincas, then after awhile they are legally given the property they are squatting on. That’s not robbing and stealing.

          • SarongGoddess

            John, you’re saying Nica’s have Squatters Rights in CR??? ALL the people I’ve talked to that have had problems with squatters – those squatters were Ticos.


    Crime typically appears where easy money can be taken. Costa Rica has more tourists. Therefore Costa Rica has more crime. Much of it goes unreported here. Ticos know tourists will leave after vacation. In orer to be convicted, a tourist must stary for the process. Most do not. Items stolen with under $1000 in total value dont get much creedence as a real “crime” here. These policies have caused an open assault on tourists, and little is ever done. In other words it has become institutionalized in Tico culture to steal.

    • Myrna

      I am reminded of a comment of a Costa Rican shop keeper to a customer “we have the right to steal”.
      I also was mugged close to the San Pedro Mall and required 7 stitches in my head.

    • duke ster

      You have made an important observation however I learned from living in S. Beach Miami ( where it is largely populated with Cubans) that a Cuban male was highly favored by his family when he had returned home from a successful day out stealing and proudly showed his family all that he had stolen. It’s the Latin culture which is wholly awash with this thieving mentality. and even a property developer from Ecuador who had a campaign to draw buyers to his properties and towns, reported in one of his sales stories, that the major flaw in the culture is their stealing. Latins steal!!! Period!!! If anyone wants to deny this fact–get your head out of your ass. Deny the obvious if you want to –bleeding heart asswipes.Latins Steal–they LIE as easily as they breath. They cheat-they will deny culpability in everything. They are-by and large–a shit culture. Not every one–My experience is that anyone from any culture who has a good heart and has been raised correctly will be an upstanding person. But as a culture–Latins steal!!!! They LIE–They do everything they can to get over on another person. They are selfish. Only me me me is their mantra.

  • Chuck Bolotin

    Interesting article.

    Here’s a site on the same topic that has great “no spin” information provided by expats:

    It has hundreds answers (including answers about safety) to questions
    about living in Nicaragua, doing business there, or just visiting:

    There’s also a location advisor that helps people determine the best place to move:
    as well as a section called Expat Stories:

  • disgusted

    My friends brother is a Captain there. He is not a very nice person. When they have thieves, robbers and whoever. They do a slam against the concrete walls, book him and tell them if seen again the same. When he was at Rivas crime and all went down. Now he in in the capital city doing the same thing. What I like retuburtion is immediate and hard knocks. The police there take no crap from anyone. Lesson CR whooziee police dept, OIJ could learn.

  • toolman78

    Both countries have problems with crime, which one doesn’t? But one major difference that I’ve noticed is that Nicaraguan police have a reputation for seeking justice, forcibly if necessary. And Costa Rican police, just the opposite. Part of the problem here in CR is that the Fuerza Publica has almost no rights to do anything if they aren’t on the scene of the crime as it’s happening. If you call them after the fact, there’s very little point in calling the police other to get the crime on record.

  • duke ster

    Here is a warning about Nicaragua–specifically Managua. Do NOT under any circumstances take a taxi unless it is called by your upscale hotel and they recommend the driver. In Costa Rica you can safely take a taxi–in Managua you will be robbed , beaten, knifed, and whatever else it takes for the Taxi teams of robbers to get what they want from you. As I learned too late ( from reading blogs on “Lonely Planet”) This is the norm in Nicaragua. Taxi Robbers. I saw a taxi stop in front of us with an older woman in the back, a younger woman in the front and an acquaintance and I got in because the older woman beckoned us to share a ride .She was trying to talk to us earlier on the street and I thought maybe this is how they do in Nicaragua, share taxis. As the taxi drove a short distance the taxi stopped and a young guy squeezed in the back with us 3, I thought he was a bit weird as he seemed to sit partially on my side, and arm, in effect trapping my arm. Then rather quickly the taxi drove a short distance and another bigger guy jumped in the front seat and lept over to the back, further pinning me down as he began hitting me-my other arm was trapped by the older woman on my left. I couldn’t raise an arm to defend myself. The frightening part was as my hat was pilled down so I couldn’t see, I was able to see a police pickup stop next to us while we were being held and beaten, then the police pickup took off. This showed me that the robber or robbers were probably off duty cops or at the very least were now going to have to give these cops a cut so we got beaten even worse for trying to shout for the cops to help us. Finally after an hour we were released because the robbers couldn’t get my bank card to work in the cask machines ( Thank God !!!!) They threw my passport back to me and enough money to get another taxi back to the hotel– apparently they wanted us to leave the country as fast as possible. We did call the police after they released us next to a church -when the cops responded I was even more afraid as the look on the face of the responding Police Captain was even scarier than the robbers’. He was a very scary guy and I am sure he would have done us in if we wanted to go to the station to identify the robbers from a photo book– I just knew better than to tell him I wanted to report this at the station. It was very obvious he hated us badly. He was probably the one who drove by earlier–I don’t know but I do know Costa Rica is much much safer than Nicaragua. I haven’t ever heard of anyone kidnapped by taxi driver teams in downtown San Jose and I lived right dead center downtown San Jose for years. As far as I can tell, Nicaragua is the wild wild west and very dangerous. Very few cops and the ones that are there can be corrupted very easily I am sure. Now I am not speaking against the people of Nicaragua as such,I do know the Nicas as hard working people, but if there is extreme poverty and few police– you can just imagine what happens.

    • Ken Morris

      Yeah, important personal story and advice. Although I have personally taken taxis in Managua without any problem, a Nica buddy there warned me not to. I asked him whether the stories of the taxi robbers weren’t exaggerated. He only said, “Well, it happens to foreigners, and better safe than sorry.” Unfortunately, it is only prudent to avoid the taxis in Managua, unless you have some good reason to believe that the driver can be trusted, usually because the driver was called and is known by someone else you trust.

  • John

    I live in Granada..moved here a year ago after 7 years in Costa Rica. I take cabs when in Managua. Get in, get to my destination, pay..that’s it.
    Sometimes I’ll walk to my hotel at night from a bar with no problem at all. Something I would never have done in San Jose. My brother in law, who came to visit, had his camera stolen while he slept on a bus in CR, How he told everyone back in NA how he got Robbed on the bus.

  • jal maraz

    Nicaragua is not safe. Don’t let the article fool you. The police are corrupt. They take away weapons and sell them back and take them away again. Ortega pays a PR firm in California to get these articles placed.

  • Best Places To Live in The Wor

    I am reminded of the time my wife sold some clothes to a young Nica couple on credit during one of her “yard” sales. They came back a few hours later and returned $135us that they had found in one of the items of clothing. They stated that they could not keep it as it was not their money. My wife offered them $20 which they did not accept.They made regular payments and paid off the purchase.

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