Earlier this week a man fleeing at least one gunman tried to hide in a Mexican church. The assassins followed him inside and in the frenzy that followed two Jesuit priests were murdered as they tried to protect him.
The gunmen removed the bodies of all three of their victims from the church in Cerocahui, Chihuahua state, and took them away.
But the Society of Jesus was quickly alerted to the murders of Fathers Javier Campos Morales and Joaquín César Mora Salazar, who had served as Jesuit priests for nearly a century combined, and they immediately asked for police protection for other priests in the district.
To the Jesuits, the murders of the priests and “the prevailing violence” besetting the resident population carried the hallmarks of drug-related organised crime convulsing the country and which is to blame for most of the 120,000 homicides carried out in the last four years, the bloodiest period in Mexican history.
The situation is so dire that the list of the most violent 10 cities in the world is now topped and dominated by those from Mexico, the worst of them all being Tijuana, the country’s second city, which straddles the border with the United States.
It is the birthplace and headquarters of the Tijuana Cartel, a gang notorious for drug smuggling and human trafficking. The latest figures reveal a murder rate of 138 people per 100,000 population.
Compare this rate to London, one of the most violent cities in the UK, where last year there were 119 murders in a population of 8.6 million people. The English capital appears to be a haven of peace and safety in comparison.
Tijuana had the highest murder rate of any city in the world in both 2021 and 2019 though the Brazilian city of Belem, the “gateway to the Amazon”, had more murders in 2020 following a bizarre spike in violent deaths there.
The Mexican city of Acapulco was the second most dangerous in the world for 2021 with a murder rate of 111 people per 100,000 inhabitants.
Ciudad Victoria and Ciudad Juárez were jointly in fourth and fifth places with a rate of 86, and Irapuato was in sixth place with a rate of 81. It means that five of the top six most dangerous cities in the world in 2021 were all in Mexico.
No-one appears immune to the awful culture of violence. Clergy who have fallen victim include Father Gumersindo Cortés González, the parish priest of Cristo Rey in Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, who disappeared on Saturday, March 27 and was found dead in his car the next day.
According to the police, he had been shot. The Diocese of Celaya lamented his death as one of many innocent casualties of drugs gangs who are inflicting stealing, robbing, blackmailing, beating and murdering local people with increasing frequency.
Another Mexican priest was murdered last year as he prepared to celebrate Mass. Father Juan Antonio Orozco Alvarado, a Franciscan, died on the morning of June 12 in Tepehuana de Pajaritos when armed members of the Jalisco Nueva Generación cartel and the Sinaloa cartel attacked each other.
The priest, who was only 33 years old and had begun pastoral work in the area just six months earlier, was caught in the crossfire as he and a small group of Catholics made their way to church.
Less than a month later, Simón Pedro Pérez López, an indigenous Tzozil and a catechist of the parish of Santa Catarina, in Pantelho, in the Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas was murdered by a stranger on a motorcycle who shot him in the head.
He was at the market in Simojovel with his son when the attack took place and he later died in hospital.
Because he was a defender of the rights of indigenous peoples, police suspect there may have been a political motive for his killing, which was also the view of the Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas.
“May the blood of Simón Pedro and of all the murdered people be the seed for the liberation of indigenous children who suffer marginalization, persecution and displacement,” said a statement from the diocese. “The blood cries out for peace, the blood cries out for justice but never cries out for revenge.”
Bishop Ramón Castro Castro of Cuernavaca said that the problem of organised crime appears intractable because is facilitated by endemic state corruption.
He said that within his own southern State of Morelos criminal gangs operate with impunity, often extorting money from the local population and sometimes beating or murdering those who are unable to pay loans taken out at high rates of interest.
“Organised crime is becoming a real cancer,” the bishop said, adding that murders are now so prolific that they often happen in public places and in the daytime. “Most of these murders occur due to non-payment,” he said.
But Mexico is by no means alone when it comes to this kind of bloodshed. Venezuela also stands out for its murderous violence, with three of its cities ranked among the most dangerous in the world.
Figures for 2021 rank Caracas, the capital, the third most violent city in the world with a murder rate of 100 people for every 100,000 inhabitants.
Ciudad Guayana is in seventh place, with a murder rate of 74 people per 100,000 inhabitants, and Ciudad Bolívar has scraped into the tenth place with a murder rate of 69 people per 100,000 inhabitants.
Violence is everywhere and clergy and religious are among the victims too. In January last year, for instance, Luigi Manganiello, a 49-year-old De La Salle Brother, was bludgeoned to death by thieves stealing from the premises of the school in the centre of Barquisimeto where he was working. It was the second murder at the school in just five years.
Three months earlier, Father José Manuel de Jesus Ferreira, parish priest of the Diocesan Eucharistic Shrine of San Juan Bautista in Cojedes, died in hospital after he was gunned down in broad daylight when he tried to assist a woman who was being robbed and was shot.
Yet neither Mexico nor Venezuela are the most dangerous countries in the world, or even in Latin America. That accolade goes to El Salvador. According to Statista, an overall murder rate of 83 people per 100,000 inhabitants – for the entire country – make the Central American nation the most murderous country in the world.
El Salvador, a failed Marxist utopia like Venezuela, differs perhaps from other countries because the culture of violence and murder, often political, is endemic in all areas and not confined mostly to its major conurbations. Indeed, none of its major cities are included in the list of the top 10 most dangerous cities the world and only one, the capital San Salvador, is listed in the top 25.
All ten of the most dangerous cities in the world are located in Latin America and they are all in nominally Catholic countries. Two Brazilian cities – Natal and Fortaleza – are in eighth and nine place respectively.
Of the top 25 most dangerous cities in the world all bar one – Cape Town in South Africa (11th place with 66 murders per 100,000 population) – are in the Americas.
Nine are in Mexico, seven are in Brazil, four are in Venezuela, one in El Salvador, one in Jamaica (Kingston) and two in the United States.
The most dangerous city in the United States is St Louis, Missouri, which has a murder rate of 61 per 100,000 population – more than 10 times the national murder rate – and the second is Baltimore, Maryland, which has a rate of 51. They rank 15th and 23rd in the top 25 most dangerous cities in the world respectively.
In each of these two cities most of the violent crimes again are gang and drugs-related and are largely confined to specific geographical locations held as territories by organised criminals who recruit from the local populations.
Again, illegal drugs, as in Mexico and other parts of the Latin American world, appear to feature prominently in the ongoing murders of the innocent and in the corruption of the youth. They are truly the scourge of the poor.
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