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October 9, 2012

The world's 10 deadliest cities

Living in Latin America, it seems, can be hazardous to your health. A combination of drugs, organized crime and governments that are, at times, ill-equipped to handle the challenge has proved to be lethal, leaving a trail of violence through cities up and down the Americas, from Brazil to Honduras to Mexico, according to a Mexican think tank, the Citizens' Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice. According to its rankings, the 10 cities with the world's highest homicide rates are all in Latin America. Latin American municipalities make up 40 of the top 50 murder capitals, and it's not until No. 21 that a city outside Latin America makes an appearance. This comes with a caveat: The study only included cities for which statistics about homicides were available, which means cities facing bloody civil wars for which statistics are hard to come by — like Aleppo, Syria — won't be on the list.

Foreign Policy has put together a look at some of the violence that has become a daily feature of life in these cities. We've also included some cities outside Latin America that made the top 50 for a look at how the factors behind the violence differ in some cases — and in others, remain depressingly the same.

No. 1: San Pedro Sula, Honduras

When Colombia cracked down on its notorious drug trade in the late 1980s, the traffic moved north to Mexico. But since President Felipe Calderón declared war on the drug cartels in 2006, the next stop for traffickers has been Honduras. Almost 80 percent of the cocaine working its way up from South America to North America now stops in Honduras, bringing an onslaught of drug- and gang-related violence with it. Honduras' homicide rate is currently the world's highest — and, as written about in the November 2012 issue of Foreign Policy, San Pedro Sula's homicide rate is the highest in Honduras, at 159 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011. By comparison, Detroit's murder rate is a paltry 48 per 100,000 residents. Located in northwestern Honduras, San Pedro Sula is the country's main industrial center and second-largest city, after the capital. But lately, the city's economic role has been largely overshadowed by violence. Examples of gruesome massacres abound, including one in a park last year that took the lives of four people, including a 22-year-old primary-school teacher.

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