Venezuela ranked the lowest in the world for perceptions of security in a recent Gallup poll, while citizens in Ecuador reported feeling considerably safer than four years ago, illustrating changing security perceptions amid constant shifts in the region's criminal landscape.
According to the results of Gallup's 2013 Law and Order Index -- which is based on a poll measuring self-reported theft, confidence in local police, and perceptions of personal safety -- fewer citizens in Latin America and the Caribbean reported feeling safe in their communities than residents of any other region in the world.
Venezuelans reported feeling the least secure of any country worldwide, with fewer than 20 percent of respondents saying they felt safe walking alone at night in their community. Additionally, 22 percent of respondents said they or someone in their household had been a victim of theft in the past 12 months.
Venezuela, Honduras and El Salvador all saw four-point drops in their index ratings compared to 2009 (see Gallup chart). Bolivia and Peru saw improvements in their scores, but both countries still ranked near the bottom of the regional list.
On the other end of the spectrum, Ecuador's index rating shot up 14 points compared to 2009, and Nicaragua, Panama, and Chile also improved their scores considerably, coming in at the top of the list.
InSight Crime Analysis
Perceptions of security are formed from of a complex set of factors and do not always correlate with homicide rates and other crime indicators. Depending on the questions asked and the population surveyed, different polls can also produce drastically different results. A 2012 survey conducted by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP - pdf), for example, found Ecuador to have the fifth worst perception of security in the region, after Peru, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Haiti, while Honduras had one of the best.
Venezuela's ranking as one of the countries perceived as most dangerous according to both polls is unsurprising. It has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, with 79 murders per 100,000 people in 2013, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence. Feelings of insecurity have also likely been fueled by an ongoing political and economic crisis as opposition groups seek to oust the current administration.
The five countries with the best security perceptions in the Gallup poll are also those with the lowest murder rates in the region. However, even here the correlation is not always straightforward, as seen with the conflicting results for Ecuador in the Gallup and LAPOP polls. This could be partly due to differing security indicators. Although Ecuador has a relatively low homicide rate, the country saw one of the highest numbers of kidnappings in the region between 2009 and 2011, and last year robberies were the most common cause of homicides in capital city Quito.