SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico has recorded 131 homicides so far this year, up 22.5 percent from the same period in 2015, authorities said Monday after a weekend that saw 10 people slain.
“There has been an increase in murders in the first months of the year. That is real. The statistics are there, clear and transparent,” Puerto Rico Police Department director Jose Caldero said in an interview with NotiUno radio.
At the same time, he expressed confidence that “in the next few months we can recover and that the progress we are making in criminal investigations will bring about a significant reduction (of killings).”
Caldero pointed out that the PRPD has noted a surge in homicides unrelated to drug trafficking, traditionally the main cause of violent deaths in the island.
“For example (over the weekend) we had a case of homicide as a result of a dispute over right of way between a person who was driving a car and another who was riding a horse,” he said. “We had another … among people who had had already a number of confrontations related to one partner’s being with someone else.”
“We have seen a substantial increase in this type of homicides over the first two months of the year,” the police chief said.
Suicides are also on the rise, with 36 since Jan. 1, 38 percent more than at the same point last year, according to statistics from the Puerto Rico Police Department.
Authorities have noted a expansion in domestic violence that they suspect is connected to the social deterioration that has accompanied a decade-long recession, PRPD chief Jose Caldero said in a recent interview with EFE.
Traditionally, the drug trade has been the source of most of the violence in Puerto Rico, with young males making up the majority of murder victims.
Efforts to crack down on drugs were reflected in a steep decline in the number of homicides, which fell from a record 1,164 in 2011 to half that total last year.
“The murders that have happened in recent weeks have to do with family interaction,” Caldero said, adding that many killings are connected “with the people’s mental health and with lack of tolerance.”
Puerto Rico has an unemployment rate twice that of any U.S. state and has seen 10 percent of its population leave over the last 10 years.