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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Puerto Rico poised to surpass homicide record

Puerto Rico is having its deadliest year on record as authorities struggle to control a rampant drug war on the U.S. Caribbean territory.

Police said Wednesday that three people died overnight in separate incidents, raising the year's homicide toll to 995 on the island of 4 million people. That matches a 1994 record with six weeks left to go in the year.

Local authorities say 70 percent of the killings are drug related, and Pedro Toledo, who was chief of the police department in 1994, said violence has increased partly because drug traffickers are now being paid with weapons instead of money and because many youths in public housing complexes see selling drugs as a quick way to make money.

"We have a generation of young people who are violent, who take a gun and shoot, killing indiscriminately because they are expendable," Toledo said. "This is a generation that is going to be very hard to straighten out."

Both the unemployment and homicide rates in Puerto Rico are higher than in any U.S. state. The island's rate of 22.5 killings per 100,000 people is double that of Louisiana, according to a recent federal report.

Police make an arrest in only 43 percent of killings, compared with a U.S. national average of 66 percent, according to the report, which also accused the police department of corruption, unlawful killings and civil rights violations. more