San Salvador (AFP) - Central America's so-called Northern Triangle -- Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras -- recorded a total 17,422 murders in 2015, 11 percent higher than for 2014, according to preliminary police tallies.
The figures released this week confirmed the region's reputation for the worst homicide rates in the world outside of war zones, driven by gangs that wage vicious turf battles and seek to exert brutal control over citizens.
The everyday danger of violent death has helped push many residents in those countries to try to emigrate to the United States.
"The rising death tally in the Northern Triangle is shameful and clearly shows that the social conflict is major and needs regional efforts to confront it," a Salvadoran analyst and university professor, Roberto Canas, told AFP.
According to the police numbers, El Salvador was the country mainly responsible for the Northern Triangle increase.
It had 104 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants last year, for a murder toll of 6,657 -- a staggering 67-percent jump on the figures for 2014.
That propelled El Salvador to the top of the list of countries with the highest murder rate -- overtaking even Venezuela, whose rate jumped 12 percent to 90 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
Honduras was still very dangerous with 57 murders per 100,000 people, calculated from the 5,047 murders it recorded in 2015. But that was a decrease from 2014, when its murder rate was 68 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Guatemala's rate for 2015 was little unchanged: 36 homicides per 100,000 people, with 5,718 murders -- slightly less than the 38 per 100,000 rate recorded in 2014.
By way of comparison, per 100,000 inhabitants, Britain's homicide rate is around one, the United States' is around four, and Brazil's is around 25, according to the latest available data from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
In an bid to stem immigration from Central America, the United States has started raiding homes to round up and deport migrants who have failed to convince courts to let them stay.
At the same time, the US government has allocated $750 million to the Northern Triangle countries to try to improve security and prosperity this year, in an effort to mitigate the violence prompting would-be migrants to leave.