efe-epaRio de Janeiro

Under the slogan "Instinct for Life," a group of Latin American NGOs presented Monday in Rio de Janeiro a campaign that seeks to reduce by half the number of homicides in the region and save 365,000 lives over the next 10 years, some 180,000 of them in Brazil, the world's leader in lethal violence.

"Instinct for Life" is backed by 30 government organizations in seven Latin American countries, and plans to mobilize state agencies and citizens to cut the violence rate throughout the region.

The figures are chilling: Latin America has a mere 8 percent of the world population but is responsible for 38 percent of global homicides, and if urgent measures are not taken, the regional murder rate could leap from 21 to 35 lives taken for every 100,000 inhabitants, according to the NGOs.

The project is a joint effort of organizations in Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil, with the latter topping the list of the most violent countries with more than 60,000 homicides per year.

One out of every 10 murder victims in the world is Brazilian, and at least 50 million Brazilians, around 35 percent of the population, have had a family member or friend slain, and 17 percent have someone close to them among the missing, according to a survey taken by the Datafolha firm for the Brazilian Public Safety Forum.

In addition, close to 16 million people, around 12 percent of respondents, had a loved one killed by a security agent or a police officer.

The problem affects the black population even more, among whom 38 percent lost a friend or family member to homicide, compared with 27 percent of whites, with the greatest violence in poor areas like those in the northwestern and midwestern parts of the country.

Some 64 percent of the population acknowledges that most victims of violence in Brazil are young, black males.

The majority of those consulted - 56 percent - agree that police should occupy the shantytowns to deal with organized crime, though almost all of them - 93 percent - agree that police should save lives above all else.

"The 'denormalization' of violence in this country is a necessary step toward being able to implement the plans to reduce homicides," said Ilona Szabo, director of the Igarape Institute, one of the non-government organizations promoting the project.

The first activity of the "Instinct for Life" campaign is to launch the Web site "Vivos en Nosotros," whose goal is to keep the memory of homicide victims alive and become an instrument of pressure on the government to enact urgent measures to halt the violence.