There’s a dark and a bright side to civil security in Latin America

Heraldo Muñoz –former director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)– wrote an article in El País to address the paradox prevailing in Latina America: how to explain the increase in crime and violence if the area experienced, between 2000 and 2010, the best period of economic growth of the last four decades?

34_america_llatinaLatin America is not currently burdened by conflict between states and has firmly established its place in an international context. It is making progress in the reduction of poverty and inequality levels, in economic growth and financial stability. The area does, however, carry the weight of violence, with over 100,000 homicides every year, according to the report on human development 2013-2014 by the UNDP.

This situation involves homicides, murders of women, thefts –particularly with the use of violence–, violence within family groups, kidnapping and people trafficking.

These social researchers [1], from the viewpoint of different fields, have stressed which factors, according to them, could explain the existence of these levels of violence, which include the following:

  • Impunity, especially in such basic concepts such as the investigation and resolution of all sorts of crimes
  • The lack of a quality public education system and very high rights of school drop-outs
  • The crisis of the family as an institution
  • The failure of the justice system [2]
  • Prisons are schools of criminality, with unpunished murders, violent riots and a great deal of corruption with the collusion of prison staff.
  • Corruption, the limited presence and inefficiency of the police. Organised crime has a high corrupting potential and this is particularly effective in areas with weak institutions.
  • Arms trafficking: the continent is believed to have more than any other part of the world.
  • The culture of violence and the lack of relevant values to generate security

Some researchers also believe the economic factor to be important, as Latin America has not been able to create enough employment to absorb those people who, year after year, seek to enter the job market. This is therefore an unstable job market because of the precarious nature of the salaries involved.

In the light of this situation, a range of initiatives are being implemented in some countries in the region. The report on human development 2013-2014 by the UNDP presents some recommendations related to a safe Latin America, which include: reducing crime and violence; applying public policies aimed atprotecting the most vulnerable victims; encouraging inclusive, fair and quality growth; reducing impunity by strengthening security and judicial institutions; increasing real opportunities for the young, and addressing and preventing gender violence through a global approach.

[1] ANGOSO, R. 11 reasons for social insecurity in Latin America [12 September 2015].

[2] According to the World Justice Project report 2014, involving 99 countries, only three countries in the region –Chile, Peru and Uruguay– are among the 40 countries in the world in accordance with the quality of their judicial system and seven countries are among the 25 most corrupt in the world.

Links of interest:

           Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL)

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