Crime and Violence in Latin America

Crime and Violence in Latin America

Latin American nations have long been considered amongst the most violent societies in the world. [ [ The Republic :: Latin American apartheid ] ] Crime and violence is affecting the life of millions of people in Latin America. Social injustice is considered one of the major causes of violence in Latin AmericaFact|date=February 2008, where the State fails to prevent crime and organized crime takes over State control in areas where the State is unable to assist the society such as in impoverished communities. In the years following the transitions from authoritarianism to democracy, crime and violence have become major problems in Latin America. Several studies indicated the existence of an epidemic in the region.Fact|date=February 2008 Apart from the humanitarian dimensions, the rise in crime and violence has imposed significant social costs and has made much more difficult the processes of economic and social development, democratic consolidation and regional integration in the Americas. [ LAII: Crime, Violence and Democracy in Latin America ] ]

Consequences for the region

High rates of crime and violence in Latin America are undermining growth, threatening human welfare, and impeding social development, according to World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). [ [,,contentMDK:21320803~pagePK:146736~piPK:226340~theSitePK:258554,00.html Latin America and Caribbean - Crime, Violence, and Development: Trends, Costs, and Policy Options in the Caribbean ] ] Latin America is caught in a vicious circle, where economic growth is thwarted by high crime rates, and insufficient economic opportunity contributes to high crime. Crime and violence thrives as the rule of law is weak, economic opportunity is scarce, and education is poor, Therefore, effectively addressing crime requires a holistic, multi-sectoral approach that addresses its root social, political, and economic causes.

Recent statistics indicate that crime is becoming the biggest problem in Latin America. In Colombia, one person was murdered every 2 hours of 2005. [] . In Mexico, armed gangs of rival drug smugglers have been fighting it out with one another, thus creating new hazards in rural areas.

Crime is extremely high in all of the major cities in Brazil. Wealthy citizens have had to provide for their own security. In large parts of Rio de Janeiro, armed criminal gangs are said to be in control. The city of São Paulo is also very dangerous. Crime statistics were high in El Salvador, Guatemala and Venezuela during 1996. The police have not been able to handle the work load and the military have been called in to assist in these countries. There was a very distinct crime wave happening in Latin America. [ [ Security Problems in Latin America ] ]

Crime is slowing economic growth and undermining democratic consolidation in Latin America.Fact|date=February 2008 Today, Latin America has the dubious distinction of being one of the most violent regions in the world, with crime rates more than double the world average and comparable to rates in war-torn regions of Africa and Middle East.Fact|date=February 2008 This is taking a tremendous toll on development in the region by both affecting economic growth and public faith in democracy. Despite significant strides toward democracy over the last two decades, economic growth is largely stagnant and democratic consolidation scarce. Since the mid-1990s, growth rates in the region have averaged around two to three percent, which is inadequate for reducing current levels of poverty.

The Inter-American Development Bank estimates that Latin America's per capita Gross Domestic Product would be twenty-five percent higher if the region's crime rates were equal to the world average.Updateneed Similarly, the World Bank has identified a strong correlation between crime and income inequality. Business associations in the region rank crime as the number one issue negatively affecting trade and investment. Latin America is caught in a vicious circle, where economic growth is thwarted by high crime rates, and insufficient economic opportunity contributes to high crime. Crime-related violence also represents the most important threat to public health, striking more victims than HIV/AIDS or other infectious diseases. [ [ Crime Hinders Development, Democracy in Latin America, U.S. Says - US Department of State ] ]

Public faith in democracy itself is under threat as governments are perceived as unable to deliver basic services such as public security. A United Nations report last year revealed that only 43 percent of Latin Americans are fully supportive of democracy.Fact|date=February 2008 Crime has rapidly risen to the top of the list of citizen concerns in Latin America. As the Economist magazine described it, "in several Latin American countries, 2004 will be remembered as the year in which the people rose up in revolt against crime."Fact|date=February 2008 Massive street marches such as those that took place in Argentina, Mexico, and Brazil, and other expressions of protest against violence, have made it increasingly difficult for politicians to avoid dealing with the issue and, in many countries, have made tackling crime a central theme in political party platforms across the region. Several leaders in the region, including El Salvador's Tony Saca, Ricardo Maduro in Honduras, Guatemala's Óscar Berger, and Álvaro Uribe in Colombia, have all campaigned on a strong anti-crime message. The Presidents of Honduras and El Salvador have called gangs "(maras)" as big a threat to national security in their countries as terrorism is to the United States.

Possible causes

Crime levels are rising rather than falling despite enormous investments in public and private security and a marked increase in the prison population. This highly complex issue needs to be analyzed from various perspectives: the economy, social development, culture, education and values, among others. The phenomenon should also be broken down into its component elements. Different criminal circuits operate in the region, one of the most important of which is drug-related criminal activity. Everything indicates that it has increased considerably. While this is a widely studied global problem with numerous implications, a large part of common crime has different characteristics, with a high proportion of the crimes committed by young people.

A series of factors have contributed to the increase in violent crime in Latin America since the transitions from authoritarianism to democracy. Some intrinsic factors and characteristics of each country aggravated the problem in some countries. However, some factors might have increased the risk of crime and violence in many or most countries in the region in the period between 1980s and 1990s:

* Civil wars and armed conflicts
* High levels of social inequality
* Low rates of economic growth
* High unemployment rates
* Rapid growth of large cities and metropolitan areas
* Absence/weakness of basic urban infrastructure, basic social services and community organizations in the poorest neighborhoods, in the periphery of large cities and metropolitan areas
* Growing availability of arms and drugs
* Growing presence and strengthening of organized crime
* Culture of violence, reinforced by organized crime as well as the media, the police and the private security services
* Low level of effectiveness of the police and other institutions in the criminal justice system
* Poor public education. The best way of improving social life is to improve public education in Latin America. [Henales, Lidia and Beatrice Edwards. "Neo-liberalism and educational reform in Latin America". April 2002. (accessed May 19, 2008).] Poor public primary education "has given rise to youths without jobs or expectations of employment-thereby fueling the mounting problem of gang violence in Central America, Mexico, Jamaica, Colombia and Brazil." [__."Crime Hinders Development, Democracy in Latin America, U.S. Says". "U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International Information Programs". April 2005. (accessed May 19, 2008).]

Violence in rural areas

Although urban violence is what has most shocked countries in the region, whether this is due to the city’s hegemony over the country, its numerical dimension, the seriousness of its significance, or its opinion-forming role (represented here by the media), current violence in rural Brazil for example is nevertheless frightening. Rural violence articulates old and new structural conflicts marking social relations in the national land tenure scenario. In recent decades there have new forms of violence in land conflicts. This is clear from their systematic, generalized nature and their continuous, excessive use, generating a steady and uncontrollable increase in rural crime. [] The radical Landless Workers' Movement, or “Movimento Rural dos Trabalhadores sem Terra”, is a group hoping for mass land ownership reform in the country.

Nations with high crime rates


Colombia, in common with many Latin American nations, evolved as a highly segregated society, split between the traditionally rich families of Spanish descent and the vast majority of poor Colombians, many of whom are of mixed race. This group provided a natural constituency for left-wing insurgents - who nowadays fall into two groups, the bigger FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), and the ELN (National Liberation Army). At the other end of the political spectrum are right-wing paramilitaries, with roots in vigilante groups set up decades ago by landowners for protection against rebels. The main group was the AUC - the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia.Elements of all the armed groups have been involved in drug-trafficking. In a country where the presence of the state has always been weak, the result has been a grinding war on multiple fronts, with the civilian population caught in the crossfire and often deliberately targeted for "collaborating". Human rights advocates blame paramilitaries for massacres, "disappearances", and cases of torture and forced displacement. Rebel groups are behind assassinations, kidnapping and extortion. [ [ BBC NEWS | Americas | Q&A: Colombia's civil conflict ] ] Colombia has one of the highest rates of kidnappings in the world. Most kidnappings are for ransom and foreigners are potential targets. Assaults and robberies have occurred after thieves have exposed travellers to incapacitating chemicals, either by aerosol spray or by paper handouts. Chemically treated paper can cause unconsciousness, especially if the chemicals contact your face (via your hand). There is a risk of violence, kidnapping and being caught in road blocks set up by illegal armed groups when travelling by road outside major capitals, including to rural tourist destinations such as Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City).


Brazil is one of the countries with the most inequality in terms of the gap that exists between the very wealthy and the extremely destitute. A huge portion of the population lives in poverty. According to the World Bank, “one-fifth of Brazil’s 173 million people account for only a 2.2 percent share of the national income. Brazil is second only to South Africa in a world ranking of income inequality. [ [,,menuPK:322351~pagePK:141132~piPK:141107~theSitePK:322341,00.html#Challenges Brazil - Country Brief ] ] The incidence of violent crime, including muggings, armed robbery and sexual assault is high, particularly in Rio de Janeiro, Recife and other large cities. Carjacking is also common, particularly in major cities. Criminals often use guns. Gang-related violence is common throughout the State of São Paulo. Crime levels in slum areas are very high. Victims have been seriously injured or killed when resisting perpetrators. During peak tourist seasons, large, organised criminal gangs have reportedly robbed and assaulted beach goers. 'Express kidnappings', where individuals are abducted and forced to withdraw funds from ATM machines to secure their release, are common in major cities including Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Brasília, Salvador and Recife. People have been robbed and assaulted when using unregistered taxis. Petty crime such as pickpocketing and bag snatching is common. Thieves operate in outdoor markets, in hotels and on public transport. Piracy occurs in the coastal areas of Brazil.


Venezuela is among the most violent places in Latin America, and critics of President Hugo Chávez are increasingly accusing him of failing to make crime a priority. Class tension has long been a part of life in the South American country, where armed robberies, carjackings and kidnappings are frequent.There were 9 402 homicides reported in 2005, down slightly from 2004, according to government statistics. Some experts argue the real figure is higher.Venezuela's murder rate ranked third in Latin America in a recent report by the Pan American Health Organization, behind Colombia and El Salvador. The ranking used 2001-to-2003 figures and showed Venezuela just ahead of Brazil. [ [ Rampant violence plagues Venezuela : Mail & Guardian Online ] ] Crime rates are higher in 'barrios' or 'ranchitos' (slum areas) after dark. Motorists have been robbed after stopping to assess damage caused by objects thrown from a bridge or overpass. Petty crime such as pick-pocketing is prevalent, particularly on public transport in Caracas.

El Salvador

The phenomenon of violence in El Salvador is a serious one. Witness to this are the morethan 100 deaths per year from homicide for every 100,000 inhabitants experienced by thiscountry in recent years. In spite of this, however, sufficient efforts have not been made tounderstand or deal with this phenomenon in this small Central American country. [ [ Crime and Violence: Regional Case Studies: El Salvador ] ] Violent crime including armed robbery, banditry, assault, kidnapping, sexual assault, and carjacking is common, including in the capital, San Salvador. Downtown San Salvador is dangerous, particularly at night.


External links

* [,,menuPK:258559~pagePK:158889~piPK:146815~theSitePK:258554,00.html The World Bank – Latin America & Caribbean]
* [ Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean]
* [ United Nations - Latin America and the Caribbean]
* [ CIA – The World Factbook]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Crime and violence in Latin America — Crime and violence are affecting the lives of millions of people in Latin America. Social inequality is considered one of the major causes of violence in Latin America,[1] where the state fails to prevent crime and organized crime takes over… …   Wikipedia

  • Latin America — Latin American redirects here. For Latin American people, see Latin Americans. Latin America Area 21,069,501 km2 (8,134,980 sq mi) Population 572,039,894 …   Wikipedia

  • Law, Crime, and Law Enforcement — ▪ 2006 Introduction Trials of former heads of state, U.S. Supreme Court rulings on eminent domain and the death penalty, and high profile cases against former executives of large corporations were leading legal and criminal issues in 2005.… …   Universalium

  • Christianity and violence — The Crusades were a series of military campaigns fought mainly between European Christians and Muslims. Shown here is a battle scene from the First Crusade …   Wikipedia

  • Washington Office on Latin America — The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) is an American non governmental organization (NGO) whose stated goal is to promote human rights, democracy and social and economic justice in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Washington Office on… …   Wikipedia

  • Crime in Mexico — Mexican execution by firing squad, 1916 Crime is among the most urgent concerns facing Mexico, as Mexican drug trafficking rings play a major role in the flow of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana transiting between Latin America and the United… …   Wikipedia

  • Crime in El Salvador — The phenomenon of violence in El Salvador is a serious one. Witness to this are the more than 100 deaths per year from homicide for every 100,000 inhabitants experienced by this country in recent years. In spite of this, however, sufficient… …   Wikipedia

  • Crime in Guatemala — Rates of crime in Guatemala are very high. Guatemala has one of the highest violent crime rates in Latin America. In 2009, approximately 25 murders a week were reported in Guatemala City alone. [1] In the 1990s Guatemala had four cities feature… …   Wikipedia

  • Crime Story (TV series) — Crime Story Anthony Denison (left, as Ray Luca) and Dennis Farina (as Lt. Mike Torello) Format Crime / Drama Created by …   Wikipedia

  • Crime in Colombia — Colombia, in common with many Latin American nations, evolved as a highly segregated society, split between the traditionally rich families of Spanish descent and the vast majority of poor Colombians, many of whom are of mixed race. This group… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.