Latin America: Damned to be violent forever?

When I wrote the last post on this subject, Latin America: Populations are also People in April 2015, I felt quite optimistic about the future of that region, with no less than 14 Left wing governments elected, and the Gini Coefficient of Inequality steadily moving downward for the whole region. The hope was that the slow but steady human development in these societies would reduce the glaring inequalities, and this would decelerate crime and therefore violence…

But this was not to be…

As explained in another post, WDR 2017: Revisiting Corruption, Capture and Clientelism, quoting Dr Jong-Sung You – every time an attempt is made at redistributive justice, the aggrieved elite forced to give up their privileges, react with allegations of ‘corruption’ to affect regime change, bring in a rich-friendly government and ‘capture’ the economy. This has happened in Brazil, Argentina and is under way in Venezuela, while the world focuses its energies on the Middle East, and the drama in the White House.

And all the good done in terms of social and human development in the first decade of the millennium is gradually undone, leaving Latin America as prone as ever to violence and crime, as seen below:

Latin American Homicide Rates

Therefore, it was with special interest that I read a recent World Bank Publication Stop the Violence in Latin America – A Look at Prevention from Cradle to Adulthood by Laura Chioda.

The Report makes several important points about what it calls the physiognomy of crime and violence in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC Region):

  • The relationship between crime and development is highly nonlinear: crime can increase as income rises.
  • Economic development per se does not seem sufficient to curb violence: development must occur at a fast enough pace and be inclusive
  • The relationship between crime and inequality is confounded by poverty. If inequality matters for crime, it matters at the local level
  • Not all unemployment is created equal; age and quality of employment opportunities matter.
  • However, employment per se is not sufficient to deter criminality
  • Development has a dark side. What benefits the formal economy may also benefit illegal markets

These ideas are very thought provoking. And as the Report correctly points out, the extent of crime and violence is not unique to Latin America and the Caribbean. It just so happens that the region has been a playground for global politics, located as it is in the backyard of the country which invented organized crime, has the most liberal gun laws, and boasts the highest prison population in the world – the USA.

It suits the US to hide its poor and corrupt policing and enforcement in the areas of drug and human trafficking, and put the onus on the perpetually ‘criminal and violent’ poor neighbours in the South – an image constantly reinforced in entertainment and the mainstream media.

Furthermore, being relatively small and extremely urbanized, crime statistics in the LAC are much easier to compile and publish than other more populous and rural developing countries, such as those in South Asia and Africa – which are equally prone to violence and crime. The only difference I see is that while in Latin America, violence is closely related to organized crime and therefore driven largely by economic forces, in Asia and Africa the causes of violence are more likely to be social  – tribalism, racism, casteism, communalism, gender discrimination, domestic violence, family disputes over land… and so on. And these are the crimes most difficult to record and catalogue .

Which doesn’t mean they are NOT as destructive as drug dealing or gang wars.

 

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