Monthly Archives: May 2012

Indicadores sobre la violencia en América Latina / Indices of Violence in Latin America

Indicadores sobre la violencia en América Latina

En el mundo hay dos regiones que son, en promedio, menos pacíficas que América Latina. Una es Medio Oriente y África del Norte, atravesados por las revueltas de la Primavera Árabe y, en muchos países, las reacciones desmedidas de gobiernos autoritarios desesperados por mantenerse en el poder. La otra, el África subsahariana con su aun vigente legado de violencia tribal, genocidio y abusos contra los derechos humanos. Al respecto, dos informes recientemente publicados ofrecen una amplia perspectiva sobre la violencia en América Latina.

A continuación, en la página web de Análisis Latino, aquí.

Indices of Violence in Latin America

There are only two regions that, on average, are less peaceful than Latin America. One is the Middle East and Northern Africa, a region still rocked by the revolutions of the Arab Spring and, in some countries, the severe reactions of authoritarian governments desperately clinging to power. The other is Sub-Saharan Africa, dealing with a legacy of tribal violence, genocide and human rights abuses.

Two recently released reports offer a wide perspective of Latin American violence. The Peace Index, prepared by the Institue for Economy and Peace (IEP) and source of the above information, ranks 153 countries according to a wide spectrum of indicators of internal and external peace and seeks to identify the structures and institutions that help to construct and maintain peaceful societies.

The report from Latinobarómetro (LB), La Seguridad Ciudadana: El problema principal de América Latina (Citizen Security: The principal problem in Latin America) unites all the relevant data collected by this surveyor of public opinion over the last years, to better understand the perceptions and realities of a problem that, as unemployment decreases and economies across the region accelerate, is becoming the most pressing problem for Latin Americans.

The construction of peaceful societies is a pressing challenge for the region’s young democracies. Worse still: according to LB, in the region as a whole only 30% of citizens believe that democracy guarantees protection against crime and only 33% express confidence in the police. A region prone to militarism and captured by a sometimes-exaggerated fear of victimization may be vulnerable to backslides in processes of democratization.

The research carried out by IEP over the last five years indicates that peaceful countries enjoy “higher per capita income, higher levels of well-being, more freedom, perform better at sustainability, and appear to have a more equitable distribution of social spending. What is important is not whether peace creates these abundances, rather the realization that what creates a peaceful society also allows for a fuller expression of human potential, and in many diverse forms”.[1] Above all, they are durable societies (“socially sustainable”, according to the report) like Iceland, which in 2011 returned to first place after the financial crisis that shook the country in September and October 2008. What is impressive is that, despite the severity of this shock, Iceland fell no more than one single position in the ranking, to second place. Japan, in third place, has maintained a peaceful society despite natural and nuclear disasters and New Zealand, in second place, maintains a peaceful and cohesive society despite the ethnic diversity of the population.

How have these countries managed to construct such durable societies? IEP identifies Structures of Peace that both contribute to and benefit from the construction of peaceful societies. They are: well-functioning government, sound business environment, equitable distribution of resources, free flow of information, low levels of corruption, acceptance of the rights of others, high levels of education and good relations with neighbors. They are interdependent and mutually reinforce on another. “The absence of any one imperils the creation of a more peaceful society”[2].

These are, it appears to me, structures that can only be created and sustained via a just democracy, sound institutions, a stable legal framework and high levels of transparency in the management of the country.

The Peace Index

Uruguay is, for the second year in a row, in first place among Latin American countries in the Peace Index, and 21st worldwide, with 1.521 points (the scale for each indicator and for the overall score is from 1 to 5, 1 being the most peaceful). Costa Rica is in second place thanks to extremely low levels of militarization. Chile, having led the region during the first three years of the Index, is in third place for a second year running due to a continued increase in staffing levels in the internal security forces and police, and an increase in the homicide rate. In the region, Colombia has enjoyed the greatest improvement in its score this year, from 2.787 in 2010 to 2.7 in 2011, although despite this the country has not moved in the ranking, remaining in last place thanks to its high rates of homicide, internal displacement, lack of respect for human rights, internal organized conflict and perceived criminality.

Mexico and Guatemala experienced strong decreases in their scores and find themselves in 20th and 22nd place respectively. Both declines reflect worsening levels of internal conflict and organized crime linked to the illegal drug trade.

Perceived criminality is high across the region: Uruguay (2.5) is the only country to score lower than 3 on this indicator, and the perception reaches its peak in Venezuela (4.5) and Guatemala (5). Homicide rates are high: a whopping nine countries receive scores of 5: Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Venezuela, Guatemala and Colombia.

The region has an average score of 3.07 in the probability of violent protests: less than promising for healthy democratic representation and civic participation. The average score for ease of access to small arms and light weapons is 3.57: only Argentina (2) receives a score lower than 3.

Latinobarómetro and Perceptions of Violence

How do Latin American citizens see the worrying picture presented by the Peace Index, and how can this society address this problem?

In first place, the fear is disproportionate and threatens to lead to demands for militarized, short-term solutions. According to LB, “this is a region “captured” by a climate of opinion in which crime and delinquency have taken hold of the informative agenda and dominate social communications”. In Costa Rica, for example, 50% of the population fears becoming a victim of crime all or almost all the time and 66% say that living in the country is less secure every day. This, in a country that enjoys one of the greatest levels of peace in the region. In Uruguay, another relatively peaceful country, the citizens identify delinquency, violence and gangs as the most important problem, and 44% of them believe that living in the country is less secure every day.

As we have seen, few Latin Americans believe democracy to be a guarantee of security. Nevertheless, they do believe the State can resolve the problem of delinquency (61% on average) and this ought to worry democrats in the region: the siren song of a strong state with antidemocratic tendencies could become tempting.

A revealing detail: only in Uruguay does more than 50% of the population believe that citizens obey the laws of the country (54%) and in several countries the results are abysmal: Guatemala (19%), Colombia (19%), Bolivia (16%) and Peru (12%). May this have something to do with the problem? If an average of 31% of Latin Americans believe that citizens don’t obey the laws, how can 61% of them believe the State to be capable of resolving the problem of delinquency? If the State cannot ensure obedience of its most mundane laws, how can the citizens believe that same state State to be capable of combating violence and generalized insecurity?

To paraphrase José Ignacio García Hamilton (author of El autoritarismo y la improductividad), how can Structures of Peace be constructed on a social base in which the avoidance of laws in acceptable, in which the laws are not seen as restrictions self-imposed by citizens for the good of society? According to Latinobarómetro, it is vital to maintain a reasonable, realistic and long-term dialogue about the problem of citizen insecurity in Latin America, in which citizens as well as leaders commit themselves to the construction of a peaceful society.


[1] Global Peace Index Discussion Paper, 2011, p5

[2] Global Peace Index Discussion Paper, 2011 p45

Shannon O’Neil at the US Council for Foreign Relations analyses the Latinobarómetro study here.

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Voluntourism and Poverty Porn

Last year in a Cusco bar I had a rather heated discussion with an Irish traveller. He was fresh from Africa where he’d spent two weeks helping to build an orphanage; he was looking for volunteering opportunities, and seemed almost disappointed that the local Andean communities weren’t as impoverished as the ones he’d worked with in Africa.

I thought of him today, reading an Al Jazeera article: Cambodia’s Orphan Business. It’s hard to criticise people who want to help, and give of their time for somebody else, but the voluntourism concept makes me very uncomfortable. The article in question examines one part of this: unscrupulous agencies and orphanages that siphon the volunteer’s money towards their own enrichment and maintain the children in poverty in order to continue receiving funds.

But even in the absence of deliberate malpractice, I wonder: how much good are you really doing? Would the $3,000 you spend for a two-week stay in Kenya building a school not have been better spent employing local labour? Do Africans need a bunch of white kids spending a fortune to fly in and tile their roofs? Sure, the cultural exchange is hugely valuable and breeds tolerance and understanding, but could three months travelling – really travelling, learning the language and experiencing the culture – and spreading that $3,000 around the local economy be more effective, and less condescending?

So I argued with Irish Volunteer in Cusco. My questions didn’t go down well. He showed me a video of him with smiling children, insisted he’d made a difference. I felt like a bit of a bitch for cheapening it, for implying that this experience, hugely meaningful for him, wasn’t worth anything.

Because of course it was: for everyone involved. Relationships were formed, people on both sides no doubt felt good about what was happening. But I thought his comparison of the levels of poverty in Cusco and Africa were revealing: he asked us where he could find people who really needed his help, wasn’t sure he wanted to bother with the projects he’d seen. Wondered about going back to Africa. It felt, to me, like poverty porn.

I don’t know: the impulse is admirable. As Teju Cole’s White Saviour says:

The world is nothing but a problem to be solved by enthusiasm.

Be nice, wouldn’t it?

El Estado de las Madres Latinoamericanas / The State of Latin American Mothers

El Estado de las Madres Latinoamericanas

El 8 de mayo pasado, la ONG británica Save the Children publicó su decimotercer Informe del Estado Mundial de las Madres, llamando la atención a los “171 millones de niños en el mundo que no tendrán la oportunidad de alcanzar todo su potencial debido a los efectos físicos y mentales de la mala alimentación durante los primeros meses de vida”. La organización sostiene que una alimentación adecuada es de vital importancia tanto para los individuos como para las sociedades, ya que aumenta la capacidad de los niños a aprender y crecer, y a convertirse en adultos sanos y productivos.

El informe hace hincapié en la importancia del bienestar de las madres como indicador de la futura salud y educación del niño, de modo que el informe trata de factores tan diversos como la representación de las mujeres en la legislatura, sus ingresos económicos, el acceso al agua potable, la matriculación escolar y las tasas de mortalidad infantil y maternal.

A continuación, en la página web de Análisis Latino, aquí.

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The State of Latin American Mothers

On May 8 British NGO Save the Children released its 13th State of the World’s Mothers Report, drawing attention to the “171 million children globally who do not have the opportunity to reach their full potential due to the physical and mental effects of poor nutrition in the earliest months of life”. The organization argues that adequate nutrition during the first 1,000 days after conception is vital for both individuals and societies, improving children’s ability to learn and grow into healthier, more productive adults.

The report places emphasis on the importance of a mother’s wellbeing as a vital indicator of the probable future health and education of her child and the report deals with such diverse factors as women’s representation in parliament, women’s pay, access to clean drinking water, school enrolments and infant mortality rates.

Norway emerges as the best place in the world to be a mother, followed by Iceland and Sweden. Except for NZ and Australia, all of the countries in the top ten are European. The United States is in 25th position and African countries fill the bottom ten positions, with Niger coming last.

Cuba tops the Mothers’ Index ranking of less developed countries, followed by Israel and Barbados. Argentina takes fourth place and Uruguay is in sixth. Guatemala and Honduras are Latin America’s worst performance in 68th and 60th place out of the less developed countries.

The Cuban government has long sought to legitimise its dictatorial rule through its social programs: the results in terms of maternal and infant mortality, school enrolments, access to contraception and safe drinking water and the life expectancy and education of mothers are apparent and rather unsurprising. More interesting are the efforts of the region’s other countries, some of which have made impressive efforts in a context of democratic government and market economies.

Brazil, for example, is currently making the region’s fastest gains against child malnutrition. The country has shown a 5.5% annual decrease in stunting, which is the seventh highest rate of decline among developing countries worldwide (Uzbekistan is in the lead with 6.7%). This has, over the last twenty years in Brazil, resulted in a decrease in stunting rates of over 60%.

The country’s impressive program of community health agents, in place nationally since the early 1990s, is highlighted as a contributing factor to its success. These more than 246,000 agents are selected in a public and transparent process with considerable local input and reside in communities in which they work. During the life of the program there has been a more than 90% decline in diarrhea-related mortality and stunting has been reduced from 19 to 7%.

Peru has made the most progress of any Latin American country in reducing child mortality, and tops the Infant and Toddler Feeding Scorecard of developing countries. The report highlights the Peruvian government’s 2006 launch of the Programa Integral de Nutrición (PIN) and the Ministry of Health’s efforts to promote breastfeeding. These efforts, integrated with the support of NGOs and the donor community, has reduced chronic malnutrition amongst under-5s by about a quarter since 2005.

Both countries demonstrate the potential success of government programs conducted in concert with civil society and local communities.

Latin America is seeing an overall decline in child stunting, although some countries, among them Guatemala and Honduras, continue to experience high levels. The region also displays considerable inequality: “The poorest children in Guatemala and Nicaragua are more than six times as likely to be underweight as their wealthy peers. In Honduras, they are eight times as likely, and in El Salvador and Peru, they are 13 and 16 times as likely to be underweight.”

Mothers’ Index

Argentina finds itself in second place in the overall Mothers’ Index, held back by three indicators in particular. Only 64% of women use modern contraception, and in this aspect the country is in ninth place regionally, behind Paraguay, Nicaragua and El Salvador, although ahead of Chile in 12th place (42%). Argentine women on average earn only 0.51 times as much as their male counterparts and have a 1 in 600 lifetime chance of maternal death, more that three times that of Chile, where the probability is 1 in 2000.

The best place in Latin America to be a working woman is Colombia, where women earn 0.71 times as much as men, followed by Paraguay with 0.64. Honduras and Nicaragua are tied as the worst performers in this aspect, with 0.34. Moving from the economic to the political, Panama and Brazil show a considerable underrepresentation of women in national government (9% and 10% respectively).

The region’s poorest performers are Guatemala and Honduras. In Guatemala, women face a 1 in 210 lifetime chance of maternal death, while in Honduras this is only marginally better with a 1 in 240 chance. Bolivia is the only country in Latin America where it is more dangerous to be a mother: this probability is 1 in 150. This is linked to the lack of skilled attendants at birth: in Guatemala only 51% of births are attended and only 34% of women have access to modern contraception.

In Guatemala 14% of children under five are moderately or severely overweight, and in Honduras this rate is 8%. The under five morality rate in these two countries is 32% and 24% respectively.

La inclusión social en América Latina / Social Inclusion in Latin America

La Inclusión Social en América Latina

América Latina por mucho tiempo ha sido una de las regiones con mayor desigualdad del mundo. Una sociedad en que una considerable proporción de la población es poco valorada – si no activamente discriminada – y negado su acceso a servicios, no es solamente una sociedad moralmente reprensible sino también ineficaz y incapaz de llegar a tener un desarrollo significativo y sostenible.

Al reconocer este hecho, Americas Quarterly (AQ) ha publicado un Índice de la Inclusión Social, el cual busca definir e inspirar la discusión de un concepto que a la vez abarca y va más allá de la mera desigualdad. La inclusión social incluye los factores que agudizan la desigualdad de ingresos y expresa la voz y autonomía de una persona. Es la habilidad de un ciudadano de “participar en el básico funcionamiento político, económico y social de su sociedad”.

A continuación, en la página web de Análisis Latino, aquí.

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Social Inclusion in Latin America

Latin America has long been one of the most unequal regions in the world. A society in which significant proportions of the population are under-valued – if not actively discriminated against – and denied fair access to services, education and employment is not only morally reprehensible but also inefficient and incapable of meaningful and sustainable development.

Recognizing this, Americas Quarterly (AQ) has published a new Social Inclusion Index. This index seeks to conceptualize and inspire discussion of a concept that both encompasses and goes beyond mere inequality. Social inclusion captures those factors that contribute to and exacerbate income inequality and expresses, in some sense, a person’s voice and autonomy. It is the ability of a citizen “to participate in the basic political, economic and social functioning of his or her society”.

To give quantitative meaning to this somewhat nebulous concept, AQ scored countries on both inputs to and outputs of social inclusion. The inputs included are: GDP growth, percentage of GDP spent on social programs, secondary school enrolment (disaggregated by gender and race), political rights, civil rights and civil society participation. The outputs are: the percentage of the population living on more than $4/day (disaggregated by gender and race), sense of personal empowerment, sense of government responsiveness, access to adequate housing (disaggregated by gender and race), and access to a formal job (disaggregated by gender and race). The countries are then given an aggregate score out of 100 and ranked.

The results are at first glance unsurprising. Chile (71.9) and Uruguay (71.2) lead the pack, well ahead of Brazil (51.4) in third place. Paraguay (21.2), Nicaragua (10.3) and Guatemala (7.5) bring up the rear (only twelve countries were ranked in this initial report).

The good news across the countries surveyed is that women as a group are doing well. Few countries showed significant differences in access to secondary school education, housing or employment across the sexes. Nicaragua even shows a somewhat concerning tilt in favor of girls at school: at 59.6% enrolled they are well ahead of the boys at 47.6%. A similar if not as pronounced trend is visible in Brazil. While the indicators of increased empowerment of women and girls is encouraging, this should not be at the expense of men and boys. Development is not a zero-sum game.

Exclusion on racial terms is common across the region, reaching extremes in Paraguay, Nicaragua and Guatemala. It is perhaps to be expected that such racially homogenous countries as Chile and Uruguay lead this ranking, while those countries facing the challenge of integrating diverse populations, in many cases with a history of violence, lag behind. Brazil and Peru, while they still have a long way to go, have made impressive strides in this aspect.

Chile’s strong result reflects its consistently high rankings in both inputs and outputs, although a marked difference in access to housing across ethnicity (84.3% for minorities compared with 97% for the ethnic majority) stands out. Civil society participation is also quite low, with citizens belonging to, on average, 1.3 civil society organizations. Nevertheless, as recognized by AQ, this low level of participation could reflect a sense of general content, especially as it corresponds with a reasonably high sense of government responsiveness (3.66 out of 7 and third in the region). The student protests that have marked the Chilean political landscape over the past year are, of course, a demonstration of the remaining challenges.

Uruguay stands out for the high proportion of its GDP devoted to social programs (21.65%, second only to Brazil). There are pronounced differences in enrolment in secondary school across ethnic groups (82.5% for the majority, 69.3% for ethnic minorities) and this is unsurprisingly reflected in the outputs of access to a formal job (85.9% to 77.6%) and percent living on more than $4 a day (89.5% to 78.9%). Civil society participation is the lowest in the region (1.14) but this is accompanied by the region’s highest sense of government responsiveness (4.58) and second highest sense of personal empowerment (4.3 out of 7, second only to the US).

Brazil is a huge spender on social programs (26.05% of GDP) but differences across ethnicities remain, especially in the percentage of the population living on more than $4 a day (72.1% to 67.8%).  Nevertheless, the country’s excellent progress over the last several years is evident: the challenge will be to continue efficiently using the vast resources that have been mobilized in order to finish the job, now that the “low-picking fruit” of development has been harvested.

Ecuador and Peru have tied for fourth place with 43.8 points. Peru, with a long and sometimes brutal history of ethnic discrimination, ought to be commended for its excellent work in improving minority access to secondary schooling (83%, compared to 79.7% for the ethnic majority), although this has yet to be translated into outputs, where considerable differences remain. Only 55.4% of the ethnic minority lives on more than $4 a day, compared to 71.8% for the majority. Access to formal jobs is rather scarce in general (61.2% for the majority, 49.1% for the minority).

Ecuador suffers from an even more restricted formal employment sector (52.5% of the ethnic majority, 41.4% for the minority) and the enormous difference in wealth across the races presents an urgent challenge. 70.1% of the majority lives on more than $4 a day compared to only 47.1% of the ethnic minority. Nevertheless, a sense of personal empowerment permeates the country, with a score of 4.

Colombia (41.8) needs to improve both inputs and outputs. Political and civil rights are a concern (27/40 and 34/60, respectively): the country has the dubious honor of tying last in terms of civil rights (along with Guatemala and Nicaragua). The informal sector is large (only 55.3% of the ethnic majority and 47.6% of the minority have access to a formal job) and there are considerable differences in access to adequate housing across ethnic groups (84.1% to 66.4%) as well as in the percentage living on more than $4 per day (64.8% to 48.2%).

Bolivia and Mexico are also tied, with 39 points. Bolivia is divided across ethnic lines in both inputs and outputs (percent living on more than $4 per day, for example, is 62.2% to 45.7% for ethnic minorities) and access to formal employment is low in general. Nevertheless, the sense of government responsiveness is the second highest in the region (3.91) and civil society participation, at an average of 2.45 civil society organization memberships per person, is the region’s highest.

Mexico must also increase the size of its formal sector, and differences across ethnic lines are shown in access to a formal job (44.3% to 33.1%), access to adequate housing (92% to 84.1% – high if unequal) and the percentage living on more than $4 per day (75.4% to 61.3%). Sluggish GDP growth (1.66%), thanks to its Northern neighbor’s economic difficulties, complicated the country’s social development task.

Ethnic divisions heavily mark Paraguay (21.2) in both inputs and outputs. Enrolment in secondary school (84.5% to 57.8%), percentage living on more than $4 a day (75.6% to 44.3%), access to adequate housing (78.8% to 51.5%), access to a formal job (44.9% to 22.3%): it is a grim picture. Civil society participation is high at an average of 2.4 memberships, but the country is the worst performer in personal empowerment (3.73).

Nicaragua, 10.3, reverses the pattern of reduced access to formal jobs for the ethnic minority: 50.2% of them are in the formal sector, compared to 40.4% of the majority. Women also enjoy much greater access to formal jobs (50.4%) than men (34.9%). Nevertheless, a more familiar pattern of inequalities is visible in wealth (37.5% of the majority live on more than $4 a day compared to 27.1% of ethnic minorities) and access to housing (26.4% to an abysmal 8.2%).

Bringing up the rear with 7.5, Guatemala displays extreme inequalities across all indicators. 27.5% of the ethnic minority live on more than $4 a day, compared to 62.5% of the majority, and only 27.3% have access to a formal job, compared to 51.6% of the majority. Secondary school enrolment is low for everyone, but especially so for ethnic minorities (35%).  Civil society participation is the third highest in the region, with an average membership of 2.35 organizations.

Quantifying the intangible

It is an interesting picture, and AQ itself recognises the shortcomings of the data. Civil society membership is, to my mind, a problematic measure of social inclusion: is it an input for inclusion, or a reaction to exclusion? Or neither? Or both? Sheer quantity of investment in social programs, as expressed in the index by the percentage of GDP earmarked for these purposes, is not a perfect indicator of success either: corruption, inefficiency or sheer incompetence may render vast sums ineffective.

This is, however, the nature of such indices: they attempt to simplify the complex and quantify the intangible, and as such their results must always be taken with a grain of salt. AQ’s new index is, the organization says, an invitation to dialogue, to “begin a debate on the concrete dimensions of social inclusion”. In cutting the regional pie a different way, it has shone a new light on some of the region’s successes and continued challenges.

Terrorism and Conflict in Peru: No Peace for Ayacucho

I arrived in Ayacucho in pouring rain. Water flooded down streets, pooled in potholes, streamed off the baseball caps worn by the crowd of taxis drivers at the bus door. There was no messing around in this rain; I negotiated the fare and we set off through hilly streets and a mess of road work, mototaxis, pedestrians and street vendors.

Hotel Crillonesa did, indeed, come with a señora, of indeterminate age, brown eyes soft and youthful in her wrinkled face. I checked in, dropped my bags in the room, and then greeted her at the counter and asked if there was a branch of my bank in town. She leaned across the wooden countertop, squeezed my hand tight in both of hers, and apologised with intensity for not knowing.

I smiled, squeezed her hand back. Don’t worry, I told her. It’s nothing very important.

I walked out into the rain, and knew that, lacking the time to gain her trust and friendship, I would never have the courage to ask that woman to describe to me the horrors of the city’s past.

About year or so I wrote a creative non-fiction essay for Glimpse on Ayacucho, Peru: the heartland of terrorist group Sendero Luminoso during the twenty years of violence suffered in that country between 1980 and 2000. Reconciliation and justice after such horrendous epidodes are so difficult; it’s something I’d like to learn more about, especially here in Argentina given this country’s equally disturbing past. The rest of the article is here.