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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