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Exclusive: Analysing public security in Latin America

Latin America

When you do not live in Latin America, it can be more difficult to understand how this region has been the most violent in the world for several years.

It is important to note that not all Latin American countries have up-to-date and reliable crime statistics and especially homicides. Sometimes it is a decision of the governments in office that do not publish the data, in other cases they are published years late and, finally, when they are made public the results have been modified. Although there are cases of transparency, in general the objective is to present a false image of efficiency in public management, to favour leaders of political parties.

By not having reliable management indicators, the quality of decision-making to protect assets is directly affected.

Various organisations, usually private and NGOs, carry out studies and present conclusions that allow a clearer picture. The most recent ones make it clear that the trend towards violence and citizen insecurity continues.

Latinobarómetro is a private corporation based in Santiago de Chile. The organisation carries out a study that has the participation of numerous professionals from various disciplines. Its most recent publication corresponds to 2018.

The report indicates that 40% of citizens of 18 Latin American countries are afraid of becoming a victim of a violent crime. This result is related to the level of trust in the institutions that administer justice. Only 24% trust the judiciary and 35% trust the police.

Located in Mexico, the Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice A.C. is a civil society organisation that emerged in July 2002. It defines itself as “a nonpartisan, secular and independent network”. Its rankings of the most violent cities in the world have become a reference when it comes to Latin America. In June 2020 it published the 2019 results.

Of the 50 most violent cities in the world, 42 are in Latin America, 84%. Of the first ten cities, six are in Mexico, then Venezuela, South Africa, the United States and Brazil, each country has one. In the 50 cities, the average was 49.45 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

InSight Crime is a foundation dedicated to the study of organised crime. Also, each year, it presents the balance of homicides in Latin America and the Caribbean. Its most recent report, corresponding to 2020, indicates a timid general reduction in violence, which is believed to have been caused by COVID-19, due to the general impacts it had.

Although the pandemic could be an important cause, it is not a source of hope that suggests that the situation will improve. Of 23 countries, only nine have homicide rates below 10 per 100,000 inhabitants. Seven countries have the highest rates, ranging from Jamaica (46.5) or Venezuela (45.6), to Colombia (24.3) through Honduras (37.5), Trinidad and Tobago (28.2), Mexico (27) and Belize (24.3).

Why does the region maintain these alarming indicators? What makes me affirm that we will not see major changes by 2021? That the underlying causes are not addressed mainly due to the lack of political decisions. This creates a never ending circle which favours the conditions for crime and violence to continue multiplying in Latin America.

Corruption in Latin America

Corruption is one of the great evils that has impacted on the management of public institutions in charge of the administration of justice. Transparency International’s 2020 Index gives us insights into reality.

Out of 180 countries, the best positions occupied by Latin American countries were the 21st place with Uruguay reaching 71/100 points and the 25th place for Chile with 67/100 points. In the region there are extreme cases such as Venezuela with 15 points and in 176th position, being the most corrupt country in the Americas. In the region, while five countries worsened their positions compared to previous indexes: Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua, St. Lucia and Venezuela; only three improved: Argentina, Ecuador and Guyana.

The weakness of the institutions, added to corruption, has favoured impunity as a key factor. When the offender, especially the violent one, knows that he will not be held accountable to justice, he has an incentive to go ahead with his activities.

The Collective for Analysis of Security with Democracy A. C. (CASEDE), located in Mexico, is the author organisation of the publication “Scales of impunity in the world. Global Impunity Index 2020 (IGI-2020)”.

A detail that should not be overlooked is that, although in the end 69 countries were analysed, 12 had to leave the study due to irregularities and significant inconsistencies in the information, of these, seven are in Latin America: Argentina, Brazil, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela. In the range of very low and low impunity, there is no Latin American country. Seven countries are in the range of greatest impunity.

To the aforementioned elements we must add a generally deficient educational system and that due to COVID 19 has become more vulnerable. The region is not characterised by having reliable technological platforms, which has increased the gap between those who can and those who cannot access formal education.

The evolution of the economy will be characterised by a general economic contraction that will affect the employment rate, the quality of life and the influence, as an alternative, of organised crime towards the poorest sectors.

As long as the States do not show political will and promote initiatives to manage security together with the private sector and communities of citizens, Latin America will continue to be a region of crime and violence.

Latin America
Alfredo Yuncoza

By Alfredo Yuncoza

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