HomeNewsAnalysisWhy is There So Much Crime in Latin America?
ANALYSIS

Why is There So Much Crime in Latin America?

HOMICIDES / 2 NOV 2015 BY NATHALIE ALVARADO* EN

In Latin America and the Caribbean, insecurity accompanies us day after day, like a shadow. According to victimization surveys, one in five inhabitants in Latin America has been robbed in the last year, and 60 percent of all robberies are committed using violence. Why is the region suffering from so much violent crime?

I too have been a victim of theft, when I was robbed of my laptop during a recent trip to the region.

However, this incident pales in comparison to the veritable tragedy that violence is inflicting. Some 350 people die violently every day in the region. Latin America and the Caribbean make up just eight percent of the world's population but are home to 31 percent of its homicides.

This article originally appeared on the Inter-American Development Bank's blog Sin Miedos and has been republished with permission. See the Spanish original here.

We live in fear; fear of assault, of being killed, of being robbed of our cellphones. Many women fear taking public transportation, and too many suffer are victims of domestic violence. For many parents, it is unthinkable to allow their children to play in parks after dark.

Insecurity also impacts the region's financial and social well-being. It causes the cost of investment to go up, and takes away resources for other social needs such as education and health.

At the Inter-American Development Bank, we know that insecurity is one of the biggests challenges to development that countries face. In this article we will review the factors that explain why our region is the most violent.

The reasons for the high levels of crime and violence have to do with what we call “the paradox of the perfect storm.” The paradox is that in the last decade, the region has enjoyed healthy economic growth and improving social indicators. Income per capita has doubled.

So, why so much crime?

The causes of crime and violence are complex. What makes homicides go up in one country is not necessarily what causes increased violence in another. For example, a jump in the homicide rate in Rosario, Argentina is due to different factors than a crime wave in Santiago.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Homicides

But if we focus on common factors impacting countries throughout the region, the perfect storm starts to take shape.

First, in the last decade our cities have grown rapidly, but in a disorganized manner. As a result, governments have been unable to guarantee necessary state services to the entire urban-dwelling population.

Second, public institutions -- including the police and criminal justice system -- did not adapt to new realities, resulting in even more impunity and corruption.

Third, we have an enormous population of what we call “Ni-Nis” (“Neither-Nors”). That is, youths who neither study nor work. We estimate that one in five youths are a “Ni-Ni,” which is equivalent to 32 million people. That is bigger than the population of Peru.

For many of these youths, the profitability of criminal activity is greater than the benefits earned through legal work.

On top of these conditions, we have the presence of organized crime and drug trafficking. We want to be clear: Latin America has been a violent region for decades, even before the emergence of drug cartels. But we have no doubt that drug trafficking has caused the violence to worsen. We estimate 30 percent of all homicides are due to organized crime.

To make matters worse, what should be providing a solution to the violence is only generating even more crime: the overcrowding of our penitentiary systems. We know that the gangs strengthen themselves in overflowing prisons, because they help to bring order to these facilities. This power they gain in the prisons is later be projected onto the streets.

Prisons don't just fail to rehabilitate and reinsert individuals into society; they are also creating stronger gangs and more professionalized criminals.

*Nathalie Alvarado is the coordinator for citizen security and justice at the Inter-American Development Bank.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

MEXICO / 1 NOV 2016

More than $2 million were reportedly diverted from Mexico's 2014 federal penitentiary budget by officials who used the money to…

HOMICIDES / 19 FEB 2016

Honduras' homicide rate has reportedly fallen by 30 percent over the past four years, but there are worrying signs organized…

HOMICIDES / 10 APR 2014

The latest UN homicide report shows that the Americas as a region now has the highest homicide rate in the…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…