General

Violence and Insecurity in Latin America: New Survey Findings

Violence and Insecurity in Latin America: New Survey Findings

By Shannon K. O'Neil
LatIntelligence

Though specific countries usually capture the headlines for their bloodiness — Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and often Colombia —security problems are widespread throughout Latin America. For the region which holds the unfortunate distinction of being the world’s most violent, a new Latinobarómetro report looks at the recent trends, and through survey data, tries to tease out how this affects perceptions, people, and, more broadly, democracy.

[caption id="attachment_18507" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="People in a local bus service travel past a crime scene, where three men were shot dead, in Monterrey (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)."][/caption]

Some interesting points emerge from this quite extensive study. One is that general perceptions and realities often don’t match up. In part, this is because there are many different types of crime, and governments, media, and other public opinion shapers often only focus on one set of measures.

For instance, Costa Rica, Peru, and Argentina are generally thought of as being some of the more peaceful countries in the hemisphere, due to their relatively low homicide rates (all have below twelve homicides per hundred thousand people). But according to Latinobarómetro’s (self-reported) crime surveys, all three are far above the Latin American average in terms of criminal activity, with Peru ranking second, Costa Rica fourth, and Argentina sixth out of the eighteen surveyed nations.

This means that while the chances of being murdered are less in these countries, the odds of being assaulted are quite high. This helps perhaps explain why Costa Ricans, for example, are more fearful of becoming a victim of a violent crime than are Mexicans, Brazilians, or Hondurans.

These differences may also help to explain the disconnect that so many citizens feel with official rhetoric that places the emphasis solely on murder rates. For instance, the Calderón administration has repeatedly emphasized that Mexico’s murder rates are lower than other big Latin American countries — Venezuela, Colombia, or Brazil. Yet when looking at broader crime surveys, Mexico tops the list.

Over 40 percent say they or a family member have been victims of crime in the last year (compared to the Latin American average of 33 percent). Though the horrific drug violence may indeed still be fairly concentrated, crime is not — a challenge Mexico’s government must acknowledge and face.

Finally, citizens’ faith in Latin American governments’ abilities to tackle insecurity varies. A strong majority — 61 percent — of Latin Americans think their governments can do it — with Uruguayans, Ecuadorians, Brazilians, and Venezuelans most optimistic. The linchpin seems to be the police.

Most Latin Americans don’t trust their police — particularly Guatemalans and Mexicans. But this seems to be the way forward for taking on crime. If these nations can confront the challenges in professionalizing their police forces and gain the confidence of their citizens, then perhaps both the realities and perceptions will shift for the better.

From blogs.cfr.org/oneil. Reprinted with permission. For more analysis and expert blogs, visit CFR.org

Shannon O'Neil the Douglas Dillon fellow for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and the author of a forthcoming book on Mexico and U.S.-Mexico relations. Dr. O'Neil's expertise includes political and economic reform in Latin America, with a focus on Mexico and Brazil, U.S.-Latin American relations, energy policy, trade, and immigration. Prior to joining CFR, Dr. O'Neil worked in the private sector as an equity analyst at Indosuez Capital Latin America and Credit Lyonnais Securities. She holds a BA from Yale University, an MA in international relations from Yale University, and a PhD in government from Harvard University. Readers can follow her on Twitter at @latintelligence.

Click to add a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

General

More in General

Voting booths at Hermosa Beach City Hall during California Primary

New Census report shows critical segment of Latino population not voting

Latina ListaJuly 16, 2015
Photo by Daniel González

(Slideshow) The People of Taco Libre

Latina ListaJuly 1, 2015
High School Graduation

Guest Voz: Latest report on Latino dropouts is one to celebrate while understanding más work needs to be done

Latina ListaOctober 17, 2014
6th pass_FINAL to USE

International Peace Day to be celebrated through global concerts

Latina ListaSeptember 19, 2014
home_feature_conv14

LULAC members mark 85-year anniversary with special TODAY show appearance

GritoBlastJuly 10, 2014
michelle obama

LULAC announces national initiative to provide aid to the thousands of Central American children on U.S.-Mexico border

GritoBlastJuly 10, 2014

Survey on LGBTQ Latina immigrants from Latin America

GritoBlastJuly 10, 2014
morgue_photo_01_2-w1000h1000

Viernes Video: Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal delves into U.S. immigration issue in search of “Dayani Cristal”

Latina ListaMarch 28, 2014
Igelsia_San_Jose_credit_Archdiocese_of_San_Juan_of_Puerto_Rico_mr

Puerto Rico’s San José Church first-ever site from the island recognized on annual list of endangered historic places

Latina ListaJune 19, 2013