New report reveals Latin American citizens not shy about taking to the streets to demand better quality of life


LatinaLista — A good hint at how civically involved undocumented immigrants from Latin America will be in US politics once they gain citizenship can be found in a new United Nations’ report Understanding Social Conflict in Latin America.

In 2011, in EL Alto, Bolivia, residents protested against the rising cost of fuel.

In 2011, in EL Alto, Bolivia, residents protested against the rising cost of fuel.

The report, released by the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP), found that social uprisings are common in Latin America, compared to other regions, and are numerous but what makes these uprisings distinct is the “high degree of citizen participation.”

According to the report, which examines more than 2,300 social conflicts (not to be confused with criminal or war conflicts) in the region from October 2009 to September 2010, the countries that had the highest number of conflicts were those that had the widest gap in social inequalities, and whose governments had “limited capacity” to deal with the unrest.

The top three countries that each had over 200 social conflicts are Bolivia, Peru and Argentina. The countries with the least social conflicts, about 58 apiece, are Costa Rica, Chile and El Salvador.

Other findings of the report include:

  • The bulk of social crises involve declarations, demonstrations and strikes, which rarely reach the point of violent clashes and chaos;
  • The Internet and mobile phones are positively affecting social conflicts in Latin America by providing new public spaces that encourage civic engagement;
  • Almost 60 percent of the organizations and individuals who took part in social conflicts had a presence on the Web;
  • Numbers ranged from 100 percent of Internet presence in Costa Rica to 15 percent in Bolivia
  • The report examined social conflicts in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Venezuela

The reports’ authors make clear that social conflicts are not necessarily bad events but ones that actually share a common theme — the improvement of the quality of life.

We find that behind social conflicts there are real and/or perceived declines in the quality of life for society and these are issues that must be addressed. — Heraldo Muñoz, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, UNDP

The purpose of drawing attention to the social conflicts in Latin America is not to shed a bad light on the efforts of concerned citizens but to draw a global spotlight on how to improve the factors causing the people to take to the streets in protest.

The report’s authors determined that social conflicts will continue unless Latin American governments offer solutions and safe venues for negotiating compromises — two actions that some Latin American governments have yet learned to practice.