Friday, March 30, 2012

Geography of violence in Latin America

Deborah Yashar gave an interesting talk at the luncheon today at SECOLAS. She's in the middle of a project that examines the geography of violence in Latin America, and especially why it occurs in some places and not others. The basic argument is that the growth of violence seems to correspondent to the growth of illicit drug routes. She looked at the region, but then also within countries (the cases of El Salvador and Guatemala) since violence is not distributed evenly within them either. She argued that the violence was not about the drugs per se, but rather the conflict over territorial control, either between DTOs and with the government. Someone in the audience brought up a good question about Venezuela, where there is a lot of violence in Caracas for example, without being a major transit route. She acknowledged it as an anomaly, admitting it was a work in progress (I liked her candor about weaknesses in the argument, actually).


Jan-Albert Hootsen 3:58 AM  

During a reporting trip in Venezuela in February, I actually looked into the question of why that country has such high levels of violence. The director of the Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia, Mauricio de Briseño, stated that the problem was that the Chávez government has systematically disarmed and dismantled law enforcement in its country under the flag of the Bolivarian revolution: the police as it existed before 1998 was an ´ancien regime´ isntitute and therefore needs to be done away with in order to create a true police force ´of the people´.

Problem is: the government never filled the vacuum that was created by these policies with alternative law enforcement, resulting in a very stark increase in violence and crime. In 1998, for every 100 homicides there were some 118 (if I recall correctly) convictions for homicide. Last year that figure dropped to only 9 per 100. The absolute number of homicides rose from 4550 in 1998 to over 19.000 last year.

I would need to do a really through investigation into the subject, but the hypothesis would be that, while Venezuela was a strong state with well established institutions in 1998, it has become a relatively weak state with weak institutions in 2012, which has been caused by conscious policy by the Chávez government, whereas in Central-American countries one could argue that governments at least attempted the contrary.

Hope this makes sense, English is not my mother tongue ;-) Anyway, you can find more information on the Observatorio´s website:

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