State and criminal violence in Latin America

Abstract

Most explanations of the high levels of violence in Latin America and the Caribbean have focused on economic factors, cultural variables, and drug wars. In this article, I argue that it is necessary to bring the state back into the analysis of criminal violence by examining the many ways in which the state directly contributes to violence. State agents contribute to the escalation of criminal violence in the region by extending the legal limits of the use of legitimate force, by tolerating and supporting the employment of extralegal approaches to deal with crime and disorder, and by partnering with criminal groups and militias. They do this while seeking legitimacy and constructing political authority. The modern-day participation of state institutions in the reproduction of violence stems from the particular mode of state development in Latin America, which has tended to outsource and negotiate the means of legitimate force with different social actors. Processes of democratization of the last three decades unintendedly opened the space for more violent contestation by emergent state-related actors.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For a detailed and up-to-date account of state agents’ participation in extrajudicial killings, see: In Sight Crime, available at http://www.insightcrime.org (accessed 20 May 2014).

  2. 2.

    The table does not include Chile, Panama, and Uruguay because there are no reports of significant manifestations of state-sponsored violence in those countries.

  3. 3.

    Obviously, there is more to the differences between the north and the south of Central America. For space reasons, I cannot expand them, but see: Torres-Rivas [110].

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Acknowledgments

The author wish to express his gratitude to Astrid Arraras, Frank Mora, Rosario Queirolo, and the five anonymous reviewers for their comments on previous versions of this essay.

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Cruz, J.M. State and criminal violence in Latin America. Crime Law Soc Change 66, 375–396 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10611-016-9631-9

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Keywords

  • Organize Crime
  • Latin American Country
  • Public Security
  • Criminal Organization
  • Gang Member