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New perspectives on crime, violence and insecurity in Latin America

Abstract

This article introduces a Crime, Law & Social Change special issue on rethinking organised crime, collective violence and insecurity in contemporary Latin America. The five contributions, which among them cover the cases of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico, address the puzzle of why and how in the midst of the world’s most serious crime and violence crisis ‘stability’ and ‘political order’ are nonetheless maintained. Taking a critical distance to conventional scholarship on these problems, the present collection of papers shifts the focus from one on how democratic regimes and formal institutions of the state are affected to a broader one that puts the spotlight on the ‘real politics’ and ‘real governance’ of crime and violence in the region. Cultural aspects of the ‘collapse of legality’, the holding power of informal institutions and the workings of ‘crimilegal orders’ and ‘criminalized electoral politics’ are explored through variegated conceptual and methodological approaches drawn from political science, criminology, sociology, social psychology, cultural studies and investigative journalism.

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Notes

  1. By order of magnitude, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Jamaica, Colombia, Mexico and Brazil are presently ‘leading’ in this field. But other countries that still a decade ago had significantly lower homicide and violent crime levels, such as Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama and Paraguay, are also witnessing rising violence. For overviews, see Imbusch et al. [17] and Institute for Economics and Peace [18].

  2. In illustration, the magnitude of this crisis is reflected in the situation in Brazil, which counted 50,108 and 58,000 homicides in 2012 and 2014, respectively [39, 42], while Mexico has registered 60,000–70,000 crime-related “additional homicides” since 2007 ([37]:1348). In comparison, the Colombian National Centre for Historical Memory (CNMH, in Spanish) estimates that in the period 1 January 1958–31 December 2012, that is, in 54 years some 220,000 people were killed as a result of the country’s armed conflict ([7]:31). This means that the non-armed conflict violence witnessed in Brazil and Mexico is of a far higher absolute intensity than the violence that was associated with the Colombian armed conflict.

  3. Drawing on the World Health Organization’s definition of collective violence, in this special issue we understand it as the intentional and instrumental use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, by people who identify themselves as members of a transitory or permanent group against another group or community in order to achieve political, social and economic objectives that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation ([46]:4–5). In practice, collective violence can take a variety of forms, including “armed conflicts within or between states; genocide; repression and other human rights abuses; terrorism; and organized violent crime” (ibid.:5). Varshney [43] adds to this list riots, pogroms, and civil wars as different subtypes of collective violence.

  4. Noteworthy among the latter types of intervention is the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG, in Spanish), an UN-sponsored mechanism established in 2007 during the administration of Óscar Berger to rein in rampant organized crime in the Guatemalan state and justice sector. See, for instance, Gutiérrez [14] and Dudley [12].

  5. There is today a vast literature that deals with different aspects of organized crime, violence and insecurity in Latin America and the Caribbean. For recent overviews of the literatures and treatments of the issues see, for instance, Arias [2]; Chinchilla [9]; Beckert and Dewey [5]; Dewey et al. [11]; Hoelscher and Nussio [16]; Imbusch et al. [17]; McDonald [24]; Moriconi [25]; Neumann [31]; Pearce [32]; Schultze-Kraft [35]; Shirk and Wallman [37]; Snyder and Duran-Martinez [38]; Trejo and Ley [40]; UNDP [41]; vom Hau [15].

  6. Among the ‘success stories’ are the dismantling of the so-called Cali and Medellín drug cartels in Colombia in the 1990s and the violence reduction programs in Medellín and Bogotá in the 2000s. Whether the Colombian experiences can be counted as ‘successes’ remains an open question, however [6, 29].

  7. The selected country cases are, of course, not a representative sample. Rather, the selection is based on the editors’ interest in providing fresh perspectives on a number of cases that are among the Latin American countries most affected by the crisis of crime, violence and insecurity (Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico) but also include another country (Argentina) that is not usually analysed in this context.

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Schultze-Kraft, M., Chinchilla, F.A. & Moriconi, M. New perspectives on crime, violence and insecurity in Latin America. Crime Law Soc Change 69, 465–473 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10611-017-9758-3

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