Citizen insecurity poses a rising challenge to democratic governance and the exercise of citizenship throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Homicide rates are among the highest in the world and citizens throughout the region cite crime, followed by unemployment, as the dominant concern of daily life. Transnational organized crime, including but not limited to narco-trafficking, exacerbates levels of violence, compromises state institutions, and undermines democratic quality and the rule of law.
The Program’s work on democratic governance focuses on questions of improving democratic quality and state capacity, the relationship between democratization and internal armed conflict, the resurgence of populism, and the protection of human rights.
As Latin American countries find new options for political and economic insertion in a globalized world, patterns of international relations and U.S.-Latin American relations are changing. Through events and publications, the Latin American Program aims to deepen the understanding of the region’s new commercial and political relationships with China, India, other Asian countries, and Iran.
The resolution of armed conflict through a peace process has been a focus of the Program’s work and continues to be an important area of study for understanding post-conflict democratic transitions and efforts in consolidation. Often the causes of continued insecurity, human rights abuses, a lack of socio-economic reforms, and a weak judicial system are the legacies of the partial implementation of a peace accord mandate in those countries.
Since 2003, levels of inequality in several Latin American countries have improved, sometimes dramatically. Although the region remains the most highly unequal in the world, inequality (as measured by the Gini coefficient) declined by 5 percent between 2002 and 2008 for the region as a whole. Analysts have attributed the decline in inequality to the dynamics of the labor market and to an increase in government social expenditures. Notwithstanding some improvements on the expenditure side, however, systems for collecting tax revenue in the region remain highly regressive. They have done little to improve inequality and in a number of cases have contributed to its worsening.
Trade issues have mobilized civil society groups throughout the Americas, causing disputes within governments and ruling coalitions. Because trade-related reforms take place in the context of economic dislocations throughout the region, they have generated unprecedented debate over winners and losers in the process of globalization.