New Directions for the Study of Citizen Security in Latin America

January 28, 2008 // 8:00am4:00pm

On January 28, 2008, the Latin American Program convened experts from 12 Latin American countries to participate in a day-long workshop on citizen security. The goal of the meeting was to assess the current trends and challenges for addressing crime and security and identify areas that require further study and attention. Workshop participants represented a diverse group of researchers and practitioners from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and the United States. Representatives from international organizations based in Washington D.C., including the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization of American States, the World Bank, and Washington-based NGO representatives also participated in the discussion.

Participants questioned the popular assertion that crime is generally waning in the region, noting that the evolution of criminal actions in different countries—and even in different cities within the same country—is a cause for concern. Participants agreed that one of these new forms, organized crime, has had a severe impact on the daily lives of citizens and governance not only in the historically violent areas of Colombia, but now in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and in some Caribbean countries. Organized crime is growing in countries such as Venezuela, Peru, Argentina, and Brazil. According to Jeannette Aguilar of the Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas in El Salvador, organized crime and related gang activity have led to particularly cruel and indiscriminate forms of violence in Central America over the past three years. Participants emphasized that future discussions of organized crime must distinguish it from the maras phenomenon, which has plagued both U.S. and Latin American cities.

Former Wilson Center fellows Hugo Frühling (Chile) and Carlos Basobrío (Peru) and current Fellow Lucía Dammert (Chile) emphasized the importance of strong local governments and civil society involvement in addressing crime and violence. Participants lamented, however, the gap between the innovative research being done in the field and its incorporation into public policy. They suggested that more attention be paid to the relative effectiveness of preventative policies, the implications of military involvement in internal security, and the increasing use of private security.

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