Even before the pandemic, violence was, along with unemployment, corruption and the economy, one of the biggest concerns of Latin Americans, becoming one of the issues that was gaining prominence on the political agenda and government of the region. The latest data from the United Nations Global Homicide Study indicates that Latin America and the Caribbean is one of the regions with the highest homicide rate in the world.
The region also has very high rates of violence produced in the private sphere. Violence characterized by homicides prevails and not self-directed violence, such as suicides, or collective violence, such as wars, terrorism. It is therefore a type of violence mainly associated with the serious problems of drug trafficking and organized groups.
21ST CENTURY VIOLENCE
The incidence of this type of interpersonal violence increased dramatically in the mid-1980s and early 1990s. However, at the dawn of the 21st century, the increase was greater than in the last century. Over the past two decades, the average homicide rate in the region has increased by over 80%, with a stronger acceleration in the current decade.
Even before the pandemic, homicide deaths had increased, especially in countries like El Salvador, Mexico and Guatemala, and decreased in other countries, including Colombia, Honduras and Argentina. During the pandemic, the types of domestic violence against women have increased alarmingly, as have sexual violence, cybercrime and theft of property. In this way, a paradigm shift of violence in the region can be observed.
The causes are attributed to multiple factors, which increases the complexity of its analysis and, therefore, makes its struggle more difficult. On the one hand, the increase in violence in recent decades has been attributed to factors at the macro level, including the high proportion of unemployed youth, poor economic performance, increasing inequalities and poverty. Added to this is the remarkable growth of the arms and drug markets associated with globalization and organized crime.
On the other hand, it is possible that a combination of factors at the macro level, including the economic recovery and government actions aimed specifically at reducing violence, may explain the reduction in homicide rates in some countries. However, there is no strong evidence to attribute this reduction in levels of violence to specific variables or changes at the systemic level.
In addition to macro-level changes related to the increase in violence, there are factors at the institutional, community and individual levels that are also associated with the high prevalence of violence in the region. These include weak judicial institutions and the enforcement of anti-corruption laws. There are also the so-called situational factors that trigger violence, where institutions of social control play a central role in reducing violence at the community level. These institutions include the police and the judiciary.
In Latin America, these institutions enjoy minimal trust, a characteristic that is not only due to institutional performance, but also to the state’s ability to deliver justice. This idea presupposes the ability to deal with demands for justice and the application of the rule of law to the needs of society.
The importance of trust in the justice system depends not only on observable elements, such as the reception of complaints, but also on the perception of violence and the achievement of justice within the system. Therefore, trust in these types of institutions and their relationship with victims who demand justice is fundamental. This understanding is fundamental for Latin American societies, where at least a third of the population has been the victim of a crime. All of this becomes even more relevant for the establishment of a process of democratic stabilization and the rule of law, a pending issue in the region.
* Translation from Spanish by Maria Isabel Santos Lima