Violence is a difficult concept to tackle in a simple and linear way. Violence exists all over the world and every region is vulnerable to violence.
If we assume that poverty produces violence, then we can say that the historical inequalities of the region have produced violent environments among its population. As Latin American history is filled with struggle, first for its independence, then for its consolidation and then for political strategies to carry out national projects, we can assume that violence has been a strong component throughout such struggles, even in efforts to solve inequality issues in the region.
Limiting the question to the present, the region’s current scenario of economic, social and political changes has been the one that presents the lowest levels of violence in historical terms, although violence is still present in two types of manifestations that must be considered. Repression carried out by some economic and / or political sectors against the most vulnerable (as seen in some parts of Mexico) and interpersonal, or intra-family violence, which has become an issue in recent years. While this issue has always existed, women-led social mobilisations have brought to light issues relating to domestic violence, which many believed were culturally accepted. There is a long road ahead for Latin American women, which undoubtedly goes hand in hand with their greater participation in the labor market, their economic independence, the precariousness of the job opportunities offered to them, new family arrangements, and the role that Latin American societies assign to women, which has reached no consensus yet.
There is the hypothesis that the cause of violence is inequality. This region is very unequal, and this region is very violent, therefore inequality causes violence. But there’s also an argument that it’s not the case, it’s actually a question of state capability. If you think about it, the state comes before both violence and inequality. So if you have a strong capable state, that can control its territory and provide public services, then you’ll have lower levels of inequality. There is health care, education and a certain level of redistribution in taxation – and you’ll have lower levels of violence because the cartels and the gangs won’t control the territory. So why do we have the violence in Latin America? Really, it’s because there are pockets of territory where there is no state presence, and the vacuum has has been filled by these violent actors.
High levels of inequality can provoke feelings of social injustice among the population, as well as affect the social fabric and its stability. These effects may cause an increase in the number and types of crimes committed given the concentration of wealth in a certain group. Not only the potential benefits of the crime increases but the lack of opportunities for segments less favored in unequal societies can result in a scenario where crime is the only option to sustain a certain well-being level.
As an example of this, in the Peruvian case, it can be observed that in inter-district areas with high income where highly differentiated strata of income coexist, there is a non-exogenous concentration of certain type of violent crimes against heritage.
Yes, but it’s a complex one, because maybe inequality and violence are both consequences of the same pattern in society – rather than one causing the other.
There are many types of violence that have existed for many years, which are still present in the form of police violence, but you also have bigger types of violence relating to the drug trade. These are all related to inequality, or rather a perverse structure of opportunities in society. The lack of formal opportunities to make a living sits alongside the presence of very powerful incentives to enter into very lucrative, dangerous and very violent forms of economic activity – which are also related to the international war on drugs.
But then you also have other forms of violence, like in El Salvador, Guatemala, these places that have experienced war, that now offer no opportunities to those who were trained in violence. So yes, it’s related to inequality, but it’s an inequality of opportunity, which again links to the entrance of the region into the global market and also the involvement of the US in the region.