Heraldo Muñoz is Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Assistant Administrator, and Director of UNDP's Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Follow him on: @heraldomunoz
12 Nov 2013
In recent years, Latin America has set the stage for considerable advances in two areas: economic and social progress and crime. Despite the headway that has been achieved in terms of growth and improvements in health, education and the reduction of poverty and inequality, Latin America has become the most dangerous region in the world. In fact, in this region, homicide rates exceed the "epidemic" level, with more than 10 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants.
This is one of the conclusions reached by the Regional Human Development Report, “Citizen Security with a Human Face: Evidence and Proposals for Latin America,” which we have recently made public.
The finding that insecurity is a shared challenge and simultaneously an impediment to social and economic development in all Latin American countries resulted in our dedicating two years of research in order to assess the problem and suggest a number of remedies that would improve public policy as and when required.
The report highlights the fact that Latin America has witnessed low-quality growth, based on consumption and with insufficient social mobility. The deterioration of citizen security is also related to demographic trends caused by rapid and uncontrolled urban growth as well as by changes in family structure and deficiencies in the school system: in other words, the social fabric has become eroded, creating conditions that lead to growth in criminal behavior.
In all Latin American countries, more than 80 per cent of prison inmates who participated in the survey had not had a school education beyond the age of 12. Young people, particularly those who are male, are affected more by criminality and violence, and in turn are more often than not responsible for violent acts and crime.
Citizen insecurity also affects Latin America´s economic potential: were it not for the very high incidence of homicides, the region´s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would rise by 0.5 per cent.
The growing perception of insecurity and the downsizing of the State have resulted in private vigilantes being hired, a phenomenon that has grown in Latin America at an annual rate of 10 per cent, driving up inequality between social classes throughout the region.
Among the 10 recommendations for a more secure region, primacy should be given to the need to avoid the politicization of the issue of insecurity, which instead should be perceived as a challenge for all, and one that calls for the building in each Latin American country of a National Citizen Security Agreement as a State policy, equipped with measures for the short-term, medium-term and long-term.
There is no other viable path than to formulate policies that lead to a comprehensive strategy for citizen security, including the involvement of police forces who conduct their operations on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis in ongoing close liaison with local communities; improving the quality of life of citizens while paying particular attention to more vulnerable groups such as women and young people; attaining justice that is accessible, expeditious, and effective; and ensuring an education system based on values of peaceful coexistence, tolerance, and respect for the rule of law.