For more than two decades Latin America has been portrayed as the most violent continent in the world (Bergman 2006; Ceobanu, Charles, and Ludmila 2011; Tulchin & Ruthenburg 2006). Despite the vast amount of scholarship, policy recommendations, and policy implementation, much of it inspired in the United States’ policing model (Wacquant 2009), the level of violence remains high in the region. This begs the question why, considering all what has been written, said, and done, Latin America continues to be a violent continent. In a new and very much needed approach, Kristen Howarth and Jenny H. Peterson's Linking Police Violence and Crime in Latin America, attempts to give an answer to the question of why Latin America is still one of the most violent regions in the world. The contributors to this volume urge us to consider the complex human tragedy as a way of better understanding the roots of the persisting violence as a goal in the search for peace. They show how the socioeconomic structure, the long history of political and socioeconomic exclusion, and the application of top-down policies have failed to give response to the continuous bloodshed in Latin America. Thereafter, the authors take an in-depth look at different communities affected by this violence, examine how certain “tough-on-crime” policies have been counterproductive, and offer alternative solutions to the problem. In a field that has become ossified by a series of approaches developed in the Global North and deployed oftentimes uncritically, Linking Police Violence and Crime in Latin America is a fresh look into crime and violence in this continent. Scholars have maintained that state incapacity, the weakness of institutions and mechanisms of accountability, and ineffective policing methods are the reasons why violence is still so prevalent (Caldeira & Holston 1999; Collier & Munck 2001; O'Donnell 1999), some even promoting the implementation of US-inspired policing approaches, such as community-policing (Tulchin, Frühling, and Golding 2003). Furthermore, the tendency to quantify and measure has led authors to examine homicides and police killings (Brinks 2008; Chevigny 1995), leaving aside a series of violent events that are difficult or impossible to measure, ranging from police abuse to psychological violence. The editors urge us to break with this epistemological monopoly and promote a complex and varied approach that analyzes the topic through the stories of those involved with crime and those who have been victims of violence in different contexts, without losing sight of the structural and contextual conditions that promote violence. Jenny Petersen's theoretical chapter sets the stage for this ambitious project. She begins by exploring how “the political need . . . for an ‘other’ on which security policy and rhetoric can focus” (16) remained in place even after the end of the Cold War. Terror and crime filled this vacuum, justifying large defense budgets and the continuing militarization of security forces. Petersen prompts us to carefully consider the relationship and political interests of those creating and implementing policy. In this sense, we cannot ignore the global context and the way globalization and neoliberalism have affected the region and promoted violence by creating economic insecurity, reducing state's capacity, and allowing the growth of financial markets that benefit from and influence illegal activities. Petersen asks us to consider “the myriad forms that political violence can take and its multitude of impacts” (3). Moreover, we need to overcome the idea that crime is a “calculated/rational” choice, showing the complex and diverse reasons that lead people to engage in illegal activities, as well as considering the “positive functions that organized crime may serve” (10), for instance, reducing violence in a specific area or providing the community with social services that the government is unable or unwilling to provide. In the first empirical chapter, Ani Carpenter examines gang violence and drug trafficking in Mexico and Central America, challenging the dominant criminal justice approach, which posits that organized criminal groups are apolitical and homogeneous, that criminal actors freely chose to engage in criminal activities, and that only through military-style operations can we eliminate the problem. In contrast, Carpenter suggests that we use a multilevel conflict resolution approach, such as mediation or a national-level truce, as happened in Panama in 2014. Carpenter advocates for the intervention of the private sector and international humanitarian agencies, providing examples of similar successful initiatives across the continent. Next, Kristen Howarth analyzes the role of El Salvador's National Police (PNC) in creating an environment that is permissive to crime and violence. Created in the aftermath of El Salvador's long civil war to replace the corrupt and abusive police force, the PNC's incapacity, due to the lack of funding, poor training, corruption, poor motivation, and lower retention rates, has caused a security vacuum where the state's monopoly of the legitimate use of violence is challenged by nonstate actors. Howarth shows how ready-made institutional reforms, usually seen as a panacea against violence, create more problems than what they are supposed to solve. In the following chapter, Lirio Gutierrez Rivera studies how, heavily influenced by the war on drugs and US crime policies, the Honduran government adopted a series of crime control measures, which substantially increased the incarcerated population and disrupted the “prison order” that was in place, generating a rise in prison violence. Finally, Mateja Celeste studies the experiences of displaced people and communities affected by armed conflict in Colombia and how these experiences have influenced the way they perceive their place-belonging. Violence is the result of a dysfunctional system of justice, lack of opportunities for engagement with legal activities, and lack of economic and social opportunities, influenced by both internal and global politics. Violence is not democratically distributed, it especially affects people of low socioeconomic backgrounds; by delving into their stories we are able to learn the complexities of violence in Colombia. There is no doubt that Linking Political Violence and Crime in Latin America is important, even essential, reading for scholars interested in violence in the region. However, the project might be too ambitious to be covered in one single edited volume. Furthermore, the chapters, while very insightful in their analysis, fall short of addressing some of the challenges posited in the theoretical chapter. Except for Liro Gutierrez Rivera, none of the authors directly address the negative influence US crime policies and war on drugs have had in the region. Moreover, the authors have not thoroughly explored the connection between the implementation of neoliberal policies and repressive tactics to address the social damages created by neoliberalism. Finally, many of the remedies proposed are still developed from a top-down approach. The approach taken by the authors correctly affirms the fact that the people on the ground are sources of knowledge, and thus, we should listen to their stories not only to better understand the violence but also in search for different solutions. References Bergman Marcelo. ( 2006). Crime and Citizen Security in Latin America: The Challenges for New Scholarship. Latin American Research Review 41: 213– 27. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Brinks Daniel M. ( 2008). The Judicial Response to Police Killings in Latin America: Inequality and the Rule of Law . New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Caldeira Teresa P. R., Holston James ( 1999). Democracy and Violence in Brazil. Comparative Studies in Society and History 41( 4): 691– 729. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Ceobanu Alin M., Wood Charles H., Ribeiro Ludmila. ( 2011). Crime Victimization and Public Support for Democracy: Evidence from Latin America. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 23: 56– 78. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Chevigny Paul ( 1995). Edge of the Knife: Police Violence in the Americas . New York: The New Press. Collier David, Munck Gerardo L. ( 2001). Introduction: Regimes and Democracy in Latin America. Studies in Comparative International Development 36( 1): 3– 6. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS O'Donnell Guillermo ( 1999). Polyarchies and the (Un)Rule of Law. In The (Un)Rule of Law & the Underprivileged in Latin America , edited by Mendez Juan E., O'Donnell Guillermo, Pinheiro Paulo Sergio. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. Tulchin Joseph S., Ruthenburg Meg. ( 2006). Toward a Society under Law: Citizens and their Police in Latin America . Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press. Tulchin J. S., Frühling H. H., Golding H.. ( 2003). Crime and Violence in Latin America: Citizen security, democracy, and the state, edited by Tulchin J. S., Frühling H. H., Golding H.. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Press. Wacquant Loic. ( 2009). Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity . Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Studies Association. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com
International Studies Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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