Washington D.C, April 19, 2012 – High crime rates in Latin America and the Caribbean not only take a terrible toll in terms of human lives and social problems, they also often constitute the main obstacle to these countries’ development.
Large numbers of crimes and criminals carry considerable costs for the countries that must fight them, but also for economic activities, due to the high costs of security and the lack of confidence they generate among potential investors.
The problem is increasingly serious in Central America, for example, where more than 18,000 homicides occurred in 2010, a figure that places the isthmus among the world’s least secure areas.
Experts agree that all of these deaths, illegal weapons on the streets and youth gang violence, usually associated with drug trafficking, seriously threaten the long-term development potential of these countries.
Why the violence?
For Father Pepe Moratlla, a Spanish priest who has worked in a poor El Salvadoran community for over 25 years, the rise in crime “is the result of the lack of work, of decent wages, as well as of the weak family structure.”
Enrique Molina, of the Barrio-Ciudad Project in Honduras, believes that violence erupts in “communities that do not have running water, that do not have sanitation systems, and that face difficulties with access. In many of these neighborhoods, residents do not take advantage of existing public spaces; rather, they are used by those who want to harm these communities.”
The lack of opportunities and the fact that Central America is the mandatory transit corridor for drug trafficking to the United States, combine to create a problem that goes well beyond the borders of the countries and the solutions that each government may implement to address it. In June 2011, Central American countries organized a summit in Guatemala to propose joint solutions, but especially to ask for help from the international community and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and others.
With support from the international community, but especially through the tireless efforts of civil society organizations, several Central American countries have launched initiatives to prevent violence or decrease its impact. One of these is Father Moratlla’s Education and Work Foundation, which is implementing a musical education program in 40 schools in El Salvador.
“The objective is to counteract violence and the formation of youth gangs with a music culture,” the priest explains. In Honduras, for example, the government finances the Barrio-Ciudad Project to improve infrastructure and services such as garbage collection in poor communities. “The project has really changed the lives of all of us here in the neighborhood,” says Adali Correa, a leader in the Villanueva neighborhood of Tegucigalpa.
On the World Bank’s Facebook page, Elida Domínguez from Argentina proposed that “there should be more work and education” to fight crime. “They should stop showing violent programs on TV,” wrote Annete Bello. Aaroncito Leiva recommended “strict, irrevocable laws, without any rights for criminals.”
At any rate, it is clear that there is no single solution for every case, and countries facing this problem need all the support they can get to ensure that crime and violence no longer threaten their future.