Citizen Insecurity in Latin America: Exchanging Experiences in Search of Solutions

June 26, 2013

Courtesy of: The High-Level Presidential Council for Coexistence and Citizen Security – Colombia

  • Delegates throughout the Americas exchanged experiences and sought practical solutions.
  • Citizen insecurity hinders development and affects nearly all Latin American countries.
  • A regional network was created, RESOL-V, which brings together authorities and experts from different sectors to address citizen security issues.

Twenty years ago, Cali was on the frontline of one of the world’s most dangerous wars. A group of drug traffickers in that city clashed violently with their enemies in Medellin, led by Pablo Escobar.

As depicted recently in the soap opera El Patrón del Mal, attacks against unarmed civilians, murders committed by hit men and fighting between armed groups were everyday occurrences.

This week, Cali received some 450 guests from around the continent, who came to discuss the problem of crime and violence that devastated this city and that now affects the entire region, from the suburbs of Chicago to the highways of Central America and the border regions of Paraguay.

With a view of Cali’s verdant hills, the delegates met at Hotel Intercontinental on Wednesday. Military officers in their green uniforms with the Colombia flag entered the conference room while mayors from cities all over Latin America exchanged friendly greetings.

The goal of the event, which was organized by the Cali City Hall, the High-Level Presidential Council for Coexistence and Citizen Security and the World Bank, was to learn from the positive experiences of cities like Cali and Medellin, as well as from other areas in the region that have implemented initiatives to improve citizen security.

The event brought together representatives of non-governmental organizations from small cities that promote music or sports programs, representatives of international agencies concerned about the negative effects of crime on development and local and national government officials aware of the seriousness of the problem.

Working with young people

Participant Lucila Gutierrez Carrión, of SENA Valle, a youth training government entity in Colombia, believes that much can be done to develop integral solutions to prevent crime and violence. “We know we can contribute a lot if we work in an integral manner with young people.”

 “There are challenges since we start with the premise that violence and crime are avoidable. They can be prevented. And that is our greatest challenge. Our duty as members of society is to do everything within our power to achieve this objective,” said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

" Citizen insecurity expands the social inequality existing in the region "

Hasan Tuluy

World Bank Vice-president for Latin America and the Caribbean

For everyone at the conference, it was clear that citizen insecurity is a multifaceted issue that cannot be addressed solely by public security forces. In others words, a “firm hand” is not enough to resolve the problem.

Participants at the Cali meeting also agreed that citizen insecurity is a concrete obstacle to development, as the World Bank Vice-president for Latin America stated during the opening ceremony.

"No more!"

“Citizen insecurity expands the social inequality existing in the region,” said Hasan Tuluy. "The elite can buy tailor-made security [services] in the market. However, the emerging middle class is not protected because the government is ill-prepared to confront an enemy that is like a many-headed monster.” 

 “The time has come for change, the time to say “no more,” he added.

It is a serious problem affecting the entire region. There are no one-size-fits-all formulas; different solutions are needed to address the issue.

To that end, the Cali event sought to promote the exchange of experiences, which will contribute to developing concrete, practical solutions.

Cali Mayor Rodrigo Guerrero lauded the participation of mayors from Colombia and other countries at the conference.

“The presence of mayors is particularly useful. The exchange of experiences will enrich us all,” said Guerrero.

The 450 delegates did not limit the discussion to the three-day conference in Cali. They also agreed to create the RESOL-V network, which will promote the ongoing exchange of ideas for addressing citizen insecurity across the region.

With the determination to find solutions that was evident in Cali and the commitment to continue working through the RESOL-V network, the region has the opportunity to consolidate the positive results of recent years and leave the obstacles caused by crime and violence behind.