UN: Crime keeps Latin America back

By AARON MORRISON, Special to the Miami Herald

UNITED NATIONS — Despite a decade of social and economic advances in the region, young Latin Americans are living in the world’s most insecure conditions, and that insecurity is hindering more meaningful growth in the region, a panel of U.N. experts said Tuesday.

The panelists, including Helen Clark, head of the United Nations Development Program, and Heraldo Muñoz, the U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Latin America and the Caribbean, said Latin Americans are living in a paradox, where crime, violence and the perception of insecurity went up, not down, as the region grew more prosperous.

“We found out that the violence is concentrated with young, male adults – their homicide rates are very, very high,” said Rafael Fernandez de Castro, coordinator of a new regional development report, “Citizen Security with a Human Face: evidence and proposals for Latin America.”

Fernandez added that, while the young men are both victims and perpetrators of the region’s crime, it’s because “they’ve been excluded from the benefits of the economic growth.”

Young women are suffering, too, according to the report. One in 10 Latin American homicide victims are female, and that rate is on the rise. Moreover, as homicide rates have been reduced in other regions, one million Latin Americans were murdered between 2000 and 2010.

Several of the region’s countries — Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela, Belize, Guatemala, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and the Virgin Islands — are eight of the 10 most violent places in the world, according to U.N. figures.

“People are increasingly worried about their safety,” Clark said. “In such ways, citizen insecurity limits people’s capabilities and freedoms, inhibiting them from pursuing opportunities which can improve their lives, contribute to their communities, and build social trust.”

The narrow scope of the region’s economic growth, changes in demographics, the prevalence of weapons, alcohol and drugs, and weak response by governments to violence and crime were listed among the drivers of violence among youth.

Muñoz said that governments must seriously confront the drivers of insecurity by focusing policies on their vulnerable and young populations.

But “there is no magic solution to insecurity,” he added.

The panel highlighted 10 recommendations for Latin American government organizations. In the way of policy making, governments should align their efforts internationally, strengthen their justice institutions to reduce the air of impunity and redouble efforts to prevent gender-based violence.

Not all regional actors are in agreement with the report’s analysis. Marita Perceval, the U.N. ambassador for Argentina, felt the issue was being reduced to a “cops and robbers game.”

“It goes further than that,” Perceval said. “We’ve had too much reductionist theory and that has contributed to the problem.”

However it is addressed, insecurity stands in the way of continued and meaningful regional growth, Fernandez said.

“We must have progress,” he said. “If nothing happens and we don’t take this seriously, Latin Americans will suffer tremendously. It is already the number one public concern in Latin America, but it is also a great cost to Latin American development.”

The report, only the second commissioned by the UNDP on Latin America, was supported by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development, which coordinated with 20 regional authorities to form an advisory board of former presidents, ministers and leaders from major multilateral organizations.

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