NEW YORK — Insecurity and crime in Latin America continue to be a serious concern. Statistics from the recent United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report of 18 countries in the region show how insecurity can be a hindrance to social and economic development.
The 2013-14 UNDP Latin America Human Development Report, “Citizen Security with a Human Face: Evidence and Proposals for Latin America,” was released at the end of 2013. This report is a relevant source for analyzing the difficulties of security in Latin America while providing productive suggestions for the future.
A survey in 2012 found that 50 percent of Latin Americans believed the security in their country has deteriorated. Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator, stated at the launch of the Human Development Report that, “Such high levels of concern about security undermine the social cohesion, trust, freedoms and empowerment on which human development depends.”
The lack of security in the region prevents citizens from pursuing opportunities to better their lives and compromises their ability to contribute to their communities and build social trust.
According to a 2012 survey, crime in Latin America is so poor that between 20.6 percent of citizens in Chile and 59.1 percent of citizens in the Dominican Republic said they limited the places they frequent for recreation out of fear of being a victim of a crime.
Insecurity not only impedes the everyday freedoms and overall quality of life of citizens, but also has negative economic impacts on the region. The report found that in 2009 the region’s GDP would have been 0.5 percent, or the equivalent of $24 billion, higher if not for the excess mortality caused by homicides.
Between 2000 and 2010 there were more than 1 million homicides in the region. While the murder rates in the world have decreased, they have increased in Latin America to more than 100,000 per year. In 2009 alone, 331 million years of life were lost based on 15 of the countries’ homicide rates.
Increased crime causes increased cost to both public and private institutions.
When combining the cost of the anticipation of crime, the consequences of crime and the response to crime, countries ranged from spending 2.52 percent of GDP (Chile) to spending 10.54 percent of GDP (Honduras).
Paraguay spends 8.7 percent of their GDP on prevention and response to crimes, and 4.8 percent of their GDP on education.
It seems many of the causes of insecurity are further perpetuated by poor education. For example, a survey of inmates from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Mexico and Peru found that 80 percent of the inmates from these countries had not completed 12 years of schooling.
Crime comes at a cost to private institutions as well when considering the cost for private security and the related costs of physical and mental well-being, in addition to the cost of lives lost.
According to the study, there was a higher ratio of private security guards than police officers in most of the countries where data was available. There was a total of 3,811,302 private security guards in the region compared with 2,616,753 police officers.
Although the report was filled with many dismal statistics regarding the security of Latin America, it also offered proposals for the future.
The report stated that programs that target unemployed and uneducated youths who live in impoverished urban areas and create alliances between these youths and the private sector, with government leadership, would be most effective.
One of the main causes for insecurity explained in the report was the economic-structural dimension. When combining the factors of low quality, low-paying jobs, insufficient social mobility and the increased nature of a consumer-driven economy, it creates an environment in which people are more likely to commit “aspirational crimes” and supplement their low income with illegal acts such as robbery.
“[Citizen security] is a crucial issue for several regions… because without peace there can be no development and without development there can be no lasting peace,” says Helen Clark.