Latin American Research Review 41.2 (2006) 213-227
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Crime and Citizen Security in Latin America
The Challenges for New Scholarship
Marcelo S. Bergman
Among the most striking developments in Latin America over the last twenty years has been the dramatic rise in criminality. Homicides have more than doubled over ten years and the rate of property crime has at times been triple what it was fifteen years ago. Similar changes in the economic and political lanscape would have surely triggered a torrent of books and research interests. Yet, one of the most puzzling questions in the literature is why such a drastic deterioration in public security and rise in criminal activity have not produced a wave of new volumes in the field. The following tables briefly describe these dramatic changes. [End Page 213]
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| Table 1 |
Changes in the Rate of Homicides (2000/1985)
This essay reviews five books that are among the best in an incipient field of academic production.1 These books are particularly valuable because they undertake the study from an empirical perspective. Two are monographs on single states (Mexico and Colombia), another two are collections of articles on different countries in the region, and one is a collection of papers on a single country (Venezuela). Most of the essays and monographs deal with the reaction to the challenges of higher criminality, namely the citizen security side of the problem, but the analytical aspects of the sudden change in criminal activity have not been comprehensively addressed. The majority of these works are descriptive, based on the best (and yet very poor quality) data, using a variety of methodological approaches, both qualitative and quantitative, written by top scholars in the field.
The first section of this review briefly summarizes the books, and I then answer four questions: what are the topics and issues, what can be said about the data, what are the methods of social scientific production [End Page 214] in the field, and what are the findings of this recent academic production? I conclude with implications and research agenda.
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| Table 2 |
Increase of Property Crime for Selected Cities
A Brief Summary
The book that best documents the many aspects of the rise in criminality in Latin America is the edited volume by Fajnzylber, Lederman, and Loayza Crimen y violencia en America Latina.2 The book is based on a conference sponsored by the World Bank that commissioned articles on many countries in which the authors address the rise in violent and property crime over the last decade. Every article presents data on homicide trends for each country and then analyzes victimization and criminal patterns in major cities, including Cali, San Salvador, Lima, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo. These articles are prefaced by an introduction on the economic perspective of crime and victimization, perhaps one of the best pieces of research on the determinants of crime in the area.
Fajnzylber et al. ask the classic question of what makes Latin America one of the most violent regions in the world. Using official cross-national data and surveys for Latin American cities, they...