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The Latin Americanist, June 2012 POLICING DEMOCRACY: OVERCOMING OBSTACLES TO CITIZEN SECURITY IN LATIN AMERICA. By Mark Ungar. Washington & Baltimore: The Woodrow Wilson Center Press & The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011, 330 pp., $30.00. Latin America is a region famous for many reasons, but to the average outsider one of its most distinctive characteristics has been its high levels of violence. From carjacking to armed robberies, kidnapping to murder, insecurity has reduced investment, (over)filled prisons, resulted in labor shortages and eroded democratic values. From Mexico to Venezuela, Brazil and El Salvador, citizen security, often encouraged by the media’s constant focus on crime stories, is now a leading priority in national polls and the overall regional agenda. Hopes were high that the democratization process away from military and authoritarian rule, where the judiciary and police were used predominantly to suppress the population and persecute those who sought to subvert the state, would bring increased public security. However, crime rates have continued to rise to create a citizen security crisis and prevent democratic consolidation. In light of this, Policing Democracy is a publication of great importance. Ungar argues that, in spite of a ‘cycle of violence’, Latin American police and criminal and justice systems have failed to implement effectual and long-term reforms. The author posits that the ongoing citizen security crisis has demonstrated the limitations of Latin America’s long-standing approach to law enforcement, which he states is “based on a centralized, standardized, and forceful response to crime” (1). Due to a growing awareness , both in the public policy and academic fields, that a community and problem-oriented approach enables a more effective and accountable form of policing, governments have attempted various structural reforms. However , these reforms have become highly politicized and experienced much resistance from the judiciary and police forces themselves. Governments find themselves stuck between the dilemma of choosing between comprehensive reforms and the population’s demand for immediate, heavyhanded action. The rule of law and the protection of fundamental citizen rights are central to a consolidated democracy. Yet the state often uses the need to protect its population from violence and crime to skirt the law and limit these rights, often manifesting in so-called ‘Mano Dura’ policies of zero tolerance witnessed in such countries as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Using a methodology based on interviews with gang members and key policy and ministerial figures, statistics, policy analysis, criminal justice theory and fieldwork observation, Policing Democracy examines the theory of potential reform and through an in- depth examination of three case studies Ungar shows both why reforms have failed and what can be improved in order to break the current impasse. The author’s choice of Honduras, Bolivia and Argentina provides a fascinating and overarching analysis within a cross-national analytical framework. The specific choice 200 Book Reviews of these three countries enables an examination of the spectrum of both opportunities available for and impediments to security reform, within a range of diverse economic, societal and demographic contexts. Whilst many authors largely focus on the comparatively poorer countries such as El Salvador, incorporating the under-examined case of Argentina allows the author to focus on a federalized and wealthier nation where each province has an individual police force and to show that the federal system can be at odds with both national policy and inequality. Policing Democracy does what much of the expanding literature on regional citizen security fails to do, namely analyze the political relationships that determine both the design and implementation of reforms. The three case studies also enable Ungar to pose critical questions on the relationship between citizen security and democratization, and how the comparative range of transitions towards democracy and authoritarian roots can shape changes to the security system. The book offers some vital reflections on the topic of security policies and crucially encourages analysis that does not just examine specific policies , which are often abandoned by governments due to partisanship and political factors. Instead the book argues that policies must not be viewed in a binary fashion as either a success or failure, but within a long-term context that will enable democratic strengthening through what Ungar terms “one...


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pp. 200-201
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