A Special Issue: Violence in Latin America and the Caribbean
Author: Ross Ryan
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 04/01/2012
In putting together this special collection of articles for the Peace and Conflict Monitor and highlighting the problem of violence in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) we are keenly aware of the trap we may fall into of unintentionally affirming the stereotypes that some who are unfamiliar with this region may hold.
LAC is a stunningly beautiful, culturally diverse, and largely peaceful region – a reality that is rarely portrayed in the films, music, and books that describe (and often romanticize) the gangs, drug traffickers, revolutionary war heroes (or villains), civil wars, conquistadores, or human sacrifice rituals that have shaped the collective imagination of this continent.
It is important to point out that no government in the region is armed with nuclear weapons, nor have they engaged in any significant military operations in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, or North America. As a matter of fact, Costa Rica, Grenada, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines have no military forces at all, while Panama and Haiti have extraordinarily limited militaries and no standing army – perhaps the largest concentration of such lightly-armed governments in any region of the world.
LAC countries have also been ahead of the curve in terms of establishing political mechanisms of regional cooperation and participating in international organizations, such as the OAS, SICA, the Latin American Integration Association, CARICOM, and the Union of south American Nations. These diplomatic initiatives, combined with a long history of popular, grassroots movements that have demanded peace, justice, and respect for human dignity across the continent deserve much more attention (and perhaps another special issue of the Monitor).
Still, there are reasons to focus on the problem of violence in Latin America and the Caribbean, chief among them being the high levels of violent crime, especially in Honduras, El Salvador, St Kitts and Nevis, Venezuela, and Jamaica – the countries with the top five highest homicide rates in the world (by population) – and many other countries in the region not far behind.
Each homicide could probably be explained individually, and found to have specific causes unique to each person involved, or we could analyse murder itself, which would probably lead us to broader questions of human nature, however, we have chosen here to focus on the regional level in an attempt to understand what common historical, economic, political, or social dynamics there may be in LAC, and what, if anything, can be done to nourish the peace that many in the region enjoy, and share it with those who continue to struggle with the trauma of social violence.
In this sense, the present collection of articles should be taken as only a small part of the larger discussion of peace and conflict, a discussion which forces us all to reflect on ourselves, our countries, our regions, and our cultures.
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