Buenos Aires, Argentina.
What are some of the causes of crimes?
It is agreed among many experts that one of the main causes of crime is the unequal distribution of wealth among the people of any nation, and those in Latin America are no different. Economic growth in Latin America tends to be exclusive rather than inclusive, preventing the poor from profiting from their labour and allowing the rich to exploit them for it. In times of extreme economic strife due to this unjust distribution, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes, criminals are given justification (to stand up against this injustice) and opportunity (wealth to rob from others) to commit certain crimes, many of which are violent. Along with a poor economic climate, many are left unemployed and, according to Ayres (1998), violence is counter-cyclical, in that homicide rates increase in low economic activity.
A history of conflict can also be observed in Latin America, and because many of the populations within the Americas have wit
nessed such brutalities as mass murders and wars, violence has become “normalised”. The presence of such conflict taught the masses the skills of combat which are easily applied elsewhere. Often, education was put on hold in times of conflict, leaving the youth with the violence surrounding them as their only educator. The conflict instilled in these communities lead to the breaking of many ties and the loss of social cooperation and an increase in anti-social behaviour, ridding the communities of informal criminal prevention.
Young men are the most at-risk to commit crimes, largely due to their idle positions. Most street crimes are committed between the ages of 15-24, the age when most should be enrolled in secondary school, but several nations show that enrolment for secondary education is less that 50% and the economy is unable to grow enough to support and absorb that much of a population growth. Many of these youths turn to drug trafficking in order to make a living. Because of their physical geography, many countries in the Americas have found themselves in the heart of the drug trade. It is believed that approximately 88% of cocaine travels through Central America, but the value of the cocaine is much greater than the value of the resources within the Americas (see Chart). With such a great potential profit, an increase of youth gangs can be noted. The “pandillas” or “maras”, both names for gangs, are said to be the core of local crimes in areas such as Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.

Which Countries and cities have the highest and lowest crime rates and Why?

Lima Peru.
Many countries in Latin America are faced with very high crimes rates. Columbia for example, which has evolved as a highly segregated society, split between the very wealthy families of Spanish descent and the poor Columbians, whom of many are of mixed racial descent. Columbia having huge numbers of armed groups involved in drug trafficking, the presence of the state has become weak. Civilians are caught in a grinding war of multiple fronts, many being the deliberately targeted for 'collaberating'. Brazil being one of the countries with the most inequality in the gap between the extremely wealthy and the extremely poor, has large numbers in violent crime rates. Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Salvador and many of Brazil's other large cities have many incidences in muggings, armed robbery, and sexual assault. Similar crimes are being commited in large numbers in El Salvador as well. It is said that downtown San Salvador is a dangerous place to be, especially at night.

According to UN Habitat 2006, 70% of urban dwellers in Latin America as well as in Africa were victims of crime between the years of 2000-2005.
Rio de Janeiro has higher crime rates in comparison to the rest of Brazil. In 2007 the homicide rate in the greater metropolitan area was almost thirty victims per week. In 2006 2,273 people were killed in the city of Rio de Janeiro giving it a murder rate of 37.7 per 100,000 people. In the year 2007 1,330 people were killed by police forces in the state of Rio de Janeiro, that is an increase of 25% from 2006. That rate is over three times as many people killed by police as was in the United States in the same year. Rio de Janeiro's many victims fall due to muggings, stray bullets and narcoterrorism, as well as the urban warfare between the drug trafficers and the police. Rio is a corrupt city, and with so many people falling due to drug trafficing as well as corrupt police officers, this city is in turmoil.
The city of Bogota in Columbia was known for its high crime rates for many years, in the mid-90's it was considered one of the most violent cities in the world. In the year 1993 there were 4352 people intentional homicides in the city, giving it a rate of 81 per 100,000 people. As a result of a participatory and integrated security policy called 'Communidad Segura' the crime rate in Bogota in 2007 dropped drastically down to 1401 murders, giving it a rate of 19 per 100,000 people.
In Mexico City, Mexico according to the Security Ministry figures for the capital 409 crimes were reported everyday in the year 2006. This rate is alarming, although majority of crimes commited in this city are related to petty theft. From January to August 2007 on average there were 444 crimes reported each day. Compared to Canada this crime rate is extremely high, but this rate is considered to be an achievement by the authorities, as in 1994 the crime rate in Mexico city was as high as 770 reports a day. These rates are already astoundingly high, but as stated by the Citizens Institute for Studies on Insecurity only 10% of crimes are actually reported. With this bit of knowledge that jumps the daily crime rates up to 4,090 in the year 2006 and 4,440 from January to August of 2007.
Sao Paulo another megacity in the country of Brazil, has experienced a drastic decline in murder rates since 2000, to be more correct the murder rate has been cut in half since the year 2000. Although we may here a lot of media coverage on organiszed criminal activity in Sau Paulo these attacks are largely a response to police crackdowns on law enforcement. In the year 1999 the criminal homicide rate reached 35.7 per 100,000 people in Sau Paulo according to official police data. In the year 2006 the homicide rae dropped rapidly to 15.1 per 100,000 people, and for 2007 the preliminary figures show an even further decline. With the homicide rates in 2006 Sau Paulo has not yet reached the achieved rate of 7 per 100,000 people in New York City, but has far passed other megacities in the United States. A few of the cities that Sau Paulo has been able to drop crime rates past in the same year are, Detroit(42), Baltimore(44), and Washington D.C(36). I find these statistics shocking, as no one seems to think about the crime rates in developed countries (like out own), or how safe their cities are.

What are the Prison Demographics (people committing the crimes)?

Latin America is a diverse set of multiple countries housing various demographics of people. Prisons’ in this country are run quite differently than our own, many of the prisons’ do not input the information of their inmates into a widespread database, making it extremely difficult to find exact numbers without much paperwork. The prison system in Brazil is not federally run, but is executed under a common penal law. A study was done that listed, to the best of the participating 25 of 27 prisons knowledge, many statistics about their inmates. The number of inmates more the doubles between the years 1995 and 2003, it is said that this jump is due to the imposition of a tougher legislation including longer sentencing and slashed legal benefits. (Lemgruber, 2) In the Sao Paulo prison the numbers of inmates are rising at a rate of 1000 more people a month. The monthly average of the states of Brazil is a 5% increase of a total amount of inmates per month. According to the study done by Lemgruber the number of people entering the system doubles the number of people leaving the system, 42% of the states don’t provide healthcare for their inmates and the conditions that the people are forced to live in are atrocious.
The data that was collected also show that the people who are in prison have a lower level of education and are a younger as a population in comparison to the rest of the world. Overall the penal system in Brazil is not an effective one, the inmates are not documented and recorded in an efficient and effective manner, the institutions are riddled with corruption and they are not built to hold the number of people that are being forced onto them.
Due to the lack of technology and documentation there are very few solid facts about the demographic of people committing crimes, and those that are being incarcerated. The prison officials often rely on phenotypic assessment versus genotypic assessment, and even then it is recorded on paper and filed, therefore much of the information is not available for public access. What the prison officials do know for certain is that their debt is increasing along with the number of inmates while space is decreasing. This is posing many consequences like crime, increase in diseases and HIV, riots and corruption. It appears as though the prison population is unregulated, housing every demographic in large amounts. Youth or young adults, the uneducated, and mostly males make up the majority of the prison population.


What is being done for prevention? Are the current policies in place working? Why or why not?

Drug War in Mexico.

Crime is currently at the top of the government agenda throughout all of Latin America. Though this may be true, in countries such as Mexico and Peru there have been massive demonstrations against the percieved government ineffectiveness in fighting and preventing crime

Latin American policing departments often lack the funding and resources to implement a Zero Tolerance program to fighting crime. Consequently this aggressive strategy frequently turns into a militarized system of fighting crime. At the other end of the crime fighting spectrum we have the Community-based approach, in this policy they believe that it takes the whole village or community to fight crime. This policing policy focusses on fighting crime through prevention and community participation. Before the 1990's Argentina was considered to be one of the safest countries in Latin America, however, that all changed with the economic downturn and then the economic collapse in 2001. Between the years of 1990-2001 Argentina witnessed an increase of 83% in crime, and the city of Buenos Aires witnessed a 23% increase in crime. Argentina's main approach to fighting crime has been the Zero Tolerance program, some saying that it has split the population into two groups, the good people and the others. The others are those that should be either be incarcerated or severly punished. With the Zero Tolerance policy the main policing strategy some of Argentina's provinces have turned to more of a Community-based approach in primary and secondary prevention.
Brazil, somewhat like that of Argentina relies heavily on force to fight their crimes. Brazil has long had higher rates of crime in comparison to other Latin American countries, but in the 1990's they too experienced an increase. In Sao Paulo the homicide rate rose from 41.6 in 1988 to 50.2 in 1993. That is an alarming rise. Sao Paulo has attempted to restrain its Zero Tolerance policy influence by bringing in some Community-based programs, unfortunately with little success. The officials have been unable to maintain contact with the people in these communities, therefore have been unable to fully implement the change from Zero Tolerance policing to more of a Community-based policing strategy.
Chile while still has crime, gets to enjoy having one of the lowest victimization rates in all of Latin America. Chile has two unique characteristics that distinguish it from its neighboring countries, they are public trust in the policing service and community prevention programs. In the year 2000 Chile introduced a new community program called 'Comuna Segura Compromise 100', which allows the people of each community to diagnose their crime-related problems and to develop an agenda of which issues are the priority. Once these major issues have been identitfied the people design crime-fighting initiatives that the government later funds. The community feels a part of Chile, and this program has been successful for the country.

What is the quality of life, standard of living and unemployment rates like in these mega cities?

For the most part these countries have a very large population, with a generally similar life expectancy (with the exception of Haiti). Unemployment rates of these countries are actually surprisingly high, with Haiti, Cuba and Peru topping the list. While Haiti and Cuba had the lowest minimum wage pay, El Salvador had a comparingly higher wage rate, even being dubbed the ‘world’s most dangerous city’!

The quality of life does not corralate with the minimum wage, it seems as though the minimum wage does not have an impact on the unemployment rate. for example Cuba has a relativly low unemployment rate and one of the lowest minimum wages, this is due to the lack of payments that this country faces. The Cuban government pays for healthcare and education and in many cases the cost of the rent is very low. Therefore the standard of living in Cuba is higher even though they are paid less. In the larger cities there is a lower quality of life, with increasing numbers of unemployed and more murders in the cities.

Mexico (Lange, 2009)
Population : 106.3 million
Life expectancy: 75.6 years
Minium wage : MX$57.46 pesos/ day
Unemployment rate : 6.41% (Oct 2009)
Murder rate: 10.97 murders/100 000 people

Cuba (,
Population : 11.2 million
Life expectancy: 76 years
Unemployment rate : 4.6%
Minimum wage: 225 pesos/month

El Salvador (IndexMundi)
Population: 6.6 million (2006)
Life expectancy: 71.49 years
Unemployment rate: 7.2% (2009)
Minimum wage* : US$ 192.10 a month for retail employees; US$187.73 for industrial labourers; US$166.82 for apparel assembly workers; US$89.86 for agriculture industry workers
Murder rate: 58 murders / 100 000 people
*note, there are varying minimum wages for different occupations

Haiti (Pierre, 2009;
Population: 9 million
Life expectancy: 60.78 years
Unemployment rate: widespread unemployment and underemployment, more then two thirds of the labor force are unemployed
Minimum wage: 200 gourdes ($5.50 US) a day
Murder rate: 11.5 murders/ 100 000 people

Colombia (indexmundi; L.A Herald Tribute)
Population: 44.5 million
Life expectancy: 74.07 years
Unemployment rate: 12%
Minimum wage: 469 900 pesos ($221.50 US)
Murder rate: 36 murders/ 100 000 people

Peru (; indexmundi)
Population : 29.5 million
Life expectancy: 70.74 years
Unemployment rate: 9%
Minimum wage: S/500 ($156.00 US)

Brazil (indexmundi;
Population : 198.7 million
Life expectancy: 71.9 years
Unemployment rate: 7.4%
Minimum wages: 510.00 reias / month
Murder rate: 25.2 murders/ 100 000 people

Many of the countries did not have reliable crime rate numbers, because each one has a different definition of what crimes are going to be included in their rates. The murder rate numbers were also not available for all countries and the numbers found are not reliable, they are dependent on reported murders including attempted murders. Unfortunately many murders are not reported, many bodies are never found and there are many people being described as ‘missing persons’.

Are these mega cities and safe place for tourists to travel? Why or why not?
Pick Pocket retrieved from:
Pick Pocket retrieved from:

According to an Associated Content news article published in 2007, Bolivia, one of Latin Americas many countries is rated the most dangerous in the world. Specifically within Bolivia, Medillin (with a population of about 2 million people) is ranked as the most dangerous city in the world statistically, with an average of 11 murders every day. 1 out of every million people in Bolivia are murdered every day. This high rate of crime there makes tourism much more dangerous for travellers and tourists who are often targeted for money or valuable items. 'Hot spots' for crime tend to be places such as bank machines, taxi's, restaurants, and markets. These 'hot spots' tend to be centered on main areas that tourists would be. Despite Bolivia's infamous war on drugs and political instablity, most countries (including the US and Canada) encourage travel within the country, but with safety warnings attatched. The U.S. Department of State requires all American citizens who are travelling to Bolivia to register with the U.S. embassy, who then provides up to date information on safety and security. The Department of State provides extensive resources and contact information which travellers can use to avoid highly dangerous situations and issues warnings about cities such as La Paz, in which petty crime such as theft has taken a noticeably more violent turn.

Most crime in Latin America that targets tourists is thought to be purely opportunistic and circumstantial. Tourist's who do not comply easily with robberies, theft, or other crime are much more likely to become victims of violence and brutality as well. One of the best ways to prevent this is to stay out of the identified danger zones which are made clear to the public. Many governments (such as Canada and the U.S.A.) have created readly available resources for travellers who may be in Latin America for buisness or recreational purposes. The wealth which foreigners bring into the area makes them easily identifiable targets for the many different groups there. It is advisable for travellers to stay in public areas and excercise caution, stay in groups, and to register all travel plans with the embassy and hotel's that they are staying in.

Crimes that are related to tourists and international guests are much more likey to be prosecuted and recognized by the media than conflct among the local population. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime recently released a document on Crime and Development in Central America stating on page 13 that "National governments should implement holistic crime prevention strategies. Development agencies, funding partners and multi-lateral donors should incorporate the emerging justice and security issues into their operational assistance platforms. Criminal justice reform, crime prevention and democratic community policing are essential and require international technical assistance." recommendations are clearly for governments of high crime areas within Latin America to seek assistance on an international basis, making the regions safer for locals as well as tourists. More international involvement such as this, would make crimes more easily punishable across borders, which is beneficial on both a national and international basis. The people travelling throughout Latin America would have a much safer experience, and the local citizens would also live under safer conditions. The United Nations document also discusses a "shared responsibility" for the safety and well being of Latin American areas. As it stands now, it is diffcult for this to happen without full cooperation of local governments.

How does the crime rate affect the citizens of the country? What hardships and/or stereotypes do they face due to this issue?
external image la+policia+lima.jpg
There is no question that Latin American citizens are highly impacted by the levels of crime and violence present. The tourism industry has been greatly impacted by the crime rates because less tourists are willing to travel to places which they may be in danger, and as a result, are bringing in less money to local business. The citizens have responded by calling for a more accountable government which fights the large amounts of corruption present. Many local communities have been enacting new policing strategies, as seen clearly in the Security Sector Reform article, read here: It has been observed that communities which come together to find strategies have lower levels of fear. Active government and police reform is one of the best ways to reduce crime and the impact of it on the general public. In addition to this, Latin Americans are sometimes curtailed or harmed by their government trying to prevent crime through incidents of police brutality, militarization, restricting laws, and unfair trials through the court system. To this day, the military and the police force still have a great amount of impunity when they act against crime, as it s justified through 'the greater good', and is occasionally even accepted throughout the public. A major issue that has been brought forward are the groups of "civillian vigilantes" who will often beat, torture, or even kill those found to be involved with crimial activity.

In addition to this, high crime rates in Latin America make it difficult for people to immigrate to other countries such as the U.S. and Canada because of stereotypical images of them. Immigration officals are concerned about the continuation of a 'life of crime' of some Latin Americans, when this is in fact not true. Although the crime rates are high wihin the area, the majority of the population is not comitting the crimes. It is mostly caused by organized groups wwho are competing for power and money, and who are at war with the government. Citizens of Laitn American countries must deal with this stereotype of criminal behavior, with no solid way to prove otherwise, because their contries are internationally ranked as some of the worst in terms of crime. As the governments within Latin America are attempt to restructure , this image has been slowly and steadily improving of the past several years.

What is the prison system like? How are the criminals dealt with?

The prison system in Latin America has suffered from underdevelopment. Before delving into the prison system, however, it is important to recognize that as many of the governments are still working towards democracy the law enforcement structures are struggling with new concepts and ideas. Unfortunately as they work towards this, funding for prisons is drastically overlooked, resulting in overcrowding. The idea of prison is to rehabilitate the criminals while also keeping them under protection but in the Americas it is seemingly impossible. Many don’t have sufficient personnel, equipment or infrastructure for the prison prisoners_space.JPGsystem to run efficiently, and though part of that responsibility lies in funding, a strong government capacity is necessary as well. When this is not readily available, many criminals are set to await trials, but as they haven’t been committed of any crimes, they cannot partake in rehabilitative activities and simply take up space that could be occupied by actual convicts which seriously undermines the process. In addition to overcrowding, as gang membership is a large issue, many of the prisons are filled with dangerous criminals and a minimal amount of staff that are truly there to protect. In August 2005, a fight between two gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha and Mara, resulted in over 30 dead and more than twice wounded. Inmates claim that a guard was seen entering the prison with hand grenades among other weapons and in May 2004 when San Pedro Sula caught on fire, more than 100 inmates were killed, many of whom were shot by the guards when they screamed for help.


Lemgruber, J. The Brazilian Prison System: a brief diagnosis
Lange, J. UPDATE 1-Mexico unemployment rate hits 14-yr high in Sept Reuters(October 2009).
“Minimum wage increases from 100 to 225 pesos a month” (Gale, Cengage Learning 2008)
Cuban Embassy, “Havana Cuban Info” (2005-2010)
“EL Salvador Unemployment rate” Indexmundi (2010)
“list of minimum wages by country” (march 2010)
“World Murder Rates” IndexMundi (2009)
“Demographics of Haiti” (March 2010)
Pierre, W. “Haitian Government Raises Minimum Wage to $5.50 per day” (May 2009)
“Haiti Unemployment rate” Indexmundi (2010)
“Colombia life expectancy at birth” Indexmundi (2010)
“Colombia Unemployment rate” Indexmundi (2010)
“Colombia Minimum Wage Set at $221.50 Per Month for 2009” Latin American Herald Tribute (2009)
“Peru's monthly minimum wage to stay at US$156” (March 2007)
“Peru” IndexMundi (2010)
“Brazil” IndexMundi (2010) [[ “List|]]
“List of countries by intentional homicide rate” (2010)
Hernandez, F. Associated Content: Top 5 Most Dangerous Countries. (2007).
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes. (2007). "Crime and Development in Central America: Caught in the Crossfire"
Heinemann, A, and Verner, D. (2006) "Crime and Violence in Development"