Global Voices

Latin America is the deadliest region on Earth — and this YouTube series wants to know why

Run by young reporters from the 130-year-old Colombian newspaper El Espectador, La Pulla combines hard analyzes with a raw sense of humor to delve into complex topics.

Screenshot of the first episode of the series, available on YouTube.

With only 8 percent of the world’s population, Latin America accounts for 33 percent of its homicides, making it the planet's deadliest continent. Around 2,5 million people have been murdered in the region since the start of this century, more deaths than in all of the world's wars in the same period.

Over the past few decades, there has been more research about the phenomenon than attempts to disseminate their findings to the wider public. Colombian YouTube channel La Pulla (in Spanish, “the taunt”) is having a go at it with the seven-episode series “Murder: Latin America's Tragedy” (In Spanish, “Matar, la desgracia de América Latina”).

Run by young reporters of the 130-year-old Colombian newspaper El Espectador, La Pulla delves into complex topics by combining hard analyzes with a raw sense of humor. While designed primarily with young Colombians in mind, the channel resonated with followers of all ages, inside and outside the South American country.

The “Murder” series, released in June 2017, turned out to be one of the channel's most popular. Some of the episodes come with English subtitles.

In the first episode, special guests tackle Mexico's case. Political commentator Jorge Roberto Avilés Vázquez, known online as Callodehacha, explains how the problem isn't restricted to the drug cartels:

Un dato para el presidente Trump: casi la mitad de los vendedores de armas [estadounidenses] dependen de nosotros como clientes. En México, hay armas suficientes para repartir a uno de cada tres hombres […]. Y en la frontera, cada kilómetro hay dos tiendas de armas […] Si tú mezclas una cultura violenta, desigualdad económica y el narcotráfico, esto es lo que nos queda: una montaña de muertos.

An important fact for president Trump: almost half of the American weapon traders depend on us as customers. In Mexico there are enough weapons to distribute to one in every three adult men. In the border, there are two weapon shops at every kilometer. If you mix a culture of violence, economic inequality and drug trafficking, this is the result: a mountain of dead people.

Some episodes tackle specific aspects of the phenomenon, such as high murder rates of trans people — this population's life expectancy in the region is below 40 years old — or the detrimental depictions of drug trafficking and consumption by the media and the entertainment industry.

In another episode, the series takes a closer look at Medellín, the Colombian city notorious for its drug cartel, but also for its subsequent recovery, translated into a dramatic fall of its homicide rate since the early 2000s.

The causes are complex and they're not all linked to either government's or people's initiatives. As the video explains, a constellation of factors contributed to the city's transformation, including public investment, community engagement, and pacts among the drug cartels.

In this episode, artists and community leaders describe, with first-hand experience, the long-term effects of artistic and educational initiatives in their neighborhoods.

Daniela Arbeláez, from the community center Casa de las estrategias (in Spanish strategy house), sees it this way:

… Nos hemos hecho muy muy duros frente a el tema de la violencia. [Llegamos a hacernos sentir] que no está pasando nada […Nos decimos] “eso es de esta cuadra para allá, no preguntemos, yo a esa cuadra no voy”. “No, se están matando entre ellos, pero yo no soy ellos”. Y los toques de queda, que es encerrar a la gente. Eso lo hacen las bandas ilegales, pero también en muchos momentos los ha hecho el Estado. Eso a mi me parece falta de creatividad, porque el Estado se está equiparando con [los métodos del crimen] y no con los procesos de base comunitaria […], que responden a otras cosas, a pasiones de las personas […a la necesidad de tener] lugares para enamorarse, maneras fáciles de salir del barrio, entrar… y recorrer toda la ciudad…

We've become hardened when it came to violence. [We've made ourselves feel] as if nothing was going on. [We tell ourselves] “that's on that block, not this one. Let's not ask questions, I'm not going to that block”. “They're just killing each other, and I am not one of them”. And there's the curfews, which is a way to trap people in their houses. The gangs are the ones who impose them, but often times, the State does it too. I think that's such a lack of creativity, it's the State lowering itself using criminal gang methods, and not community-based processes [that] respond to people's passions, to [the need to have] places to fall in love, or to get in and out of the area, or go around the city…

Other videos explore the case of Venezuela, currently entangled in a political and economic crisis, Central America with its complex gang problem, or the role of the prison system in urban violence and crime.

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