DiPietro 1

Violence in South America

Two ideas cannot rid themselves of each other when their developments have
been intertwined. In the case of South America, these two ideas are society and violence.
The levels of violence reported in South America are higher than those of the global
average. The curiosity that follows this statement is inevitable. Why is this the case?
What makes South America so much different from America, Europe, or Asia? The
answer lies in the way South America has grown as a nation. Society has been built off
of a lawless system lacking consequences and morals. Violence cannot be extradited
from the culture because the two are so heavily interconnected. Without it, South
American society would not have become what it is today.
It is important to realize that violence is not just something that is discussed by
policy makers, reported on the news, or written in newspapers. Millions of people are
forced to live through it every single day. The United Nations Development
Programme’s report on Regional Human Development in Latin America for 2013 to 2014
estimated that “13 percent [of Latin Americans] reported having felt the need to move to
another place for fear of becoming victims of a crime” in the previous year of 2012.
Taking the entire population of Latin America into account, this uprooted portion of the
population represented about 74.8 million people. Most of society is being directly
affected by this issue. Violence exists in every corner or South America because of an
unorganized and insufficient infrastructure as well as high, persistent levels of inequality.
The problem with this region of the world is that no one has ever stepped into a
position of power and influenced a complete end to violence. In order for violence to be
put to rest in a nation such as this, a strong legal system needs to be put into place. South
DiPietro 2
American infrastructure is unorganized. Information is not shared among branches of the
government or the police force, inspiring mistrust and a general slowdown of the system.
A uniform expectation of behavior must be established, and more importantly,
consequences for veering off of this path must exist. As seen in the past in South
America, illegal behavior is not punished effectively. According to a World Bank report
on Brazil, the country exemplifies “a culture of reactive policing that is concerned with
responding to each incident rather than identifying crime trends and preventing future
incidents”. Correcting and preventing future violent behavior is key to eliminating it
from society. Where there are no consequences, there is no reason to assume the
presence of motivation to behave appropriately. The United Nations Development
Programme endorses crime-detection and prevention strategies. Upon further research
and investigation in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, it was found that 6 of the 81 favelas were
responsible for most of the area’s violence (Economist). Police efforts have been
directed towards these specific areas, creating a more efficient system. The rest of South
America’s police systems would be greatly improved with the enactment of similar
The infrastructure of South America as it is today has created a society in which
there is more motivation to act in corrupt and violent ways rather than in just and moral
ways. Money, power, and status are more readily available to those who “break the
rules” and behave in their own best interests. Adhemar de Barros of Brazil was known as
the man who “steals, but he gets things done” (Corruption). In order for this ruler to have
stayed in power, Brazilians and the Brazilian legal system must have been tolerant of his
corruption. In a society where a ruler can successfully practice corruption, there is no
DiPietro 3
hope of building a society free of corruption. A report from the Latin American Studies
Association notes that “it would be difficult to argue that most, if not all, Latin American
countries would not benefit from judicial and legal reform in order to create more
efficient systems that would help apply brakes to rising corruption and the spread of
crime”. The way South American society has matured, there is a lack of accountability
for one’s own actions. Personal motives for money and power fuel many rulers’ actions.
Building a non-corrupt society free from violence off of their leadership has proven to be
Inequality of income, socioeconomic status, and standards of living also fuel
violence in South America. According to political scientists Elaine Denny and Barbara
Walters, “statistical studies have consistently found that income inequality predicts
homicide rates better than poverty does”. Inequality has been known to generate social
unrest, fueling the fires of otherwise nominal issues. South America, having one of the
worst cases of inequality in the world, is bound to be a violent society.
A report on inequality in Latin America by the World Bank claims that
“individuals in highly unequal societies will have incentives to engage in activities
outside legal markets, such as crime and violence”. When illegal activities are the most
accessible means of acquiring money, and the chances of being caught and convicted are
very low, the trap is understandably fallen in to. A lawless society in which the good
guys seem to finish last does not help to deter violence or crime.
The discontent of the lowest socioeconomic class with their standard of living is
reasonable. Especially in parts of South America, the close proximity of the favelas and
the five-star hotels is striking. All of this anger, jealousy, and hatred is built up inside of
DiPietro 4
these deeply impoverished South Americans. Some feel that the elite in power do not
care about others’ situations. Some have grown too aware of corrupt leaders’ empty
promises. A report from the European Economic Review sites this pent-up frustration as
one cause of violence in countries facing extreme inequality. The review claims that “a
large group of impoverished citizens, facing a small and very rich group of well-off
individuals is likely to become dissatisfied with the existing socio-economic status quo
and demand radical changes, so that mass violence and illegal seizure of power are more
likely than when income distribution is more equitable”. A favela dweller forced to wake
up to the view of the mansion next door is bound to grown discontent at some point.
Although this bitterness does not always lead to violence, but it undoubtedly adds
pressure to the situation. In South America, inequality is extremely common and
contributes to social discontent. This unrest within society then effects people’s attitudes,
beliefs, and actions, directly influencing the level of violence that the country
Violence in South America has contributed to social insecurity, fear, and mistrust.
But it is not something that is just affecting the citizens of today. Violent crime in Latin
America as a whole is ruining its prospects for the future. The Center for Strategic and
International Studies released a report on development in Latin America. It contains the
information that “the InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB) estimates that Latin
America’s per capita gross domestic product would be an astounding 25 percent higher
today if the region had a crime rate similar to the rest of the world”. This is an
astounding statistic that can be referenced if the detriment of violence is ever doubted.
DiPietro 5
Clearly, South America and Latin America as a whole are suffering greatly due to their
increased levels of violence.
High levels of violence are deeply rooted in South American society. Although
most likely being elicited by many factors, violence is predominantly caused by an
ineffective legal system and by extreme levels of inequality. Neither crime nor violence
is successfully deterred by most of South America’s legal systems. Case studies show
how illegal activities result in money and power more often than they result in jail time.
In order for violence levels to experience a decrease in South America, an active and
highly organized legal system must be put into place. Currently, there seems to be more
motivation than deterrence to participate in illegal activities, especially among the lower
classes. Inequality in South America is causing violence as well. In a society that
appears to cater only to the needs of the wealthy, the impoverished and beaten often
resort to violence to advocate their cause. Aside from spreading awareness about their
conditions, the lower classes also resort to violence out of frustration with the system. A
decrease in violence would only proceed an increase in equality among South Americans.
For South America, violence and society have grown together. Their interconnectedness
is preventing violence from being banished from every day life. The issue of violence in
South America is an extremely complicated one, able to be viewed from many different
perspectives. Any way one chooses to see the issue, one conclusion is inevitable: in
order for South America to improve its economic and social forecasts for the future, it
must work towards lowering its levels of violence today.
DiPietro 6
Alesina, Alberto, and Roberto Perotti. European Economic Review. Rep. Elsevier, 1996.
Web. 20 Mar. 2014.
"Alternatives To The Iron Fist." The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 16 Nov.
2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.
Arias, Enrique. Citizen Security With A Human Face. Rep. United Nations Development
Programme, 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.
Denny, Elaine, and Barbara F. Walter. "Explaining High Murder Rates in Latin America:
It's Not Drugs." Political Violence a Glance. N.p., 30 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Mar.
2014. <http://politicalviolenceataglance.org/2012/08/30/explaining-high-murder-
Goertzel, Ted. Http://crab.rutgers.edu/~goertzel/CorruptionLA.pdf. Rep. Rutgers
University, Nov. 2005. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.
Horowitz, Joel. "Corruption, Crime, and Punishment: Recent Scholarship on Latin
America." JSTOR. The Latin American Studies Association, n.d. Web. 20 Mar.
2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1555376?seq=2>.
Inequality in Latin America: Determinants and Consequences. Rep. World Bank, Feb.
DiPietro 7
2008. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. <http://elibrary.worldbank.org/doi/pdf/10.1596/1813-
"Making Brazilians Safer: Analyzing The Dynamics of Violent Crime.” World Bank, n.d.
Web. 20 Mar. 2014.
Prillaman, William C. Crime, Democracy, and Development in Latin America. Rep.
CSIS, 2003. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.