It’s always the same. Somewhere in the United States a heavily armed, mentally disturbed male, kills a group of innocents. Twenty children and seven adults most recently. National grief, commotion and indignation follow, plus furious debate on gun control. Then nothing. Until a similar tragedy happens again and the cycle repeats itself. It looks like this time it will be different and hopefully, some reforms may be adopted.
What explains Latin Americans’ propensity to murder? The reasons offered by the experts are many and varied. Also unsatisfactory. Poverty is frequently mentioned. But on this basis, China ought to have more murders than Brazil. Others put it down to democracy, and the fact that authoritarian governments can repress crime with more impunity. But India, the world’s largest democracy and also one of the poorest, has a homicide rate comparatively lower than those of the poorest democracies in Latin America. Drug consumption and trafficking are also pointed to as reasons for the high Latin American murder rate. But no country consumes more drugs than the United States. And as far as drug trafficking is concerned, Morocco is to Europe what Mexico is to the United States: a poor country that sells drugs to its rich neighbor. Yet, the homicide rate in Morocco is far lower than in Mexico.
This does not mean that drugs, poverty, or the inefficiency and corruption of the police, the judiciary and the prisons are not important factors. The World Bank has found that economic inequality, easy access to firearms, alcohol, the proliferation of gangs, low levels of incarceration and very small police forces are also part of the explanation.
One good wish for 2013 is that Latin Americans decide to end the peaceful coexistence with murder. There is no reason to live this way. And we can, and must, do something to better understand what is going on, and launch an offensive against high homicide rates that engages as many groups and institutions as possible and that is sustained over time until murder rates are brought down. No priority is more urgent, and surely, more complex and difficult to attain. This is not just a job for governments and politicians. The Church, labor unions, business., schools and universities, the media, singers and artists — in short, the whole range of institutions and groups — could mobilize and commit themselves to reduce (by a third, a half?) the number of homicides in the next (three, five?) years. Perhaps this is a naïve hope. But more naïve, is to just watch as the killings go on.
The Carnegie International Economics Program monitors and analyzes short- and long-term trends in the global economy, including macroeconomic developments, trade, commodities, and capital flows, drawing out their policy implications. The current focus of the program is the global financial crisis and its related policy issues. The program also examines the ramifications of the rising weight of developing countries in the global economy among other areas of research.
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