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Latin America: Coping with Social, Economic and Political Problems

The 20th century has seen dramatic shift in the Latin American countries in political, social and economical contexts. These changes were the result of the gradual process of modernization, urbanization, industrialization and finally democratization of these countries. Speaking politically, most Latin American countries underwent a phase of authoritarian rule mostly during the 60s and 70s. These authoritarian governments were overthrown during the 80s the process of democratization and freedom of thought commenced.

Since the democratization, though elected governments are formed and most people are enfranchised, but still there are many social and economical problems these governments are facing and trying to solve them and cope with them. This paper will discuss these persisting problems in Latin American Countries and how the governments, people and civil society are struggling to cope with them. Crime and Drug Trafficking in Latin America: One of the most serious problems which most of the Latin American countries face is the exorbitant increase of crime rate in Latin American countries.

Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia are one of the most violent countries in the Latin America with highest crime rates. Despite there tremendous efforts in democratization and liberalization the economic growth and has been torpid, which has further contribute in the strengthening of organized crime in the region. Brazil, the largest and probably most developed country in the Southern American continent has been facing increase in organized crime despite the efforts made by the government. There are a number of factors, which have played an important role in the enormous increase in the level of organized crime.

Social injustice, large gap between the rich and poor, new democratic governments inability to provide primary needs and infrastructure to the poor, an overwhelming rate of urbanization in the 20th century and the rise of underdeveloped shanty towns or favelas surrounding the major urban centers, corruption among the government officials and law-enforcing agencies like police are the major factors which have resulted in the emergence and consolidation of organized crime in the Brazilian urban centers.

Though the country has finally adopted democracy, but there has been no change in the violent crime and human rights abuse scenario in the country, particularly in the slums or favelas of mega-cities like Sau Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The abuses are often conducted by drug traffickers and the police both. Moreover there is a profound mistrust prevailing between the local authorities and the residents.

To make the conditions worse the government has completely failed to provide local infrastructure facilities like water supply and sanitation to these slums, which compels the local residents to rely on the drug dealers who willingly provide these facilities to them in order to gain their support. Moreover the democratic government has also failed guarantee the civil and human rights in these enclaves virtually ruled by the drug dealers. (Arias, 1) The Draconian state violence and the persisting conflict of police and other law enforcing agencies has caught the residents in the crossfire.

These urban favelas have become the battleground of unaccountable state oppression and equally unaccountable private oppression conducted by the drug dealers. (Power & Roberts, 304) At one time they are abused by the police in the form of unwarranted search, arrests, severe beating and torture and even murder on mere suspicion of involvement in drug trafficking. On the other hand the drug dealers also feel it necessary to keep the people in constant fear so that they do not cooperate with the local authorities.

They also do not hesitate to kill any of the residents if they suspect that they are cooperating with the police or authorities. Since the residents have to deal with the criminals on day-to-day basis, they often refuse to help the police but often assist the criminals. Moreover the corrupt police officers, bureaucrats and politicians take kickbacks and bribes from the traffickers or support them for their personal objectives. The upper level of these state institutions either does not have effective control over them or are not aware of the situation down there. (Arias, 3)

Since it is extremely important for all the stakeholders to cooperate in order to restrain crime in these slums, therefore not only the state and police should get involved, but they must also ensure the involvement of the local residents in the process. Only with the support of the resident population any measure will prove to be effective. There are certain examples, which exhibit that if all the stakeholders cooperate it really helps out in controlling crime in these slums. Rio de Janeiro’s two favilas Vigario Geral and Tubarao have been success stories in controlling violence and crime in the region.

Through effective social networking between the inside civil society members and outside NGOs, generating awareness among the masses, effective measures of honest police officers to change the police behavior with the local residents all played important part in curbing crime. (Arias, 12-26) Venezuela is another most violent Latin American nation, which surpasses Brazil in its high crime and homicide rates. Class tensions have sparked violent crimes against the upper middle and elite class. There have been a large number of robberies, carjacking and kidnapping in the country in during the last few years.

According to government statistics there were more than 9 thousand homicides only. These are the only one probably reported and the real figures are feared to be really high. Other criminal activities like robberies, carjacking and kidnapping are far more frequent. (James, 2006) Since President Chavez assumed office he has been accused of demonizing the rich Venezuelans sometimes directly and indirectly. This has allegedly led to a recent surge in homicide against the rich and affluent. The country has surpassed Brazil in homicide crime. (James, 2006) Police is also been mistrusted by the people and is often accused of being corrupt.

This has even proved to be true as some Police officers were arrested due to their alleged involvement in murder of three kidnapped brothers. Since the people believe that the government is not taking measures to curb violence and crime seriously, the people have taken the issue in their hands by starting protests and marches. In response to angry protest and increasing sense of insecurity among the people the government has responded by sweeping police reforms and offering a gun-buyback program to hand in revolvers and pistols. President Chavez on the contrary insists that he wants a gradual reform by reducing poverty.

(James, 2006) Since the class difference and increasing gap between the rich and poor are the primary factors which have led to the violent crimes like robberies, kidnapping and carjacking, reducing poverty and fulfilling the primary needs of the poor like shelter, water supply, sanitation, health services and the most important good and proper education is a really good measure to curb violence in the long term. But in the meantime the government should also take extensive and direct measures to eliminate crime in the country, which would suppress the anger and unrest among the populace.

Colombia is the most violent country in the Latin America primarily due to 4 decades of guerilla warfare and increasing drug trafficking and cocaine trade. The M-19 guerillas and drug traffickers both have been responsible of massive killings, taking hostages and kidnapping in the country. This even includes the judges, the presidential candidates and other people of the elite class. During the 90s president Gaviria responded to the political violence, guerilla war and drug trafficking by replacing the old constitution, offering plea-bargain agreements to drug cartel chiefs and negotiating the FARC and ELN.

(Colombia) Recently the crime activities, particularly the kidnapping has seen a sharp decline. In 2008 the government finally made a peace deal with right-wing guerillas and nearly 31,000 have disarmed. Since most of these armed groups have been involved in drug trafficking a peace deal with them will make the sheer possibility of returning them to a normal life, which may result in a decline in cocaine trade. The recent setbacks for the FARC, in which many senior commanders were killed, have seriously weakened the organization’s capability to infiltrate in the government.

(Q&A: Colombia’s Civil Conflict) Current Colombian president Alvaro Uribe Valez’s tough measures and hardline stance against the guerillas has finally forced the rebels out of the towns and major urban centers of the country, forcing them to the countryside. Since majority of the country’s population live in the cities the majority of Colombians now enjoy a normal and peaceful everyday life. (Profile: Alvaro Uribe Velez) This has not only restored the trust of the people in the government but also severely weakened the ties of the guerillas and drug traffickers with the local population.

Now the people in the city are no more willing or forced to cooperate the criminals in order to carry on their lives in peace. The above-mentioned analysis clearly exhibits the fact that the surge of crime in most Latin American countries could be traced back to the segregated societies in the colonial period. This led to a large gap between the rich and poor and triggered these criminal activities in defiance of the government, which the poor mostly see as in more favor to the rich and hostile to the poor.

The only proper way to eliminate this threat is to provide proper civil human rights to the poor and give them the freedom and opportunity to get involve in the mainstream of the populace. Works Cited Arias, Enrique Desmond. “Faith in Our Neighbors: Networks and Social Order in Three Brazilian Favelas” Latin American Politics and Society. University of Miami/School of International Studies. “Colombia. ” Encyclop? dia Britannica. Encyclop? dia Britannica2009 Student and Home Edition. Chicago: Encyclop? dia Britannica, 2009.

James, Ian. “Rampant Violence Plagues Venezuela”. Mail & Guardian Online. 2006. <http://www. mg. co. za/article/2006-04-21-rampant-violence-plagues-venezuela> Power, Timothy J. & Roberts, J. Timmons. “A New Brazil? : The Changing Sociodemographic Context of Brazilian Democracy. ” University of Pittsburgh Press. 2000. “Profile: Alvero Uribe Velez” BBC News. 2008. <http://news. bbc. co. uk/2/hi/americas/3214685. stm> “Q&A: Colombia’s Civil Conflict”. BBC News. 2008. <http://news. bbc. co. uk/2/hi/americas/1738963. stm>

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