top of page
  • Writer's pictureDany Goldraij

Why is Latin America violent?

Latin America has grappled with alarming crime and violence rates for decades. What drives this enduring crisis, and how can we address it?

Latin America, unfortunately, has earned a reputation for its staggering crime and violence rates. Despite numerous interventions from previous governments, including rigorous security policies, rampant poverty continues to fester, resulting in widespread police corruption. The persistent political instability exacerbates the issue.

Addressing this crisis demands a holistic understanding of the root causes, ranging from unemployment and social inequality to an entrenched culture of impunity. Let's delve into possible solutions for the region.

Despite efforts, Latin America's homicide rate remains three times the global average. This poses the question: why hasn't the region learned from its past?

With most of its population residing in cities, Latin America's urbanization significantly impacts its violence rates. Typically, areas of concentrated violence are peripheral urban zones suffering from chronic neglect. Rapidly growing cities present inherent crime opportunities, further intensified by economic stagnation and limited access to basic services.

Several elements exacerbate Latin America's homicide dilemma, including the prolonged war on drugs, the abundance of unlicensed firearms, deeply ingrained gender disparities, and, notably in Mexico and Central America, a large number of displaced and occasionally convicted U.S. deportees.

Why Is Latin America Violent - Causes Of High Crime Rates In Latin America

For over a decade, Latin America's homicide rate has been at least three times the global average. Why has the rest of the region failed to grasp these lessons?

Latin America is where most murders in the world happen.

 Latin America - The World's Most Violent Region? What You Need To Know

Causes of high crime rates in Latin America

The region is highly urbanized, with roughly 85 percent of people living in cities and this has an important role in Latin America's levels of violence. Across the globe, homicidal violence tends to be hyper-concentrated in peripheral urban areas experiencing chronic disadvantage.

Cities, especially fast-growing ones, offer certain intrinsic opportunities for criminal activity (anonymity, for instance, prospective victims and dilapidated infrastructure), compounded by economic neglect and scarce basic services.

Many factors contribute to Latin America's homicide problem, among them the war on drugs, abundant unlicensed firearms, persistently unequal gender relations, and in Mexico and Central America, thousands of marginalized uprooted and sometimes convicted U.S. deportees.

Factors Driving Latin America's Violence

1. High Crime Rates: In Latin America, crime rates are among the highest in the world, and this contributes to a culture of violence throughout the region. High levels of poverty often lead to desperate measures such as robbery or drug trafficking, perpetuating a cycle of criminal activity.

  • Additionally, there are areas in some countries where gangs and drug cartels have become powerful forces that further contribute to violence and insecurity.

2. Corruption: Political corruption is rampant in many Latin American countries and many politicians use their positions for personal gain at the expense of public security.

  • This lack of trust in government institutions contributes to political instability, making it more difficult to tackle underlying causes of violence like poverty or inequality.

3. Lack of Education: Many Latin American countries suffer from low educational attainment rates as well as a lack of access to education in rural areas.

  • Partly as a result, economic opportunity remains very limited in these areas and can fuel resentment or desperation that leads to violent behavior.

4. Gun Control Laws: The majority of Latin American countries have weak gun control laws which means that it is easy for criminals to acquire firearms that facilitate their violence-related activities.

  • These firearms are also often used by citizens who feel they need something physical to protect themselves from criminals operating with impunity across the region.

5. Poor Governance: In many places across Latin America, governments do not appropriately enforce the rule of law or sufficiently invest in public safety initiatives like adequate police force levels or alternative prison rehabilitation programs for petty offenders or youthful offenders whose actions tend toward non-violent crimes rather than major felonies requiring long-term incarceration.

  • This contributes significantly towards an atmosphere conducive to greater violence within society at large because those with criminal leanings seek out favorable conditions wherein they can conduct their illegal activities without sufficient repercussions from law enforcement authorities when caught.

6. Cultural Factors: There exist additional factors pertinent to understanding the higher levels of societal violence across Latin America such as machismo culture and gender inequality;

  • Both cultural norms can foster an environment where violent behavior is seen as acceptable by significant sectors within society while also contributing influences regarding expectations regarding status quo roles pertaining to gender relations between men and women throughout the region respectively also leading to increased incidences resulting from domestic harassment/abuse towards women specifically during 2020/2021

 Latin America - The World's Most Violent Region? What You Need To Know

Inequality is high on that list. Latin America is home to ten of the world's 15 most unequal countries, and while the relationship between inequality and violent crime is not causal, there is evidence of a strong correlation.

Crime Index 2021 - Latin America

About Crime Indices

Crime Index is an estimation of the overall level of crime in a given city or country. We consider crime levels lower than 20 as very low, crime levels between 20 and 40 as being low, crime levels between 40 and 60 as being moderate, crime levels between 60 and 80 as being high, and finally crime levels higher than 80 as being very high.

The safety index is, on the other way, quite the opposite of the crime index. If the city has a high safety index, it is considered very safe.

Crime and the Coronavirus in Latin America - Update 2020 / 2021

According to the Strifeblog Organization, the COVID-19 pandemic not only represents a global public health crisis but has also created serious political and security challenges. In Latin America, legal and illicit economies alike have been hit hard by a massive slowdown in global production and consumption, leaving most organized crime groups unusually vulnerable and exposed. These conditions offer opportunities for governments to deal a considerable blow to these criminal networks that wield enormous amounts of power in their territories.

However, evidence from the region shows that criminals are rapidly adapting to the challenges of the pandemic and are in fact taking advantage of the overwhelmed state authorities to consolidate their power.

Lockdown measures have led to a general reduction in street crime and robbery as criminals become more conspicuous and their targets more scarce. El Salvador, the country with the highest homicide rate in the world, reported two days without murders immediately following the imposition of obligatory quarantine measures.

Lockdowns and border closures have also created new illicit business opportunities. The closing of borders on key migration routes has increased the demand for human smuggling services – and their profitability.

crime index Latin America 2020

The National Uniform Crime Report is published annually by the FBI and includes the crime index. The report includes a variety of criminal statistics


bottom of page