Advertisement

How to Explain and How Not to Explain Contemporary Criminal Violence in Central America

  • Heidrun Zinecker
Chapter
  • 357 Downloads

Abstract

The level of violence in Central America measured in homicides is ten times higher than the world average. This evaluation does not refer to the formerly all too typical description of Central America as the site of revolution, civil war, or military dictatorship, but rather the situation after the “third wave of democratization” well into times of peace.

Consequently, it has to be violence in peace. Although peace replaced Central America’s civil wars as well its political violence, it did not oust violence per se. Criminal violence not only continued, it intensified and produced higher homicide rates than during the civil wars. Criminal violence therefore cannot be a transitional phenomenon. Hence, the question arises: even though the region shares historical-structural similarities, why is the level of violence in terms of homicide in three countries (Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala) particularly high, and at the same time in two countries (Costa Rica and Nicaragua) exceedingly low? With only Costa Rica as the counter-example, this difference would not be a puzzle—as Central America’s Switzerland and as a democratic welfare state, Costa Rica resembles Western European developed countries. In particular, the puzzling case is Nicaragua, as it is characterized by low levels of violence but shares many of the same structural features of its northern neighbors El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras (notably inequality, social exclusion, poverty and a violent past).

This contribution examines the causes of criminal violence on the isthmus. These causes will be identified through a stringent causal comparison of all five countries. The independent variables have to be absent in those cases in which the dependent variables do not appear. Regarding the rigor of this comparison, it is compelling that those factors which are to be confirmed as causal for criminal violence are obliged to be present in all three countries characterized by high levels of violence. The same factors must not occur, in contrast, in either of the two countries with low levels of violence.

The present contribution provides a conceptual model combining political science with criminological approaches and presents empirical evidence to support the model to finally solve the puzzle of violence in Central America.

Keywords

Organize Crime Gini Coefficient Relative Deprivation Political Regime Homicide Rate 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Bibliography

  1. Acosta, Pablo, Pablo Fajnzylber, and J. Humberto López. 2008. How important are remittances in Latin America? In Remittances and development. Lessons from Latin America, ed. Fajnzylber Pablo and J. Humberto López, 21–50. Washington, DC: The World Bank.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Agnew, Robert. 2001. An overview of general strain theory. In Explaining criminals and crime, ed. Raymond Paternoster and Ronet Bachman, 16–21. Los Angeles: Roxbury Pub.Google Scholar
  3. Bourguignon, François. 2001. Crime as a social cost of poverty and inequality: A review focusing on developing countries. In Facets of globalization. International and local dimensions of development, ed. Shaid Yusuf, Simon Evenett, and Weiping Wu, 171–191. Washington, DC: The World Bank.Google Scholar
  4. Briceño-León, Roberto. 1999. Violencia y Desesperanza: La otra crisis social de America Latina. Nueva Sociedad 164: 122–132.Google Scholar
  5. Bricen͂o-León, Roberto, and Verónica Zubillaga. 2002. Violence and globalisation in Latin America. Current Sociology 50(1): 19–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carrión, Fernando. 2002. De la violencia urbana a la convivencia ciudadana. In Seguridad ciudadana ¿Espejismo o realidad? ed. Fernando Carrión, 13–58. Quito: FLACSO.Google Scholar
  7. CEPAL. 2012. Anuario Estadístico de América Latina y el Caribe. Santiago de Chile: CEPAL. http://repositorio.cepal.org/bitstream/handle/11362/927/S1200867_mu.pdf?sequence=1
  8. Cole, Julio H., and Andrés Marroquin Gramajo. 2009. Homicide rates in a cross section of countries: Evidence and interpretations. Population and Development Review 35(4): 749–776.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cordero Ardila, Edwin, Hamyn Gurdián Alfaro, and Emilio López Hurtado. 2006. Alcanzando un sueño. Modelo de prevención social de la policía. Managua: Criptos.Google Scholar
  10. Crutchfield, Robert D., and Tim Wadsworth. 2002. Armut und Gewalt. In Internationales Handbuch der Gewaltforschung, ed. Wilhelm Heitmeyer and John Hagan, 83–103. Wiesbaden: Westdeutscher Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cruz, José Miguel. 2010. Democratization under assault: Criminal violence in post-transition Central America. Ph.D. dissertation, Vanderbilt University.Google Scholar
  12. Cuadra, Elvira. 2004. El trinomio de fuego: armas, leyes y cultura. Managua: SIMAS.Google Scholar
  13. Cynthia, Arnson, and Eric L. Olson (eds.). 2011. Organized crime in Central America: The northern triangle, Woodrow Wilson Center Reports on Central America, vol. 29. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center.Google Scholar
  14. De La Cuesta, Londoño, Juan Luis, and Rodrigo Guerrero. 1999. Violencia en América Latina: Epidemiología y Costos. Washington, DC: Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo, Oficina del Economista Jefe.Google Scholar
  15. Dickson-Gómez, Julia. 2002. The sound of barking dogs: Violence and terror among Salvadoran families in the post-war. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 16(4): 415–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Elbadawi, Ibrahim, and Nicholas Sambanis. 2000. Why are there so many civil wars in Africa? Journal of African Economies 9(3): 244–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ellingsen, Tanja, and Nils Petter Gleditsch. 1997. Democracy and armed conflict in the third world. In Causes of conflict in the third world, ed. Ketil Volden and Dan Smith, 69–81. Oslo: PRIO and North/South Coalition.Google Scholar
  18. Elsenhans, Hartmut. 1995. Überwindung von Marginalität als Gegenstand der Armutsbekämpfung. In Bevölkerungsdynamik und Grundbedürfnisse in Entwicklungsländern. Schriften des Vereins für Socialpolitik 246, ed. Hans Bernd Schäfer, 193–221. Berlin: Duncker und Humblot.Google Scholar
  19. Elsenhans, Hartmut. 2009. Rente und subnationale Gewalt. Der Beitrag der politischen Ökonomie. Behemoth 2(1): 4–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fajnzylber, Pablo, Daniel Lederman, and Norman Loayza. 1998. Determinants of crime rates in Latin America and the World: An empirical assessment. Washington, DC: World Bank.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fajnzylber, Pablo, Daniel Lederman, and Norman Loayza. 2002. Inequality and violent crime. The Journal of Law and Economics 45(1): 1–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Farah, Douglas, and Pamela Philipps Lum. 2013. Central American Gangs and transnational criminal organizations. The changing relationship in a time of turmoil. International Assessment and Strategy Center. http://www.strategycenter.net/docLib/20130224_CenAmGangsandTCOs.pdf
  23. Fox, Sean, and Kristian Hoelscher. 2010. The political economy of social violence: Theory and evidence from a cross-country study. Working Paper no. 72. London: LSE.Google Scholar
  24. Geddes, Barbara. 1999. How the cases you choose affect the answers you get: Selection bias in comparative politics. Political Analysis 2(1): 131–150.Google Scholar
  25. Godnick, William, Robert Muggah, and Camila Waszink. 2002. Stray bullets: The impact of small arm misuse in Central America, Small Arms Survey Occasional Paper no. 5. Geneva: Small Arms Survey.Google Scholar
  26. Goubaud, Emilio. Director General Asociación para la Prevención del Delito. Interview by author. March 16, 2006.Google Scholar
  27. Gurr, Ted Robert. 1970. Why men rebel. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Hegre, Håvard, et al. 2005. Toward a democratic civil peace? Democracy, political change, and civil war, 1816–1992. In War, ed. Paul Diehl, 165–193. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  29. Henderson, Errol A. 2002. Democracy and war. The end of an illusion? Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.Google Scholar
  30. Kliksberg, Bernardo. 2007. Mitos y realidades sobre la criminalidad en América Latina. Algunas anotaciones estratégicas sobre cómo enfrentarla y mejorar la cohesión social. Guatemala: FIIAPP.Google Scholar
  31. Knight, Alan. 2012. Narco-violence and the modern state in Mexico. In Violence, coercion, and state-making in twentieth-century Mexico. The other half of the centaur, ed. Wil G. Pansters, 115–134. Palo Alto: Stanford.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kurtenbach, Sabine. 2013. Youth as a seismograph for societal problems, GIGA focus, vol. 1. Hamburg: GIGA.Google Scholar
  33. Kurtenbach, Sabine. 2008a. Guatemala’s post-war development. The structural failure of low intensity peace, Working Paper INEF no. 3, October. Duisburg: INEF.Google Scholar
  34. Kurtenbach, Sabine. 2008b. Youth violence as a scapegoat, Working Paper INEF no. 5, October. Duisburg: INEF.Google Scholar
  35. Martinez, Ramiro. 1996. Latinos and lethal violence. The impact of poverty and inequality. Social Problems 43(2): 131–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Meléndez, Javier, et al. 2010. Una aproximación a la problemática de la criminalidad organizada en las comunidades del Caribe y de fronteras. Nicaragua – Costa Rica – Panamá. Managua: IEEPP.Google Scholar
  37. Merton, Robert. 1938. Social structure and anomie. American Sociological Review 3(5): 672–682.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Merton, Robert. 1968. Social theory and social structure. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  39. Meyer, Rachel. 2012. Peacetime violence in El Salvador and Honduras. A tale of two countries. ICIP Working Papers 6, November, Barcelona: ICIP.Google Scholar
  40. Moore Jr., Barrington. 1966. Social origins of dictatorship and democracy. Lord and peasant in the making of the modern world. Boston: Beacon.Google Scholar
  41. Mundial, Banco. 2010. Crimen y Violencia en Centroamérica, vol. II. Washington, DC: World Bank.Google Scholar
  42. Neapolitan, Jerome L. 1997. Cross national crime: A research review and sourcebook. Westport: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  43. Panning, William H. 1983. Inequality, social comparison, and relative deprivation. The American Political Science Review 77(2): 323–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Pearce, Jenny. 2007. Violence, power and participation: Building citizenship in contexts of chronic violence. Institute of Development Studies Working Paper no. 274, March, Sussex, Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.Google Scholar
  45. PNUD. 2005. Informe sobre desarrollo humano. El Salvador 2005. Una mirada al nuevo nosotros. El impacto de las migraciones. San Salvador: PNUD.Google Scholar
  46. PNUD. 2009. Informe sobre Desarrollo Humano para América Central 2009–2010. PNUD.Google Scholar
  47. Podder, Nripesh. 1996. Relative deprivation, envy and economic inequality. Kyklos 49(3): 353–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Pratt, Travis C., and Francis T. Cullen. 2005. Assessing macro-level predictors and theories of crime: A meta-analysis. Crime and Justice 32: 373–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Riekenberg, Michael. 1999. Fuzzy Systems, Max Horkheimer und Gewaltkulturen in Lateinamerika. Ibero-Amerikanisches Archiv 25(3/4): 309–323.Google Scholar
  50. Rotker, Susana. 2002. Cities written by violence: An introduction. In Citizens of fear: Urban violence in Latin America, ed. Susana Rotker, 7–24. New Brunswick/New Jersey/London: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Rueschemeyer, Dietrich, Evelyne Huber-Stephens, and John D. Stephens. 1992. Capitalist development and democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  52. Santacruz Giralt, María L., and Alberto Concha-Eastman. 2002. Barrio adentro. La solidaridad violenta de las Pandillas. San Salvador: Organizacion Panamericana de la Salud.Google Scholar
  53. Sarmiento, Luis Fernando, and Ciro Krauthausen. 1990. Die Kokainbranche. In Koka-Kokain. Reportagen, Analysen und Dokumente aus den Andenländern, ed. Ciro Krauthausen, 83–101. München: Raben.Google Scholar
  54. Schmid, Claudia. 1991. Das Konzept des Rentier-Staates. Ein sozialwissenschaftliches Paradigma zur Analyse von Entwicklungsgesellschaften und seine Bedeutung für den Vorderen Orient. Münster: LIT.Google Scholar
  55. Selee, Andrew, Cynthia J. Arnson, and Eric L. Olson. 2013. Crime and violence in Mexico and Central America. An evolving but incomplete US policy response. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.Google Scholar
  56. Shifter, Michael. 2012. Countering criminal violence in Central America, Council Special Report no. 64. Washington, DC: Council on Foreign Relations.Google Scholar
  57. Sohnen, Eleanor. 2012. Paying for crime. A review of the relationships between insecurity and development in Mexico and Central America. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.Google Scholar
  58. Stark, Oded, and You Qiang Wang. 2000. A theory of migration as a response to relative deprivation. German Economic Review 1(2): 131–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Steenkamp, Chrissie. 2005. The legacy of war: Conceptualizing a ‘Culture of Violence’ to explain violence after peace accords. The Round Table 94(379): 253–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Ten Velde, Liza. 2012. El nexo entre drogas y violencia en el Tríangulo del Norte. Drogas y Conflictos, Documentos de Debate, vol. 19. Amsterdam: Transnational Institute.Google Scholar
  61. Thorbecke, Erik, and Chutatong Charumilind. 2002. Economic inequality and its socioeconomic impact. World Development 30(9): 1477–1499.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tilly, Charles. 1977. From mobilization to revolution. Ann Arbor: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  63. Tittle, Charles. 1997. Thoughts stimulated by Braithwaite’s analysis of control balance theory. Theoretical Criminology 1(1): 99–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. UNODC. 2007. Crime and development in Central America. Caught in the crossfire. New York: UNODC.Google Scholar
  65. UNODC. 2011. Global study on homicide. Vienna: UNODC.Google Scholar
  66. Wacquant, Loic. 2007. Urban outcasts: A comparative sociology of advanced marginality. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  67. Waldmann, Peter. 2002. Der anomische Staat. Über Recht, öffentliche Sicherheit und Alltag in Lateinamerika. Opladen: Leske + Budrich.Google Scholar
  68. Ward, Thomas W. 2013. Gangsters without borders. An ethnography of a Salvadoran street gang. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  69. Wolf, Sonja. 2011. Street gangs of El Salvador. In Maras. Gang violence and security in Central America, ed. Thomas Bruneau, Lucía Dammert, and Elizabeth Skinner, 71–86. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  70. World Bank. 2011. Crime and violence in Central America: A development challenge. Washington, DC: The World Bank.Google Scholar
  71. World Bank. 2012. El Salvador: Estudio Institucional y de Gasto Público en Seguridad y Justicia. Washington, DC: The World Bank.Google Scholar
  72. Zinecker, Heidrun. 2005. Regime-Hybride und innerstaatlicher demokratischer Frieden. In Die Zukunft des Friedens weiterdenken. Die Friedens- und Konfliktforschung aus der Perspektive der jüngeren Generationen, ed. Egbert Jahn, Sabine Fischer, and Astrid Sahm, 313–336. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.Google Scholar
  73. Zinecker, Heidrun. 2009. Regime-hybridity in developing countries: Achievements and limitations of new research on transitions. The International Studies Review 11(2): 302–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Zinecker, Heidrun. 2012. Gewalt im Frieden – eine Herausforderung für das Theorem des Democratic Civil Peace. In Der demokratische Unfrieden. Über das spannungsreiche Verhältnis zwischen Demokratie und innerer Gewalt, ed. Hans-Joachim Spanger, 149–178. Baden Baden: Nomos.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Zinecker, Heidrun. 2014. Gewalt im Frieden. Formen und Ursachen der Gewaltkriminalität in Zentralamerika. Baden Baden: Nomos.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Heidrun Zinecker
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Political Science, Leipzig UniversityLeipzigGermany

Personalised recommendations