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The results of a study carried out by The Latin American Technological Information Network (RITLA) have shown that the region has the highest murder rates in the world for people aged between 15 and 24.
Among the findings, published in November, RITLA concluded that the murder of a young person in Latin America is 30 times more probable than in Europe and 70 times more probable than in countries like Greece, Hungary and the UK.
Perhaps in emulation of its northern counterpart, the rate of murders with firearms is 40 times worse in Latin America than in Europe.
The research group, based in Brasilia, conducted the investigation using data from 2007 for 83 countries worldwide, both for the general population and for the specific 15 to 24 age bracket. The grim findings have been made into what RITLA calls the ‘Map of Violence: The Young People of Latin America’.
While the report was quick to cite the prevalence of violent youth gangs in Latin American cities as an explanation for the dramatic figures in the area, Pablo Bonaldi, a professor of sociology at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) told The Argentina Independent that there are more factors to consider: “You must take into account that various regions are enduring or have endured important armed conflicts, that the availability of arms is much greater and, of course the presence of urban violence in many forms.”
Poverty, spatial concentration of income levels and social exclusion were other explanations for the results posited by RITLA.
The Hard Facts
The five countries with the highest rates of youth murder in the world were El Salvador (92.3 murders per 100,000 of the population), Colombia (73.4), Venezuela (64.2), Guatemala (55.4) and Brazil (51.6).
However, as Bonaldi was keen to emphasise, not all Latin American countries have such drastic figures with Cuba, Chile and Uruguay’s youth murder rates all sitting at around seven per 100,000. Therefore, on a continental scale, the findings could be a case of ‘a few naughty children dragging the whole class down’.
Nonetheless, it remains that the overall rate of murders for 15 to 24 year olds in Latin America, 36.6 for every 100,000 people, is comparatively enormous. In Africa this stands at 16.1, in North America 12, Asia 2.4, Oceania 1.6 and in Europe 1.2.
The research also found that the level of youth murder is indicative of the level of murder exhibited by the entire population of a country as, again, the worst nations were El Salvador (48.8 murders per 100,000 people), Colombia (43.8), Venezuela (29.5) and Guatemala (28.5). Brazil, on this scale, was not the fifth worst nation but the sixth, with 25.2 murders per 100,000.
Argentina itself has not gained much limelight from the ‘Map of Violence’ study. The government’s official statistics state that there are 2,000 murders per year in the country and Bonaldi says: “Like many aspects of the country’s development, Argentina is in a sort of intermediary stage between Latin America and Europe.”
Although the rate of murder for 15 to 24 year olds is not as dire in Argentina as in other Latin American nations, a study into domestic violence recently carried out by Clarín concluded that 240 people have been killed in Argentina so far this year as a result of aggression in the home. While this figure may not compare to the murder rates found in other contexts across Latin American countries, it still suggests a serious problem in Argentina.
Despite the relative innocuity of Argentina’s situation, the results of RITLA’s study are still damaging for the nation. The negative perception painted of Latin America as a whole spells what Bonaldi calls ‘important social, political and economic consequences’ for Argentina.
One such ‘consequence’ is the potential negative effect on Argentina’s buoyant tourism industry. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), tourism in Argentina currently generates $21.4bn a year and 9.8% of the country’s jobs whilst New York-based magazine Travel and Leisure named Buenos Aires the second most desirable city destination of 2007.
However, studies like this one are exacerbating Latin America’s violent reputation and discouraging would-be tourists, such as Emily, a 20-year-old student from London, from making the trip: “A girl-friend and I were thinking about coming to travel around Latin America but we changed our minds last-minute as we had heard some horror stories from people about the kind of danger that awaits female travellers there.”
The potential future economic gain from the bullishness of Argentina’s tourism business has been tarnished by the threat to the industry represented in the RITLA study.
Despite the negative outcome of the study, it was met with differing reactions over the region.
Guatemala, along with El Salvador and Nicaragua, has suffered a drastic increase in murder rates (partly attributed to the presence of youth gangs called maras in the central American area) and is dismayed by the situation, as Leonel Dubón, director of the Allied House of Guatemala, told Guatemalan online newspaper La Prensa Libre: “In the capital 60 adolescents are murdered a month. The problem has multiple causes: impunity, the use of legal and illegal substances and the extreme poverty which affects half our population.”
Conversely, RITLA’s findings were welcomed in Colombia. Rather than dwelling on the country’s position as the second most deadly in the world, Columbian newspaper Vanguardia lauded the government’s success in preventing the country from having the worst rate of youth murders in the world for the first time in ten years.
Colombia’s movement down the rankings represents a significant change in the map of global violence, as Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz, who carried out the research at RITLA, explained: “Until 2004 and 2005, Colombia and Brazil constituted the crux of the worst violence. Now it is Central America. Colombia has started fighting violence in cities such as Bogotá and Cali while Brazil started improving after a disarming campaign in 2003.”
However, what unites opinion across Latin America is the desire to mitigate the tradition of violence. As Bonaldi said, solutions are difficult to implement but they do exist: “The problem requires complete and sustained political statutes which will ensure the control of the use and availability of arms, the proper training and equipment of security forces and the provision of an efficient justice system.”
Bonaldi also suggested that politics on a more general level had its role to play: “Fundamentally we need policies that guarantee access to the basic human rights with regard to work, housing, health and education, especially for the poorest sectors of society.”