Conventional perceptions of Latin America’s organized criminal groups tend to emphasize the greed and violence produced by these groups when, in reality, their existence is much more nuanced than this. Although most associate the presence of criminal groups with heightened levels of violence or drug use, these groups usually do much more than this, often providing certain services and resources to local communities.
Just past 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 25, a family was caught in the crossfire of a shootout between gang members and Mexican marines in the border town of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. In what has been described by the marines as a series of ambushes by the criminal group, a total of nine people were brutally killed, and 13 injured. Included in these numbers were a mother, father, and their two young daughters, aged 4 and 6 (Univision).
The US immigration crisis is the result of a violence crisis in Central America. But the violence has not reached all parts of Central America, and thus the migrants are primarily coming from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. In these countries, a LAPOP study (using UN data) shows murder rates much higher than in the rest of the region and in Honduras that rate has reached almost 10 times that of Panama, Costa Rica, and most surprisingly, Nicaragua. What explains the Nicaraguan exception?
Ever since the economic collapse in 2001, Argentina and the capital city of Buenos Aires have been experiencing a resurgence in poverty that hasn’t been seen since the first wave of migrant urban workers in the 1930’s. In the southern region of Buenos Aires shanty towns are expanding and engulfing private and unused land. These shanty towns are known as “villas miserias,” which directly translates into villages of misery, and share characteristics of slums all around the world.
Statistics from the UNDOC routinely rank Latin America as the most violent region in the world, and more than 150,000 people died from homicide in the Americas in 2012. In Brazil alone, more than 50,000 people were victims of homicide in 2012, more than triple the number in the U.S. (UNDOC, 2013). The crime epidemic that has arisen in the past decade in Latin America has resulted in the militarization of conflict, most exemplified by the Mexican government in its ongoing battle with drug cartels.
—¡Pónchale las llantas, pónchale las llantas!— se escucha el grito desesperado de una mujer, mientras en el video se ve como un grupo de policías huyen de la escena donde, minutos después, se aprecia como un grupo de sicarios saca a un hombre de una casa. ¡Bam, bam, bam! Se alcanza a escuchar el tronido de las armas automáticas seguido del grito adolorido de la misma mujer. Otro asesinato más.