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Violence and the Everyday in Early Twenty-First Century Latin America

Albro, Robert; Wilde, Alex

C H A P T E R 2 VIOLENCE AND EVERYDAY EXPERIENCE IN EARLY TWENTYFIRST -CENTURY LATIN AMERICA ROBERT ALBRO It was a dubious distinction in 2012 when Juárez, Mexico, lost its status as the world’s most violent city to another Latin American competitor, Honduras’s San Pedro Sula, a city with a homicide rate of 173 per 100,000. In the words of one mortician, “The devil himself lives in San Pedro.”1 In fact, all but one of the twenty most dangerous cities on earth are found in Latin America. Despite the turn from authoritarian to democratic forms of governance throughout the region beginning in the 1980s, the homicide rate has increased by 50 percent since that time (Imbusch, Misse, and Carrión 2011), and the total number of homicides in the region has risen each year between 2000 and 2012 (OAS 2012, 17). Over a decade ago, Frühling and Tulchin (2003) had already noted that homicide rates across Latin America rose consistently during the previous twenty-five years, regardless of whether a given country began with a low or high murder rate. This ongoing and increasingly violent state of affairs is now described as Latin America’s worst “epidemic,”2 with more people dying violently than from HIV. 63 64 Robert Albro If the average number of deaths per 100,000 people in Latin America is 25.6, making it the most violent region globally, in Honduras it rises to a stunning 92 per 100,000 (OAS 2012, 18). Equally shocking has been the extent of the human toll during Mexico’s hard-on-crime war on drug cartels, begun in 2007: at least 60,000 Mexican lives, with little impact on reducing drug trafficking.3 Other worsening trends include rampant domestic violence. No fewer than 53 percent of women in Bolivia report having been victims at some point in their lives (Bott et al. 2012, xvi). The region has the second highest number of female deaths due to violence and the highest rate of children killed in the world (OAS 2012, 52). Other expressions of violence include alarmingly high numbers of assaults and rampant property crime, which has more than tripled in many parts of the region in the past twenty years (Bergman 2006); regular police violence against nonaffluent populations, typically with an indifferent judicial response (Brinks 2008); an upward trend in the frequency of kidnapping across much of the region, with almost 106,000 in Mexico in 2012 alone (OAS 2012, 74); and the need to coin a new word—femicide—to categorize the violation, torture, and killing of young women as part of a rising trend in sexual violence.4 Among all the world’s regions, Latin Americans are now the least likely to feel safe in their communities ,5 and for the first time in decades surveys find that Latin Americans list crime ahead of unemployment as their primary concern (IACHR 2009, ix). Statistics alone do not tell the full story. The vast majority of violence remains unreported, and contemporary crime figures do not convey how populations are burdened by the numerous ways violence regularly affects peoples’ lives, including legacies of dictatorship across the region. This chapter, therefore, aims to illuminate the meanings of violence as an integral part of everyday life in Latin America today.6 The present discussion does not aspire to offer an exhaustive description of the scope of violence in the region, to identify all the forms violence takes in the region today, or to classify these as part of some overarching or comparative framework. Instead this chapter selectively describes and compares expressions of violence to illustrate how varieties of violence shape everyday expressions of collective social, cultural, and political life. This includes tracing how some expressions of everyday vi- [] Project MUSE (2024-03-28 02:20 GMT) Violence and Everyday Experience in Latin America 65 olence influence the context and meaning of “rights-based” claims and, in so doing, complicate religious responses to today’s violence that might draw from traditions of human rights advocacy under authoritarian rule. This chapter begins with a consideration of legacies of the recent period of dictatorships in Latin America and then considers the postauthoritarian and increasingly nonstate violence of today. Throughout, it is concerned with the relationship between expressions of violence and systematic state or popular responses to them. It also considers some lingering effects of the inconclusive response to the terror of the authoritarian…