By Alexandro Cea
A few days ago Chile approved the “short agency” against crime, giving more power to the police, including a preventive control on identity.
The law was approved after extensive and intensive discussions around what has turned into the number one worry of Chileans according to polls: security.
Except that Chile is the safest country in Latin America.
Chile ranked 27 out of 163 countries in the 2016 Global Peace Index, overcoming all neighboring countries. It also overcame countries like the US and UK — meaning that the national concern over violence and crime in Chile is somewhat confusing.
One explanation might be rooted in the alignment of interests from two opposite political extremes.
On one side, you have a big sector on the left, bent on hiding the amazing economic and social countries over the last 30 years. This sector has been putting all of its energy into convincing Chileans of the failure of the economic model thus far used. This economic model puts Chile in the privileged security position.
On the other side, there is a big sector on the conservative right trying to convince people of their general vulnerability to violence and crime. The point of this is to legitimize government policies that allow them to act as saviors. The government can pass the restriction of more and more civil liberties in a way that makes it seem reasonable.
For both the left and the conservative right, it is in no way convenient to recognize Chile as a safe country. On the contrary, even though it is for different reasons, they are bent on showing otherwise. Add to this alliance the role of media, where sensationalism and cheap press have become the norm, and interest alignment falls into place.
But no “short agency” has diminished or will ever diminish crime indexes in an effective and prolonged manner. Defending this idea does not only ignore how Chile came to be the safest country in the area — it’s also to ignore the path taken by neighboring countries where the authorities are given assault rifles and machine guns.
More jails, longer sentencing and more arbitrary police control faculties are all old proposals that have shown no results. They forget criminals are isolated from society. They forget that by locking away the criminal, they leave their children abandoned. Very commonly, these children have to resort to crime to survive. A society that invests in jails in the short run creates jails in the long run.
The right way isn’t to raise the government’s punitive faculties, but to follow the extraordinary example of a country that did things right. Chile is the safest country in Latin America not because it has the most repressive police, but because it created the biggest opportunity for social mobility on the continent.
Since its return to democracy, Chile became a country in which only 7.8 percent of people are under the poverty line. It is the country with the best secondary education in South America and is number one in the Human Development Index in the region, even though the left wants to hide it.
Chile must not invest in jailing the delinquent, destroying families, and leaving children to their own luck. Chile has to focus on empowering these children so they can study at the state or private school they choose. That way they can know different realities, ways of life, and tools different to crime, in order to open new ways of life for them.
The only way to achieve a society without violence or crime, is to give people tools for them to raise their productive abilities. As they do that, they can contribute to society instead of turning to crime. Their children’s children not only drop out of crime statistics, but might even stop needing government assistance.
There’s still time to correct these things.
Alexandro Cea is graduated from law school at the Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso. He is currently Executive Director for the Center of Studies for Equity in Chile.