Despite lowest murder rate, Chileans most insecure in Latin America

Published On : Thu, Nov 14th, 2013

UN report on security — perceived and real — finds surprising correlation between economic development and crime rates.

Photo via Sol Robayo / Flickr

Photo via Sol Robayo / Flickr

In spite of the lowest homicide rates in Latin America, Chileans perceive themselves to be more at risk in their own neighborhoods than do the people of Honduras, murder capital of the region, a U.N. study released Tuesday reveals.

The United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) Citizen Security report — which examined both the region’s crime statistics and perceived danger — found that despite economic growth, Latin America continues to be the most insecure region on the planet.

According to the report, Chile has the lowest homicide rate in the region — 2 murders per 100,000 people — yet only 7 out of 10 Chilean feel safe in their own neighborhood. In contrast 8 out of 10 Hondurans feel safe in their neighborhoods, which have the highest homicide rates in Latin American, reaching 86.5 murders per 100,000.

“Honduras and Chile illustrate the difference between real and perceived insecurity,” the report reads.

The report states that a high perceived risk may be related to a lack of trust in the nation’s own security forces. Lucía Dammert, a member of the history faculty in the Universidad de Chile who contributed to the report, believes that in Chile the issue runs deeper.

“Chile is a country that does not trust the state, the government, the justice system,” she told The Santiago Times. “People in Chile are a lot less trusting than in other countries. They’re more defensive, scared than in the rest of Latin America.”

The publication emphasizes that the level of insecurity many experience impedes human development, a position held by Dammert.

“People have begun to shut themselves away,” she said. “They’ve stopped going to public spaces. They distrust their neighbors. This inhibits communal development. People become more individualistic and less integrated.”

The report sheds light on the surprising correlation between Latin America’s growing economic development and financial stability and rising levels of criminality.

In the video that accompanies the report, the UN Assistant Secretary General and Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the UNDP, Heraldo Muñoz, highlights the discrepancy that exists between development and security in the area.

“Despite its promising economic growth in recent years, despite the reduction of poverty and even of inequality, the problem is that Latin America continues to be the most dangerous region in the world,” he says.

According to Dammert, this phenomenon is a result of the inadequate distribution of wealth in South American countries.

“I would say that it is not a paradox but a consequence, because the economic growth in Latin America has been a completely unequal one,” Dammert says.

Chileans consider common crime — such as petty theft — to be the main threat to citizen security, a perception that is perhaps explained by the fact that more than 10 percent of Chileans claim to have been a victim of theft in 2012. Along with the rest of Latin American, theft in Chile appears to be rising. Rates in the entire region have reportedly tripled over the past 25 years, while most Eurasian countries have witnessed a decrease in theft in the past few years. The figure for this type of crime in Latin America is more than double that of Eurasia, despite the fact that it has a smaller population.

According to the UNDP, street crime is generally associated to marginalization within society. Dammert believes that public spaces in Chile need attention, and would benefit from more regulation, lighting and supervision.

The report provides extensive advice on how the Latin American countries assessed should broach this mounting security issue, particularly stressing the need for long term measures. According to the UNDP, a state’s policies should focus heavily on prevention by improving the quality of life of its citizens, stimulating more equal development and promoting efficient security and justice systems. Dammert expands on how this applies to the South American country.

“Chile needs to revise long term options. It needs to resolve the prison crisis, educate its people, run courses,” she said. “Obviously all this has to go hand in hand with the work of the police and justice systems, but these alone aren’t going to resolve anything. Work must be done on coexistence within the community. Violence today is found in daily conflicts, and this evidently generates huge problems.”

Concerningly for Chileans, the country has the third highest rape figures in the South American continent with 16 cases per 100,000 people, surpassed only by Bolivia and Peru.

Chile also has the highest levels of domestic violence in Latin America. According to the publication, the country recorded more than 760 incidents per 100,000 in 2011.

However, the report says these figures may be explained by a higher frequency of formal complaints as a result of a greater amount of confidence in the local authorities.

The UNDP states that it is this very paradox that led to the creation of the report, the vision being not only to cast light on the situation but to furthermore provide important recommendations on how to tackle the issue.

The UNDP has a history of assisting countries in developing local security plans and national policies on citizen security and coexistence, as well as establishing observatories of violence and in arms control.

United Nations Development Program’s Regional Human Development Report 2013 – 2014, Citizen Security

By Mimi Yagoub ([email protected])
Copyright 2013 – The Santiago Times

About the Author

Mimi Yagoub
Mimi studies languages at Cambridge and speaks Italian, French and Spanish. She has a keen interest in social and human rights issues, and writes frequently about cultural events in and around Santiago. Contact her at [email protected]