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The Latin American Context


The challenges to human security vary from region to region, from individual to individual, and are manifested in different ways depending on cultural, gender, generational, ethnical and other conditions. One cannot, therefore, speak of human security in Latin America in general terms since it depends on the specific country, region or population. Reference may, however, be made to the Latin American context and to the huge challenges that confront it, from which may be deduced some severe and widespread threats that affect the rights of individuals and place at risk their possibilities of a life with dignity, free from fear and want.
Some recent reports, which indicate the advances in the region toward the Millenium Development Goals -ECLAC (2010)-, human development -UNDP (2010)-, the Hemispheric Agenda to achieve Decent Work in the Americas -ILO (2010)- and the advance of democracies -UNDP/OAS (2010)-, among others, provide a complete panorama of the challenges that the region faces, among which are threats to human security.
These reports agree that the two major challenges in the region concern inequality and violence. No region of the world has more inequality than Latin America and the Caribbean nor does any have a higher level of criminal violence. These are two unfortunate records, which most surely impact on threats to human security.
There follows several aspects of the Latin American context related to security in its different dimensions (economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political) from information provided by the aforementioned reports. While each is analyzed separately, it is important to emphasize the inter-relationship of each security (or insecurity). In general terms, none is separate since all of them respond to common phenomena and to disregard an insecurity may result in other vulnerabilities.
Economic security
a. Poverty
According to ECLAC estimates, 12.9% of the population in Latin America (some 71 million people) lives in extreme poverty in 2008. This group is part of a broader group of the poor whose incomes are insufficient to purchase their basic needs, including both food and non-food items, and which represents 33% of the population of the region, that is, 180 million people (ECLAC, 2010).  
There are very marked differences among the Latin American countries with regard to the magnitude of extreme poverty, as well as of total poverty. The lowest rates are found in Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay and are less than 6%. Low to medium levels of extreme poverty (up to 15%) are found in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela. Countries with medium to high levels of extreme poverty include Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Guatemala, with levels between 19% and 29%, while the countries with the highest rates (over 30%) are Bolivia, Honduras, Nicaragua and Paraguay (ECLAC, 2010). 
There is little data on the magnitude and evolution of poverty in the Caribbean. The type of economies that predominate in that region (small and open and, for that reason, highly susceptible to crises and external shocks), with a high dependency on developed countries in the areas of trade, tourism and remittances, compounds the great vulnerability of that sub-region. In turn, the continual exposure to natural disasters to which the Caribbean is subject is an important factor that constantly puts at risk the progress made in reducing poverty, since populations with fewest resources are the most affected by these disasters (ECLAC, 2010). 
The groups most affected by poverty are, inter alia, children, adolescents, women, people who live in rural areas, indigenous persons and Afro-descendants
Children and adolescents. Based on the data that it has compiled, ECLAC considers that the key determinant factors of poverty is being a child or an adolescent. On average, the incidence of extreme poverty among children under the age of 15 in the region is about twice that of adults. Although all of the countries share this characteristic, there are important differences with respect to its extension, since while in Uruguay the quotient of the rate of poverty is above 4, in Honduras and Nicaragua it is no higher than 1.4. The difference in the incidence of poverty between the two sub-groups tends to narrow as the extent of poverty in a country increases, which is due to the fact that the higher the level of poverty, the smaller the margin between poor and non-poor households. It is, therefore, not surprising that the countries with the least “infantilization” of poverty are precisely those with the highest rates of poverty.
This is, however, not the only factor since countries with similar levels of poverty may have different degrees of the “infantilization” of poverty. In fact, while Chile and Uruguay have similar levels of extreme poverty, in the former the extent of child poverty is 2.1 times that of adults while in the latter it is 4.2 times (ECLAC, 2010). Between 1990 and 2008 poverty among children was reduced by less than in the rest of the population. One of every five children in Latin America is extremely poor (more than 3 million children) and almost half are poor with either moderate or severe deprivations. Poverty affects 80.9 million children in the region (ECLAC, 2010).
 Women. Poverty affects women more than men. Most of the countries of the region have an index of poverty of women greater than 1.0. The highest values of this index are found in Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Uruguay and Venezuela, where the rate of poverty among women is 1.3 or more times that of men. Moreover, several countries have seen a widening of the gap between men and women; for example Panama, which now has the highest level of women in extreme poverty in the region (ECLAC, 2010).  
Persons who reside in rural areas. Poverty affects in greater measure and intensity those who live in rural areas. The average rate of rural indigence exceeds 2.8 times the urban rate, although the gap varies notably from one country to another. At one extreme is Uruguay, the only country where extreme poverty is less in rural than in urban areas, and at the other are the rural areas of Panama and Peru where the rates of indigence are over six times that of urban areas. 
Ethnic origin. Being a member of an indigenous or Afro-descendant population is highly correlated with the likelihood of being poor. In the seven countries where there is available information, the rate of poverty among indigenous or Afro-descendent groups may range between 1.2 and 6.8 times that of the rest of the population (ECLAC, 2010). 
However, beyond the statistics, which present a troubling panorama, it is important to emphasize, as does the 2007 IIHR report “Human rights from the perspective of poverty,” that poverty, which affects millions of persons, is the cause and effect of human rights violations. "Poverty is a source of violation. It is a condition that arises from a cumulative social, political and economic process of shortages and inequalities that bars extremely poor people from the real and effective exercise of the whole body of human rights and fundamental freedoms. … At the same time, poverty is the expression, effect and result of structures that chronically impinge upon these rights. Political and socioeconomic systems have circumscribed the benefits of growth, while public policies and public resources have tended to allocate a higher share to those who already have the most" (IIHR, 2007).
b. Unemployment                                      
According to data of the ILO, the rate of open urban unemployment in the region increased from 7.3% in 2008 to 8.1% in 2009, which translates into some 18.1 million unemployed workers in urban areas (2.2 million more in 2009 than in 2008). This trend was reproduced with differences among the countries. In the Southern Cone, the greatest increase in unemployment was found in Chile (1.9%) and the only decrease was in Uruguay (0.2%). In the Andean sub-region, the highest increases were found in Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador, while unemployment in Peru remained the same. With respect to Central America, there was a marked increase in Costa Rica and Panama (2.8% and 1.4%, respectively), while in the Caribbean unemployment in the Bahamas went from 8.7% to 14.2%, the highest rate in the region and more than the increase in the rate of unemployment in Mexico, which went from 4.9% to 6.6% in 2009 (ILO,2010)
Youth who neither study nor work
According to a 2008 ILO study, the percentage of youth who neither study nor work reached 20% in the region. In general, those who work do so in precarious conditions and employments and “only 35.1% of those working (15million of the 43.2 million) have health insurance and only 32% have some sort of retirement plan. Of those who are salaried (24.2 million) only 14% (3.4 million) have a stable work contract, which means that stable employment is a privilege for less than 10% of the working youth” (ILO, 2008). On the other hand, the average income of a young person in the region is around 49.9% of that of an adult, according to data compiled by the ILO in 18 countries.
An analysis of the income quintiles (family member per capita) for the youth who neither study nor work shows a close association between this phenomena and poverty. The lowest-income quintile has a proportion of 30.1% of youth who neither study nor work, while it is only 11.2% in the highest-income quintile.
Women: Precarious work conditions and poverty
The precariousness and poverty of youth is strongly related to the question of gender. The situation is mainly due to early pregnancy that is concentrated in low-income households in which the women tend to devote more time to family responsibilities and domestic tasks.
According to another ILO/UNDP study (2009), more than 100 million women in Latin America and the Caribbean are in the labor force. If only those between the ages of 20 and 40, the child-bearing years, are taken into account the number jumps to 70% (OIT/PNUD, 2009).  With respect to the gap between employment and unemployment, the available data show that the rate of urban employment for women improved between 2006 and 2009, increasing from 42.5% to 55.1%. However, unemployment of women continues to be very high, with a regional average in two figures for the period.
There are more than 100 million domestic workers in the world, of which some 16 million are Latin American women. Their working conditions are among the most precarious and there is a serious lack of decent work. Paid domestic work also reflects the hierarchies based on socio-economic condition, race and ethnicity that characterize the region. The ILO estimates that domestic work in Latin America represents 15.8% of the employment of women (ILO, 2010)
One of the principal causes of gender inequality in the labor force is in the persistence of a division of labor based on gender that gives women a greater responsibility of the unpaid reproductive work and impacts on the distribution of the work hours of men and women in the productive and reproductive spheres. As a result, women are at a disadvantage compared to men with respect to access to employment and within the labor market itself
Indigenous and Afro-descendant populations
A 2007 ILO study of eight countries reveals that the rate of participation (activity) of indigenous and Afro-descendant groups, although it might appear high in the countries in which these populations have a large presence, is concentrated in the most vulnerable and precarious jobs, especially in rural areas. This rate of participation does not mean access to quality in the labor market, but rather, given the imperative necessity to work and seek employment, these ethnic groups accept whatever low-income opportunity that they might find. For this reason, in most of the countries studied the rate of unemployment is less in indigenous and Afro-descendant populations than in the white population. 
Food security
Hunger is the result of food and nutritional insecurity, which is expressed, on the one hand, in an insufficient consumption of food to satisfy energy requirements and, on the other, in undernutrition (ECLAC, 2010). The fact that there are people in Latin America and the Caribbean who do not have sufficient and timely access to adequate food and suffer, therefore, food insecurity is not due to the lack of a global availability of food in relation to nutritional requirements, but rather in the inability to satisfy dietary needs through the marketplace, which results in large part from an inequality in the distribution of income. This results in chronic undernutrition, especially in children practically from birth, with the consequent inequalities in education, which in turn tend to reproduce the distributive inequality (ECLAC, 2010). 
Moreover, there is in the region a high heterogeneity between countries and marked inequalities among groups in their interior. Thus, while in past years there has been an excess production of food in all of the countries, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 8.6% of the regional population in the three-year period 2004-2006 suffered from undernutrition, a percentage that would seem to have grown substantially due to the rise in food prices (ECLAC, 2010).
It is estimated that 7.5 million children under five years of age are small for their age and four million are underweight. The children of indigenous and Afro-descendant mothers who have little schooling and who live in rural or marginal urban areas of Andean and Central American countries are the most vulnerable (ECLAC, 2010).
Not all countries, however, are in the same situation: while almost half of the children in Guatemala suffer from stunting (chronic undernutrition) and almost a quarter of the Guatemalans and Haitians are underweight (global undernutrition), chronic undernutrition is practically eradicated in Chile and global undernutrition has been eradicated in Antigua and Barbuda, Chile and Grenada. Within countries, the heterogeneity is even greater and children who live in extreme poverty are more vulnerable, with illiterate mothers of indigenous origin in the rural areas of Central America and the Andean countries. Nonetheless, in terms of size, the population with undernutrition is growing rapidly in outlying sectors of the large cities.   
A complementary view at food and nutritional security is the high prevalence of diseases associated with “hidden hunger,” which is caused by a deficit of micronutrients.The most frequent problem is anemia due to an iron deficiency, which affects one of every three children under the age of five and more than 50% in some counties of the region. Vitamin A and iodine deficiencies also are risk factors for several types of diseases, both physical and mental, and is a public health problem inasmuch as 85% of the households of the region still do not have access to iodine (UNICEF, 2008, cited by ECLAC, 2010).    
Another feature of the nutritional status of the regional population is the progressive increase in excess weight and obesity, which until a few years ago was considered the exclusive problem of high-income countries. According to the data of the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), up to 5% of children under the age of five is overweight, while according to the new chart of the World Health Organization it affects 7.3% of that population (ECLAC, 2010). 
Health security
The data compiled by ECLAC within the framework of the Millenium Goals is centered on the following aspects related to health: infant mortality under the age of five, maternal health, HIV/AIDS, malaria and other illnesses.  
Infant mortality under the age of five. During the first decade of this century the mortality rate of this segment of the population decreased as access to potable water in almost all of the countries of the region increased. Nevertheless, the mortality rate of persons under the age of five continues to be very high in several cases (especially Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru) and in others (Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru) more than 10% of the population does not have access to potable water. In addition, infant malnutrition affects more than one-fifth of children under the age of five in seven countries (Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru). In sum, the population in 10 of 18 countries of the region suffers one or more shortcomings that range from the most basic to full physical development (UNDP-OAS, 2010). 
The countries with the greatest risk of infant mortality are those with lower incomes, the highest percentage of illiterate women, less access to potable water and basic sanitary conditions and with lower public expenditure in health. These factors are the main causes of the high rates of infant mortality in the region, explain the regional variability and clearly show that infant mortality in the region is the result of shortcomings or low investment in social and environmental programs and policies that, added to the low public expenditure, make for an even more unequal social situation. There is, therefore, a perverse condition in many of the countries with a high rate of infant mortality: to the unresolved social problems is added a low expenditure in health that results in a health policy that does not invest in disease prevention or in the promotion of health and much less in extending the coverage of primary health-care services (ECLAC, 2010).
Maternal health. Maternal health and the morbidity associated with its determining factors are very serious public health problems that reveal some of the deepest inequalities in living conditions. They reflect the state of health of women of child-bearing age and the quality of care to which they have access, such as birth control, pre-natal control, qualified care at birth and emergency obstetrical service, the lack of which may lead to death and health problems that could be avoided by adequate pre-natal control and quality care during and after delivery or subsequent complications (ECLAC, 2010).   
The maternal mortality rates of the countries of the region are very diverse as are the trends: they are better in some countries and markedly worse in others. The level of the group made up of Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Uruguay is fewer than 50 deaths for every 100,000 births. The others have ratios that range from 56 in Mexico to the extreme of 630 in Haiti. It is a very unflattering picture compared to developed regions where the rates are lower than 10 deaths per 100,000 live births. The data furnished by the countries show that the direct obstetric causes were responsible for almost 80% of maternal deaths (78%), most of which were caused by hypertensive disorders (23%), hemorrhage during pregnancy, birth or the puerperium (18%), abortion (11%), sepsis and other puerperal infections (5%). The remainder is the result of complications of pregnancy, birth and puerperium (21%) and unspecified causes (2%) (ECLAC,2010) .
A very important special problem is the high percentage of adolescent pregnancies. Adolescents have greater difficulties than adult women to assert their productive and reproductive roles and they lack adequate opportunities to exercise their reproductive rights. In addition, adolescent pregnancies are both a cause and an important result of socio-economic, ethnic, generational and gender inequalities. Most of these mothers have been excluded or marginated and it is highly likely that their children will continue to live in this dynamic, thus perpetuating the inter-generational transmission of poverty. It is important to note that preventing unwanted pregnancies alone could avoid about one-fourth of maternal deaths, including those caused by clandestine abortions (UN, 2007, cited by ECLAC, 2010).
HIV/AIDS. In 2008, the regional prevalence of HIV in the adult population (15 to 49 years of age) was estimated at 0.6% (UNAIDS/WHO, 2009). In 2001, the estimated total of new HIV infections was 150,000. In 2008, there were 170,000 new infections, which raised the number of persons living with HIV to an estimated two million. In 2001, the estimate of new HIV infections in children was 6,200 compared to 6,900 in 2008. The epidemic has not yet been slowed or even reversed. On the contrary, the risk of a greater expansion of the infection, including among women, youth and indigenous persons, continues (ECLAC, 2010).   
Malaria. The incidence of malaria in Latin America and the Caribbean is very much inferior to that of the most affected regions of the world. However, in 21 of the 35 countries and territories of the region that are members of OPS/WHO there are zones in which malaria is actively transmitted and it is estimated that 284 million persons are, in different degrees, exposed to it. In 2008, there were 560,888 cases in the region, which is 53% fewer than in 2000 (ECLAC, 2010).   
Tuberculosis. The incidence of tuberculosis has been decreasing since the 1980s and it is expected that this trend will continue until 2015. In 2008, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean reported 218,249 new cases, 119,862 of which were smear-positive pulmonary tuberculosis, an unfavorable diagnosis for the affected person and for the general population due to the high risk of death and of it spreading if it is not treated (WHO, 2009). 77.3% of the cases of smear-positive pulmonary tuberculosis affected persons between the ages of 15 and 54, with a predominance of men with respect to women (1.7 men for each woman). Tuberculosis affects people in their productive years, with serious economic repercussions for families and society (ECLAC, 2010).   
Other threats to health. There have been serious events in the area of public health in the region in 2009 and 2010 such as the AH1N1 flu epidemic, the devastating earthquake of January 2010 in Haiti and the cholera epidemic that affected that country. According to data of WHO (2010), the Haitian Ministry of Health reported that there have been 18,382 cases of hospitalized cholera and 1,100 deaths due to this epidemic in the country. This includes 1,515 hospitalized cases in the North Department. The official mortality rate for hospitalized cases in that zone is around 7.5%. 
Environmental security
Deforestation. According to the ECLAC report on the progress of the region toward the Millenium Development Goals, between 1990 and 2005 Latin America and the Caribbean lost around 69 million hectares of forest, the equivalent of 7% of the regional forest cover, which represents a decrease from 49.1% of the territory in 1990 to 45.6% in 2005 (ECLAC, 2010). “The negative repercussions of deforestation include, among other things, lost biodiversity, destabilized soils, disturbed hydrological cycles and less carbon dioxide sequestration. These situations are nearly irreversible and affect productivity in major parts of the region, with significant social and economic consequences. Agriculture is a particularly sensitive issue in this connection, since it directly affects food security.” (ECLAC, 2010).
Hydrobiological resources. On the other hand, the growth of fishing and industrial aquaculture, habitat changes and increasing pollution has meant a heavy pressure on hydrobiological resources, which is reflected in the reduction of some of the important commercial fish populations.The combination of intensive fishing with other environmental factors could accelerate the depletion of some fisheries. In this context, the increase and the instability of climactic phenomena will undoubtedly have important effects on the region’s fisheries. One possibility is the displacement of fish to colder zones with the consequent increase in availability there with a concomitant scarcity in the traditional fishing grounds (ECLAC, 2010).  
Water resources. Another important environmental factor is water resources. Despite a relative abundance, the region has important problems related to the availability of water at different times and places. These drawbacks will be intensified by the current scenario of climate change (ECLAC, 2010). The distribution of water is very unequal and subject to many pressures, among which are increasing contamination, degradation of capture basins and exhaustion or unsustainable use of aquifers as a result of demographic growth, socio-economic development and growing interference of society in the hydrological cycle. Effective management of water resources has acquired a greater importance in light of growing human impacts and the probable effects of climate change on the distribution and intensity of precipitation, the rise in the sea level, the variation of temperature patterns and their effects on the glaciers (ECLAC, 2010). 
Land and soil degradation. Another problem is the degradation of the land and the soils of Latin America and the Caribbean, that is, the loss of productive capacity in the soils that affects human activities and ecological functions, compromising the future potential of ecosystems to supply goods and services. According to the report "Perspective of the Environment" (UNEP, 2007, cited by ECLAC, 2010), 15.7% of the territory of the region suffers some degradation. The problem is greatest in Mesoamerica where 26% of the territory is affected, while in South America the percentage falls to 14%. According to data of the project Global Assessment of Land Degradation and Improvement (GLADA) of the World Environment Fund and the United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO), Guatemala is the country of the region with the highest percentage of degraded land with respect to the total national territory (51.3%), followed by Uruguay (49.6%), Guyana (43.4%) and Haiti (42.6%) (Bai et al., 2008, ECLAC, 2010).  
Land degradation in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid zones is due to the erosion caused by deforestation and excessive overgrazing, over-exploitation of the soil, failure to rotate crops or monoculture and improper practices of intensive irrigation. There are desert or arid lands in a quarter of the region (UNEP, 2009, cited by ECLAC, 2010). These pressures appear to have been intensified by the effects of climate change
Air pollution. Another problem is air pollution, which annually causes an estimated 2.3 million cases of chronic respiratory disease in children, some 105,000 cases of chronic bronchitis in the elderly and some 65 million work days lost. Exposure to the types and concentrations of contaminants that are usually found in urban areas has been related to increased risk of mortality and morbidity linked to certain health conditions, such as respiratory and cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, the exposure to atmospheric contaminants of women during pregnancy has adverse effects on the growth of the fetus (UNEP, 2003, cited by ECLAC, 2010).   
Urban sustainability. There are more than 100 million persons living in unacceptable conditions in the region (ECLAC, 2010), which leads to overcrowding, migration of the rural population to cities and saturation of the basic services. Migration between cities and the natural urban growth are the greatest factors, although climate change may cause a greater than foreseen increase. In this scenario, according to ECLAC, urban sustainability in the region faces challenges that go further than the slums and shortcomings in providing basic services directly affecting the poor, such as access to health and education.
   •   Urban transport. Mass transit continues to be inefficient and insufficient, which means high costs of mobility for the poor and has resulted in a large and growing number of private vehicles that slows urban traffic circulation.  
   •   Solid wastes. There is no adequate and acceptable management of solid wastes in the large cities of the region. The direct and indirect social and environments costs that result from this situation are significant and affect the marginal zones disproportionately
   •  Green areas. Most Latin American and Caribbean cities have at least the minimum surface per capita of green areas recommended by the WHO, which is nine square meters per habitant and an urban design that includes green spaces within a 15 minutes walk of the residential areas. Green areas are, however, unequally distributed in the cities (ECLAC, 2010)
Extreme events and natural disasters. As a result of climate change, extreme events and natural disaster catastrophes have increased in number and intensity in the region. The changes in extreme climate events are of special concern in the Caribbean, where meterological disasters like floods, droughts and tropical hurricanes affected more people between 1950 and 2007 than anywhere else in the world. In the past three decades, the Caribbean has suffered direct and indirect losses on the order of between 700 million and three billion dollars due to natural disasters (ECLAC, 2010). In 2010 two devastating earthquakes hit the region, the first in Haiti in January and the other in Chile in February, which caused great human and material losses and a slow and costly recovery, particularly in Haiti because of its high rate of poverty.
There is a high risk of the occurrence of natural disasters as the region is vulnerable to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, heavy rains that lead to flooding and landslides, tropical storms, hurricanes, forest fires and drought. The risk of impact of natural disasters increases because of dwellings built in urban seismic zones, on mountain slopes with a high risk of landslides or on the flood plains of rivers
Climate change has an impact on all of the countries, bringing with it a radicalization of climatic phenomena, especially floods, hurricanes and droughts.  
Personal security
Threats to personal security include, inter alia, physical violence, crime, terrorism, domestic violence, child labor (see, What is human security?) This topic also includes criminal activity, organized crime, in short, any situation that threatens personal security.
There has been much emphasis in Latin America placed on the concept of citizen security, which has been the main theme of the UNDP Report on Human Development in Central America (2009-2010) and an initiative of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIHR) to establish guidelines for public policies on citizen security and human rights, which were validated at two high-level conferences organized by the IIHR on South America (2006) and Central America (2007).
Citizen security is a specific modality of human security (UNDP 2009-2010), specifically of personal security. It is defined by the UNDP as the universal protection against violent or predatory crime (UNDP 2009-2010). The IIHR uses a broader definition: a political and social situation in which the full enjoyment of an individual’s human rights has been legally and effectively guaranteed and in which there are mechanisms and efficient institutions to prevent and control the threats or coercions that might infringe those rights illegitimately (IIHR, 2007). The definitions are complementary and enrich human security in its dimension of personal security.
An urgent problem for people. Personal insecurity is first on the list of concerns of most of the people in Latin America and the Caribbean. The magnitude of the problem may be seen in the high and growing rate of homicides in the region.
A legacy of armed conflicts –the great availability of firearms- contributes to this epidemic. Juvenile gangs, another indirect legacy of the armed conflicts in Central America, have also led to the very high rates of homicides in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Increasingly, the international drug production and trade have generated a new phenomenon, narco-violence, that has shaken Colombia, Mexico and several countries of Central America. In short, the problem of violence is proof of the weakness of the States of Latin America, which have often been unable to respect the most fundamental right of the people, the right to life (UNDP/OAS, 2010, IIHR, 2006, 2007).
The region with the highest levels of criminal violence in the world. Each year some 200 million persons in Latin America and the Caribbean –a third of the population- are victims, directly or in the nuclear family, of some criminal activity. 27% of the murders that occur in the world take place in Latin America, which has only 8.5% of the world’s population. During the first decade of this century, more than 1.2 million Latin Americans lost their lives due to criminal violence, most of it tied to transnational criminal activities (UNDP/OAS, 2010).
The regional data on murders in Latin America conceal, however, a significant heterogeneity and cover cases from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Venezuela with the highest rates in the world to countries like Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, Peru and Uruguay, with relatively low numbers. (see Table 1). 
Homicides are the most acute and the most visible consequence of the problem. The percentage of households in which someone has been a victim of a crime in the last year is greater than 25% in almost all of the Latin American countries and is close to or more than half of the households in some countries. It is, therefore, no accident that 17% of Latin Americans stated in 2008 that delinquency is the main problem in their country, the highest percentage of all the problems that were surveyed (UNDP/OAS, 2010).
Of equal concern is the loss of State capacity to ensure that the law is enforced, which leads to an increasing tendency of Latin Americans to abandon the public mechanisms of justice and security, which range from a reluctance to report crimes to the proliferation of companies of private security (with weak legal framework and State supervision) to the acceptance of lynching as a method to combat delinquency (UNDP/OAS, 2010).
Juvenile gangs or “maras.” Added to this serious situation are the different manifestations of violence whose magnitude may only be guessed. There have been estimates of between 50 thousand to 350 thousand members of juvenile gangs known as “maras” in Mexico and the northern part of Central America. These gangs have a significant impact on the levels of violence in the region, as well as an increasing participation in aiding organized crime.
The gangs or “maras” are generally located in slums where the children and youth, who are socially excluded and grow up without expectations or opportunities, live daily with violence that is a result of the presence of organized crime and police operations. With neither the power nor the resources of other social groups to transform their realities, the victims of insecurity do not attract the attention of the mass media nor are they a priority of the national political agendas. The phenomenom obviously greatly exceeds the repressive aspects and is tied to the topics of social integration (UNDP/OAS, 2010).  
Organized crime. The levels of insecurity in the region and their social, economic and political implications cannot be understood without reference to the extended penetration of organized crime, especially drugtrafficking (UNDP/OAS, 2010). 
The region is the main producer of cocaine in the world and its participation in the production of opiates and synthetic drugs is increasing. As producers, transit and storage locations and money launderers, points of access to the US market or consumer markets, the Latin American countries participate in an illicit commerce that mobilizes tens of thousands of millions of dollars each year. This immense flow of resources has transformed the reality of the security of the region, exposing police, military, judicial and political institutions to unprecedented risks of corruption with a dramatic increase in violent criminality (UNDP/OAS, 2010).
In several Latin American societies there is evidence that institutional weakness has allowed violence that manifests itself in the struggle between rival gangs for the control of the routes to the United States and Europe. This violence continues to be amplified, stimulated by the competition to control the local drug markets and a series of other crimes such as human trafficking, prostitution, child pornography, piracy, stolen cars, illegal adoptions, sale of stolen automobile parts, kidnappings, extortion and crimes related to this violence such as the injuring, killing and forced disappearance of persons (UNDP/OAS, 2010).
According to the 2010 UNDP/OAS report, the use of coercion in the eradication of illicit drugs, and the interdiction of drug trafficking by the Latin American States, is only one part of the response to the phenomenon of drugtrafficking. Also required are efforts in the area of public health to limit consumption and to treat addicts. Most importantly, there must be a vigorous political dimension that shows that it is a problem that far exceeds the capacities of the domestic jurisdictions and thus requires a true hemispheric and global dialogue.
Children and youth. The report on Human Development in Central America affirms that the insecurity of the Central American youth is truly dramatic: the probability that a young person in Latin America will be a murder victim is thirty times greater than that of European youth and seventy times greater than that of a young person in countries such as Greece, Hungary, England, Austria, Japan or Ireland (UNDP, 2009).
On the other hand, in spite of the lack of data on security of children, the report on Central America refers to six of its most worrisome expressions: a) the homicides of under-age people and their participation in criminal activities; b) abuses by authorities; c) abuses in the home; d) sexual abuses; e) exploitation in the workplace and f) commercial sexual exploitation (UNDP, 2009).  
Violence against women. Citizen insecurity is not the same for both sexes since men and women participate in crime in different ways and are exposed to different risks (UNDP, 2009): 
•       Victims of certain offenses are preponderantly women (such as the homicide of the abusing spouse) and above all men commit more crimes than women. 
•         Women perceive, value and negotiate the threats or risks with different parameters than men.
•        Homicide and street violence affect more men, while domestic and sexual violence affects more women. Crimes against the patrimony generally affect more the masculine sex but there is a type of dispossession that women especially suffer from: non-payment of judicial orders to the children and wife/companion.  
According to data of ECLAC, up to 40% of the women of the region are victims of physical violence and in some countries around 60% suffer emotional violence. The most recent data of the countries that have conducted surveys that incorporate a question on the topic of violence, as is the case of Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and the Dominican Republic, show that sexual violence affects between 5.5% of the women in the Dominican Republic and 11.5% of Colombian women, while physical violence affects from 16.1% of Dominican women to 42.3% of Peruvian women. Within every country, the number of women who are victims of emotional violence is much higher. At least a quarter of the women between the ages of 15 to 49 have been victims of some type of control by the husband or companion, a situation that is more than 65% in countries such as Colombia and Peru (ECLAC, 2010).    
Human and political cost. The human and political cost of violence includes, inter alia, (UNDP/OAS, 2010):
•    The deterioration of health and, especially, the economic cost of the interuption of productive lives.
    Monetary outlays related to the buying of security services by individuals and companies. In the case of Central America, these costs (1.5% of the GNP) is greater than what is paid by the State institutions charged with the functions of security and justice (1.3%).
•    Research carried out in Costa Rica found that the public cost necessary to enforce the average sentence of a prisoner who committed murder or rape is higher than that necessary to educate a person from pre-school to graduation as a doctor or lawyer. Educating Latin American youth is an option not only morally superior to that of repressing them but is also more economical
     Intangible aspects, such as the deterioration of the quality of life because of fear. 
 Community security
Cultural diversity. Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples, who total some 58 million and 174 million, respectively, are among the most prejudiced ethnic groups of the region. They have low levels of education, limited access to social protection, precarious jobs and a greater probability that their income will be under the poverty line. The situation is more critical in the case of the women belonging to these groups, since they face greater obstacles to rise out of poverty and to provide for the well-being of their families (ILO, 2007).
Indigenous and Afro-descendant populations must sometimes move to other countries or regions in search of work or as part of their culture, they frequently lack migratory or identification documents with the consequent denial of their most basic rights of access to health services, education, employment, etc. In other cases, they are placed in territories where the absence of the State gives rise to singular expressions of criminality, as may be seen in the autonomous regions of Nicaragua, some of which are routes of transit, storage and rest for the narcotrafficking from South to North and the traffic of arms from North to South (UNDP, 2009).  
Migration and displacement. It is estimated that there were around 25 million Latin American and Caribbean migrants in 2005, which is a higher percentage than the 13% for all international migrants. The percentage of the regional population that are migrants is very small (1%), although there are countries where it is higher than 10%, as in the Caribbean. Around 4% of the regional population are emigrants; many Latin American countries have more than a half million nationals living outside their country and some Caribbean countries have more than 20% of their population in another country (ECLAC, 2006)
There is also inter-regional migration with Argentina, Costa Rica and Venezuela as the principal destinations. Some countries both receive immigrants and send emigrants. At the beginning of the past decade, there were about three million inter-regional migrants who moved mostly between bordering or nearby countries (ECLAC, 2006) 
International migration in the region stands out notably for the increasing number of women who emigrate and for the fact that they represent a majority in many cases. A very common manifestation of this trend is the women who seek employment as domestic servants in another country.
Migrants face a series of threats. The infringement of their human rights, whether during their journey or in inserting themselves in the new society or during repatriation, has assumed alarming characteristics, especially in the case of women and children and generally persons without documents and victims of human trafficking.
The migrants’ former countries face a brain drain or the loss of the youthful and productive population Generally, the grandparents and other members of the extended family take charge of the children who are left behind by the parents who emigrate in search of work and a better life
Migrants who establish themselves in a specific locality also face a series of threats. They often do not have migratory papers, which limits their access to basic services and they are susceptible to becoming just another person seeking a low-paid job. Migrants also face discrimination, xenophobia and uprooting.
Another situation is that of enforced internal displacement. Many persons in Latin America are forced to change their residence because of economic or security reasons or due to natural disasters. For example, around 10% of the population of Colombia has been forcibly uprooted in about 90% of the municipalities of the country during the past 20 years (IOM, 2010). Enforced displacement is linked to the armed confrontation in that country and the war against drugs that the country is waging.
Political security
Latin America has emerged from its authoritarian past, which was characterized by coups, political persecution and dictatorships. The period of transition was accompanied by the threat of return to military regimes. This no longer appears to be the case in spite of the coups in Venezuela (2002), Ecuador (2000 y 2005) and Honduras (2009) and controversies in some countries regarding voting fraud, freedom of expression, the rise of presidential supremacy, limitations to the independence and control of the branches of government and the lack of recognition of the roles and powers of the local governments (UNDP/OAS, 2010).
The threats that exist in the area of political security are related to the capacity of democracy to survive and become stronger. We are faced with the question of democratic sustainability. The questions do not refer to whether a coup will install a decades-long authoritarian government, but rather to what degree democratic regimes can resist "Caesarism" and authoritarianism without losing their essence. How much insecurity and the lack of a democratic rule of law? How much poverty and inequality before democracy is lost? (UNDP/OAS, 2010)
A problem that has arisen in some elections has been the inability of many citizens to vote because they lack the necessary papers. In other regions, the presence of illicit armed groups, as in Colombia, continues to impose restrictions on the electoral process, affecting the freedom of the voters and the candidates. This also occurs in countries such as Guatemala where criminal violence, insecurity and the failures or weaknesses of the State limit full and open political participation. The improper use of public resources and funds in electoral campaigns as well as political proscriptions continue to affect the quality of elections and democracy (UNDP/OAS, 2010).
Another threat is the lack of the State or failed States that affect many countries of the region. As the UNDP/OAS study affirms that the failure of the State explains why the region has the highest rate of homicides in the world, why narco-crime controls territories and influences public decisions, why there are large zones of our lands that are beyond the reach of the law. It explains, finally, that we live in a weak democracy because we have a weak, limited and dependent State or because when the State was not weak it was not at the service of its citizens but of de facto powers. In many of our, we have States that are simply not capable of exercising their functions and also lack the capacity to represent the majority and they escape republican controls (UNDP/OAS, 2010).
Although groups that have been traditionally marginalized and excluded politically, such as women, indigenous populations, Afro-descendants, trade unionists are now participating and that leaders of these groups have risen to become president, their political representation or participation is still insufficient.
Another challenge to political security is the manner in which a government takes decisions and how it responds to society. Today in Latin America the legitimacy of the exercise of power is used to refer to the manner in which a government takes decisions an how it responds to society, whether it does so within the framework of a domocratic State, the citizens not only have the right to demand a government that is the result of free and fair elections but also democratic in adopting and implementing decisions. In other words, governments not only should be constituted democratically but should govern democratically (UNDP/OAS, 2010).
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CEPAL (2006): Pueblos indígenas y afrodescendientes de América Latina y el Caribe: información sociodemográfica para políticas y programas, Naciones Unidas, Santiago de Chile.
IIDH (2007): Encuentro Centroamericano de  Altas Autoridades de Seguridad Ciudadana, San José, 19 y 20 de marzo de 2007
IIDH (2006): Encuentro Regional de Altas Autoridades en materia de Seguridad Ciudadana, Sede de la CEPAL, Oficina Regional de las Naciones Unidas, Santiago, Chile, 6 y 7 de diciembre.
IIHR (2007): Human rights from the perspective of poverty. A path unexplored in the inter-American system, Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, San José, Costa Rica.

ILO (2010): Decent work in the Americas: An agenda for Hemisphere, 2006-15, Report of the Director General, International Labour Office, Geneva. 

ILO (2010): Decent work and youth in Latin America, Youth Employment Project in Latin America (PREJAL), Lima.

ILO-UNDP (2009): Work and Family: Towars new forms of reconciliation with social co-responsability, International Labour Office and United Nations Program for Development, Santiago.
UNDP (2009): Human development report for Central America 2009-2010. Opening spaces to citizen security and human development, United Nations Program for Development, Colombia.
PNUD/OEA (2010): Nuestra democracia, Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, Secretaría General de la Organización de Estados Americanos, Fondo de Cultura Económica, México.



This project is made possible thanks to the contribution of The United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security (UNTFHS)

Copyright 2010 Inter-American Institute of Human Rights