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Latin America's economic rise may be undercut by violence

Latin America is on the rise with strong regional GDPs and decreasing poverty rates. Yet homicide rates have grown by 30 percent in recent years, threatening to spoil 'Latin America's Decade.'

By Geoffrey RamseyGuest blogger / February 24, 2012

• A version of this post ran on the author's site, The views expressed are the author's own.

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A report by the Inter-American Dialogue casts Latin America in a grim light, suggesting that much-touted reforms have not significantly improved citizen security, with crime still holding back the region’s political and economic development.

Analysts, politicians and academics agree: Latin America is on the rise. While most of the developed world suffered the effects of the 2008 recession, Latin American economies managed to hold together reasonably well, with regional GDP falling by 1.8 percent in 2009, but bouncing back with 6 percent growth in 2010. The region's GDP is predicted to expand by 3.7 percent in 2012.

What’s more, United Nations statistics indicate that poverty in Latin America is at its lowest rate in 20 years, falling from 48.4 percent in 1990 to 31.4 percent in 2010. In the same period, the rate of extreme poverty fell from 22.6 to 12.3 percent. This economic success suggests that Latin America may have turned a corner in its decades-long struggle against inequality and economic mismanagement, leading some to herald the 2010s as “Latin America’s decade.”

But while the region is looking up on the economic front, a new report authored by Gino Costa of the Washington, DC based Inter-American Dialogue on the state of crime and insecurity in Latin America tells a very different story. Using data from regional governments, think tanks and international organizations, Costa portrays regional governments as gravely threatened by drug trafficking networks, powerful organized crime syndicates and persistent high levels of violence.

The average homicide rate in Latin America has jumped in the last decade, growing 30 percent from 2000 to a 26 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2008. But while the media often tends to categorize violence in the region by country, the Dialogue’s report illustrates some surprising variations within countries which show that the region’s fiercest “drug wars” are often concentrated in just a few cities or municipalities.


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