July 3, 2008 German Institute of Global and Area Studies
Central America has the reputation of being a violent region with high crime rates, youth gangs, drug traffic, and ubiquitous insecurity. Politicians, the media, and social scientists in and outside the region often claim that the societies are in complete agreement with their judgment of the situation and that all society members are calling for law and order and social segregation. Focusing on Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, the paper analyzes the social perception of violence and crime. On the basis of essays written by secondary school students and interviews with citizens from all walks of life in the three countries, the paper points out how elite arguments on violence and crime are translated into
everyday life, and what society members suggest be done to deal with these problems. The sources prove that there are noticeable hegemonic discourses on violence and crime in Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Simultaneously, a majority of the respondents call for social and integrative solutions rather than the so-called “iron fist.” The repressive trend in Central American policies therefore does not necessarily receive the presumed affirmation asserted by many authorities on and in the region....
January 2, 2008 German Institute of Global and Area Studies
It has become common to state that youth gangs and organized crime have seized Central America. For theories on contemporary Central American violence, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Nicaragua present important test cases, demonstrating the need to differentiate the diagnosis. First, national discourses on violence differ from country to country, with varying threat levels, patterns of attention, and discursive leitmotivs. Second, there are border-crossing discursive nodes such as the mara paradigm, the perception of grand corruption, and gender-based violence tied to cross-national, national or sub-national publics.
The paper explores the ambiguity and plurivocality of contemporary discourses on violence, emanting from a variety of hegemonic and less powerful publics....
September 16, 2005 Brown University // Watson Institute
To what extent is El Salvador's successful transition to peace the result of these
unprecedented efforts by external verifying actors? In this chapter, the author makes two arguments. First,
based upon the Salvadoran case, he argues that the character of a conflict and the conditions that
facilitate its termination are at least as important as the role of implementing actors. More
specifically, the class-based nature of the conflict, the presence of a strategic stalemate between
the parties, the number and cohesion of the parties, the changing nature of the international
environment and the shifting interests of major international actors all converged to foster a
political will and capability for a negotiated settlement whose character facilitated successful
Second, the author shows that El Salvador's transition from civil war to peace was highly contested,
and that the "success" of the Salvadoran peace process was not without important shortcomings
or qualifications. ...
September 13, 2005 Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies
Guatemala and Northern Ireland interrupted years of conflict, signed peace accords in 1996 and 1998, and now struggle to make them work. Implementation has proven difficult. Despite very different economic development levels, both countries are culturally divided, politically dependent, and still beset by violence, growing poverty and inequitable distribution of wealth. This paper, part of a comparative study on peace-building and development, focuses on Guatemala and draws lessons from Northern Ireland. It concludes with propositions for more sustainable peace-building and development by government and civil society organizations, emphasizing mid- and local level contributions of religion, education, local government and migrant remittances.
Four years ago, when 10 active minefields existed in the area of San Pancho-San Carlos, on the border of Costa Rica, it was impossible to imagine the view that today is registered by my digital camera. A few meters from the border, Caterpillar equipment roars and removes reddish soil. "There are approximately $20 million [U.S.] invested in the Project," assured Juan Bautista Sacasa, President and associate of the Frutales del San Juan company, a joint-border mega-project located close to the border with the Costa Rican neighbors. "Before, these lands were used for livestock; today they are dedicated to the cultivations of oranges for export, a more competitive crop," signals Sacasa. They are correct; during the 2004 harvest, they produced approximately 600,000 crates of oranges, equivalent to approximately $1.5 million in export....
Costa Rica has been subject to territorial border disputes with Nicaragua, stemming from turmoil concerning the election of rival political leaders in the 1970s and 1980s, advocate of democracy Don Pepe Figueres and the Nicaraguan dictator, President Luis Somoza Debayle. Due to the conflict, landmines began infiltrating Costa Rica following occupation of Sandanista rebel military bases in northern Costa Rica. For over 12 years, Nicaragua populated Costa Rica's northern border with landmines because of the disputes.
Many believe that Costa Rica was never a manufacturer of landmines. The country has never publicly claimed to manufacture or stockpile landmines. Due to the border dispute between #Costa Rica and neighboring Nicaragua, however, Costa Rica's Ministry of Security's Mine Clearance program had estimated that the northern border contained upwards of 3,000 landmines. The majority of the affected landscape in Costa Rica had been used primarily for agriculture. Costa Rica's Chief of the Mine Clearance Program announced that the PP-Mi-Sr II, the M-14, and the PMD-6 landmine types had been found throughout Costa Rica.
November 30, 2004 Minorities at Risk Project // Center for International Development and Conflict Management // University of Maryland
Costa Rica's population includes two distinct populations of African descent. Discrimination against Blacks does not appear to be condoned or sanctioned by the government, though the Black elite claim that West Indian culture is in danger of disappearing in Costa Rica. Assimilation is required for entrance into many sectors of society. Despite the Black elites' attempts at reviving their West Indian identity and discrediting discrimination, the majority of Costa Rican Blacks seem to prefer to focus on concrete economic issues. The Black community has polarized along elite-mass lines: the elite are attempting to preserve West Indian roots, while the poorer Blacks are primarily concerned with economics and survival. This makes effective, mass-based mobilization for "Black rights" difficult to achieve. Blacks have held strikes and protests in Limon Province regularly for a decade, but the strikes are based on class issues, rather than race. They have demanded that more tax revenues from banana exports be used in Limon (only 30 percent Black) for better health and education facilities. The province as a whole is the poorest in Costa Rica, but this poverty crosses ethnic and racial lines. As long as the ideology of Caribbean Blacks in Costa Rica holds that discrimination is not racially and ethnically motivated, it will be nearly impossible for the Black elite to mobilize them....
September 15, 2009 German Institute of Global and Area Studies
The Costa Rican talk of crime is fundamentally based on the assumption that a formerly explicitly nonviolent nation has been transformed into a battleground for social violence—that is, on the belief that an alarming “crime wave” is occurring today while there was no crime at all in the past. On the basis of this assumption, the fear of crime and the call for zero tolerance and drastic law enforcement actions have been increasing. In this paper I discuss the Costa Rican talk of crime from a historical perspective to demonstrate that crime has always been a topic that has generated pervasive feelings of insecurity and so‐cial pessimism. I argue that social changes in Costa Rican society and the paradigmatic shift in economic and social‐welfare politics since the 1980s have been essential in the transformation of the talk of crime. As part of this transformation, the politicization of crime since the 1990s has been one of the most powerful changes in the dominant dis‐course....
September 15, 2009 German Institute of Global and Area Studies
The Costa Rican talk of crime is fundamentally based on the assumption that crime rates have increased significantly in recent years and that there is today a vast and alarming amount of crime. On the basis of this assumption, fear of crime, the call for the “iron fist,” and drastic law enforcement actions are continually increasing. While crime statistics are the logical basis for the hypothesis on the far-reaching extent of delinquency, they are used in a problematic way in the talk of crime. In this paper I discuss Costa Rican crime statis-tics, their development, and their utilization in the talk of crime against the background of criminological theory. The theses of the paper are that a) the informative value of crime statistics regarding Costa Rican reality is far more questionable than the common utiliza-tion of them implies and b) when they are used as argumentation, these crime statistics do not provide evidence of the oft-proclaimed rising crime wave....
September 16, 2008 En la Mira - The Latin American Small Arms Watch
Although all countries, in theory report their authorized transfers - and
such information may even be available in certain public databases - the
task of providing an overview of SALW transfers, their parts and
munitions, is an arduous one. Nonetheless, despite the difficulties, we
have some extremely positive initiatives on a global scale, such as for
example, the Small Arms Survey, recognized as an important source of
information, especially on SALW production and transfers, as well as the
Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers (NISAT) which has a
database containing transfer records going back to 1962.Despite these
important initiatives, themselves when researchers, activists and policy
makers try to understand a regional market, such as Latin America and
the Caribbean, they encounter a dearth of information. With the intent of addressing this shortcoming, En La Mira has, since 2007, dedicated an
issue to transfers of SALWs, parts and ammunition in this region. Further, according to statistics from the United Nations Commodity Trade
Statistics Database (UN-Comtrade or Comtrade), USD 6.7 billion were
exported between 2004 and 2006, while USD 6.5 billion were imported.
Despite the fact that Latin America and the Caribbean represent 6% and
3%, respectively, of total transfers worldwide during this period, 42% of
firearms related homicide is committed in the region. This discrepancy
between the international transfer volume share and the levels of armsrelated
violence in Latin America and the Caribbean calls attention to
itself, above all because of the tragic and startling number of homicides.
Obviously, far from wishing to increase arms transfers in order to be more
in sync with homicide rates, we decided, a year ago, to study this issue
and periodically monitor its development based on our interest in
understanding the primary legal entry and exit routes of firearms and
ammunition. The result is a report - based on customs information as
stated by Latin American and Caribbean countries and their respective
partners - whose objective is to describe the movement of the SALW
imports and exports, as well as ammunition and parts, during the present
decade. Based on this data, we answer the following questions: who
exported and who imported? From whom? What? And when?
It is worth restating that the intent of this report is not to explain the
cause of arms imports and exports by Latin American countries. Beyond
merely providing information, we do indeed wish to awaken, by means of
the information presented here, the curiosity of other researches, activists
and government staff members such that they may continue to perform research in their countries regarding the transparency of this information,
on who is using the transferred SALW, and how.
The data used for this report came from the NISAT database, which
contains more than 800,000 entries for SALW transfers worldwide since
1962. The NISAT database gets its information from different sources,
COMTRADE among them. In this study we decided to restrict ourselves
to data from this latter source because, in theory, all countries report
transfers to the UN. This data is declared in accordance with the
Harmonized System (SH) merchandise classification system. The HS has
existed since 1988and, in 2007, was revised for the fourth time; previous
revisions were in 1992, 1996 and in 2002. Regarding the period analyzed,
we are looking at data up until 2006, since at the time the study closed
this was the most recent year available on NISAT....
August 19, 2008 German Institute of Global and Area Studies
Violence, crime, and insecurity are major topics in contemporary political and societal discourses
in Central America. With very different crime rates and varying thematic foci, these
topics are discussed in the media, politics, and society. It is noticeable that the fear of crime
and the public sensationalization of crime and violence vary significantly from country to
country. Thus, low crime rates do not necessarily reduce fear and vice versa.
This paper is related to a research project about discourses on violence and crime in contemporary
Central America, and is based on the observation that the “talk of crime” is very
prevalent in Costa Rica, a country usually known as being calm and peaceful. The extensive
fear of crime becomes manifest in many different social spaces and contexts. Rico recently
stated, on the basis of crime statistics and opinion polls, that a) many Costa Ricans do not
have a clear idea, or even have a very incorrect idea, of crime rates in Costa Rica and that b)
the number of Costa Ricans who have the impression that they could very likely become a
victim of crime is remarkably high (Rico 2006: 30). In 2004, for example, 77.6 percent of the respondents of a representative public opinion poll stated that Costa Rica is not safe at all
(while 62 percent regarded their neighborhood as a safe place); 59.9 percent declared that
one should not leave his home unguarded; 64.2 percent declared that houses need fences in
Costa Rica; and 39.2 percent advocated for a watchdog in their houses (Rico 2006: 31-32).
Furthermore, there is notable sensationalization of violence and crime in the Costa Rican
mass media (Fonseca/Sandoval 2006; Bejarano 2006: 32-34) as well as in political debates
about Costa Rica. An example of the extraordinary social significance of violence and crime
compared to other topics is provided by the Informe Nacional de Desarrollo Humano 2005 of
the UNDP. Out of all possible social problems, the UNDP picked violence, crime and insecurity
for the Costa Rican report....
June 20, 2008 German Institute of Global and Area Studies
The paper analyzes the social construction of youth violence in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and El Salvador on the one hand, and the related security policies of the three states, on the other. In each country, there is an idiosyncratic way of constructing youth violence and juvenile delinquency. Also, each country has its own manner of reaction to those problems. In El Salvador youths are socially constructed as a threat to security, and the state implements predominantly repressive policies to protect citizens against that threat. In Nicaragua and Costa Rica, where the social discourse on youth violence is less prominent, the state's policies are neither very accentuated nor very coherent, whether in terms of repressive or nonrepressive measures. There are strong relations and mutual influences between the public's fear (or disregard) of youth violence and the state's policies to reduce it....