Latin America: Violent crime threatens development

Last Updated: Fri, Sep 16, 2011 13:01 hrs

New York, Sep 16 (IBNS) High levels of crime and insecurity continue to pose a challenge to social and economic development in Latin America and the Caribbean, despite steady improvements in governance over the past two decades, the head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has warned.

"In the last two decades, Latin America's quest for democratic governance has made great progress, with the strengthening of electoral democracy and a steady transition towards civilian and more transparent forms of governance," UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said while visiting Mexico to mark the 50th anniversary of UNDP's presence in the country.

"These achievements followed a recent past of violence and repression from authoritarian political regimes which limited citizens' rights," she said during a meeting with Mexico's Interior Minister, Francisco Blake.

Miss Clark cautioned that chronic insecurity and entrenched inequality could undermine hard-won gains in governance as well as development in the region.

With an annual average of 25 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, Latin America is among the most violent regions in the world. Last year, more than 18,000 people were murdered in Central America alone and UNDP found that governments there spent $4 billion on security and justice - a 60 per cent increase over four years and more than what some countries receive in foreign aid.

"Trans-national criminal organizations pose a huge threat to state security institutions whose mandate is limited to the national context," she said. "Societies and States are sometimes tempted to use illegal means to fight crime, and the public debate on insecurity can become unduly polarized. More coordination is needed across borders in matters of intelligence, security, and policing to combat these gangs."

Given the scope of the challenge, the next UNDP Human Development Report for Latin American and the Caribbean will focus on people's security. It will be coordinated by Mexican scholar Rafael Ferna'ndez de Castro, a former foreign policy adviser to Mexico's President Felipe Calderon.

"We have helped governments develop and implement regional and national comprehensive plans, promoted legal reforms and innovative local security management approaches, and supported reforms to justice and law enforcement institutions," said Miss Clark.

On Tuesday, Mexico and UNDP signed a strategic partnership agreement to boost the country's efforts to share its experiences in social and economic development with other nations. UNDP has signed similar partnerships with Brazil, China and Turkey.

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