In This Review

Citizens of Fear: Urban Violence in Latin America
Citizens of Fear: Urban Violence in Latin America
Edited by Susana Rotker
Rutgers University Press, 2002, 256 pp

A timely warning that democracy has not brought Latin Americans more security in their everyday lives. Personal safety, especially in the cities, has become one of the most pressing concerns for all citizens, but the state seems helpless and the police forces are often part of the problem rather than the solution. Fifteen out of every 100,000 urban inhabitants in Latin America are killed each year; in Colombia, the death toll reaches 100 out of every 100,000. In Mexico City, 97 percent of all reported crimes go unpunished. The average Venezuelan will experience 17 crimes, 4 of them violent, in his or her lifetime. The book's contributors examine the crisis from multiple perspectives, providing statistics, testimonies, and the stories of journalists on the ground. Indeed, the latter's own personal safety is often jeopardized, one brutal example being the murder of the Brazilian journalist Tim Lopes after he investigated the drug lords of Rio de Janeiro. It is not a pretty picture, and it has produced a widespread culture of fear and disillusionment made even worse by the intrusion of drug money and ruthless gang fights. In cities that depend heavily on tourism, the breakdown of law and order can lead to a downward spiral as potential visitors stay away. Matched with the failure of the economic reforms of the 1990s, this tidal wave of urban violence creates a toxic mix that governments ignore at their peril.