Homicidal Ecologies: Illicit Economies and Complicit States in Latin America

In This Review

Homicidal Ecologies: Illicit Economies and Complicit States in Latin America
By Deborah J. Yashar
Cambridge University Press, 2018
250 pp.

The return of democracy is sometimes blamed for the alarming rise in violence in many Latin American countries. According to that view, democracies too often loosen moral constraints and give excessive protections to criminals. Yashar rejects that theory and points to three other explanations for the violence. First, many governments have found it next to impossible to clean up weak or corrupt military and police forces, which are often in bed with criminal organizations. Second, criminality, especially the drug trade, creates highly lucrative business opportunities without legal channels for settling disputes, compelling criminals to resort to deadly force. Finally, competition among criminal organizations (and between them and state agencies) over turf or trade routes generally results in bloodshed. Yashar illustrates her arguments with studies of post-civil-war El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. She attributes Nicaragua’s relatively low levels of crime to the root-and-branch reconstruction of the security forces after the 1979 revolution and to the adoption of community-based policing. Unfortunately, her field research dates from 2007, before President Daniel Ortega repoliticized the security forces, which last year dutifully fired on peaceful protesters, killing hundreds.

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