What are the root causes of poverty and crime in Central America?

Among the root causes of poverty and crime, revolve Central America’s relationship to America and the effects of machismo.

This strife stems from the growing drug cartel presence in many Latin American nations. According to ForeignPolicy.com, “There was nearly a 40 percent increase in first-time heroin users over the past five years, and 95 percent of that heroin flows to the United States from the south.” (We Know How to End Drug Violence in Central America) In regions where little to no economic mobility is present, “cash crops” like cocaine and heroin give incentives for poor people to take part in drug trafficking. Natural competition arises and gang factions come into play with turf wars becoming prominent. To the gangs, neighborhood control is a way to survive and tactics such as physical and sexual violence are a means to an end. Due to corruption and fear of the law enforcement and citizens respectively, these gangs operate with impunity with “95 percent or more” (Eguizàbal, Cristina et al. 2014)of these crimes going unreported and examined.

Secondly, the twisted sense of masculinity that permeates these communities/gangs also brings out the worst of the drug trade. Many young men, feel inadequate, (usually due to little economic opportunity) these “young men, competing for jobs in a global market, have fewer opportunities…” (A Lethal Culture) This leaves them desiring to prove their manhood, prompting them to join gangs to not only make a living, but to assert themselves. This becomes like a “pressure-cooker” ( A Lethal Culture) with many young men exploding after years of pain and becoming the abusers they once feared. This is cyclic as many of these men are driven to a lifestyle due to paternal neglect and poverty, fulfill the same roles that later push their sons to do the same.

Factors of the growing drug trade, and secondly its effects on societal norms gives way to the growing number of crimes and poor people in Central America Without serious thought as to how to aid Central American governments in tackling these root causes, change seems nearly impossible.

Work Cited:

Eguizàbal, Cristina, Karisa M. Curtis, Matthew C. Ingram, and Eric L. Olson. “Crime and Violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle: How U.S. Policy Response Are Helping, Hurting, and Can Be Improved.” Wilsoncenter.org. The Wilson Center, 19 Dec. 2014.

Link: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/crime-and-violence-central-americas-northern-triangle-how-us-policy-responses-are

Secondary Article Links:

  1. http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/03/18/we-know-how-to-end-drug-violence-in-central-america-colombia-drug-war/
  2. http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21636052-drugs-and-machismo-are-dangerous-mix-lethal-culture




4 thoughts on “What are the root causes of poverty and crime in Central America?

  1. Your analysis of Central America by means of its citizens’ desperation is striking and refreshing. I think it is vitally important to focus on the measures people are taking merely because there is no better option. The Wilson Report described Guatemala, where CARSI attempted to destroy poppy plants and ban their growth, but farmers petitioned against it. To them “the illicit crop provides a viable economic alternative in an area of the country they feel has long been abandoned…” (11). Despite living in the midst of violence caused to some extent by the drugs, these farmers needed the income to survive. Their participation in drug related violence is out of desperation, not a desire for power, wealth, or artificial families. To me, this marks a further deterioration of free society.

    Your comment on masculinity is also very important. In my studies, I have found it relatively common for these militarized masculinities to form in conflict zones. Where there is a loss of male identity, a new stereotype must form. Eventually masculinity comes to be defined by violence. Boys from a young age are raised with these ideals set before them, and an ongoing cycle begins. Though I have read about this happening in African colonies, I had not connected it to Central America before now. This is one side of the violence in that region that is overshadowed by drug trafficking and immigration policies.

  2. It’s very interesting to look at the role that a societally imposed sense of masculinity plays in the drug trade and subsequently, the violence and poverty in Central America. I think that aside from the government inadequacies in things like stopping the drug trade and corruption, social factors are extremely important to look at, especially when poverty in violence are involved, because there is often a psychological factor in these cases. Even if one were to change government policies and completely eliminate corruption and the system that allows for these types of crimes, it would most likely take some time to overcome the psychological pressures that repeat themselves through the society and culture of that environment.

  3. Your argument regarding a “twisted sense of masculinity” for many Latin American young men is poignant. I agree with your assessment in that a lack of jobs and thus the inability to support one’s family has pervasive effects on individuals who see their role as a provider. It is not enough to just increase the police force or spend more money on fighting crime. It is necessary for economic opportunity to improve so individuals can provide for their families and not have to join gangs in order to better their self esteem.

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