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Normalizing insecurity in Latin America and the Caribbean

Latin America and the Caribbean are among the most violent regions in the world. Depending on the country and region, there are between 20 and 160 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants per year, compared to 1.95 in Canada in 2020. This situation has led to the emergence of partnerships between governments, businesses and citizens, paving the way for participatory programs meant to foster development and security. In reality, however, few citizens get involved in these local initiatives. Tina Hilgers, a professor in the Department of Political Science at Concordia University, wants to know why.

In recent years, she has made several visits to Vila Floriana (not its real name), a favela of 100,000 people in a large Brazilian city. Over the course of this long-term fieldwork, she has built relationships with many residents of the marginalized community. Through open conversations on the ground, remote follow-ups via WhatsApp, and formal interviews, she has gained a better understanding of the dynamics that impede engagement in participatory programs.

It turns out that the policy agendas of politicians and bureaucrats take precedence over the needs and demands of residents of marginalized communities, undermining citizen participation. Moreover, the structure of the community, in which power and resources tend to be centralized in the hands of civil society organizations, private for-profit groups and even criminal groups, discourages residents from engaging and perpetuates the cycle of insecurity. With the help of her privileged access, Tina Hilgers is now planning further social science research in Brazilian favelas.

Source: Hilgers, Tina. 2020. “Security, Resilience, and Participatory Urban Upgrading in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Development & Change, 51(5): 1246-1270.