Violence, Criminality, and the Erosion of the Democratic State in Latin America

February 17, 2011
10:00 am - 12:00 pm

Violence, Criminality, and the Erosion of the Democratic State in Latin America from National Endowment for Democracy on Vimeo.

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Dr. Arturo Alvarado
Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow

With comments by

Dr. Cynthia Arnson
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Moderated by

Dr. Diego Abente
International Forum for Democratic Studies

Increasing trends of violence and criminality in fledgling Latin American democracies raise serious questions about the quality of democratic institutions and citizenship in the region. Violence, and particularly organized crime, not only limits opportunities for citizens to exercise civil and political rights, it also erodes these states’ ability to provide for the rule of law. Fundamentally, it undermines these states’ ability to wield an effective monopoly on use of force, in some cases resulting in deal-making between elected regimes and paramilitaries, mafias, and gangs. As a result, elected governments have become more vulnerable to threats and incentives from illegal actors and less responsive to the interests of their electoral constituencies. Focusing on survival at all costs, the ruling political elites have little incentive to increase military and police control, resulting in such high levels of societal insecurity that citizens are led to contract private security forces and broker their own deals with paramilitary and other criminal groups.

Examining the relation between violence and democracy in Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia, Dr. Arturo Alvarado explored how democracy in each country has managed to remain resilient despite these states’ inability to control criminal uses of force.  He assessed the implications of current trends for policymakers’ approaches to peacemaking, the rule of law, and democratization. Dr. Cynthia Arnson provided comments.


Dr. Arturo Alvarado Mendoza is professor in the department of sociology at El Colegio de México. He previously taught at Université Sorbonne-Nouvelle Paris III and Brown University. He has been a visiting fellow at the Program on Human Rights and Justice at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is also a founder of Democracia, Derechos Humanos, y Seguridad, an NGO based in Mexico City. An expert on the rule of law in Mexico, Dr. Alvarado has held consulting positions with the United Nations Development Programme and the UN Crime Prevention Unit. He has authored numerous publications, including Towards National Security: Domestic Security and National Security in Mexico in the 21st Century (2010). During his fellowship, Dr. Alvarado plans to examine the role of violence in state formation in Latin America. Using Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia as case studies, he will investigate whether the rise of endemic violence in Latin America is challenging the consolidation of these democratic regimes.

Dr. Cynthia Arnson is the director of the Latin America Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.