/** reg.elsalvador: 103.0 **/
** Topic: Proceso 675: 30 Aug 95/1 **
** Written 1:11 PM Sep 4, 1995 by email@example.com in cdp:reg.elsalvador **
From: UCA-CIDAI El Salvador <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Center for Information, Documentation and Research Support (CIDAI)
Central American University (UCA)
San Salvador, El Salvador
Apdo. Postal (01)575, San Salvador, El Salvador
Tel: +503-273-4400 ext. 266 Fax: +503-273-5000
The media are saturated with reports of violent crimes of all kinds. Some TV cameras morbidly play their images over the cadavers and blood of the victims. The frequency of violent crimes and armed robberies has become a plague in Salvadoran society. But El Salvador is not an exception. Criminal behavior worldwide has been growing much faster than the population. Only in Japan is there a diminishing tendency, perhaps thanks to their preventive programs. Everywhere else, the rise in violent crime is a characteristic of all societies on the planet. This assertion, which takes us beyond our narrow borders, is not made in order to console ourselves with the woes of others, but rather in order to comprehend a universal social phenomenon of which we obviously are a part.
The rise in criminal activity is linked to another universal phenomenon, which is the globalization of social and economic relations. The forward progress of markets which favor the few and marginalize the immense majority of humanity is tearing apart societies and generating new inequalities. Unchecked consumerism and extreme individualism, unleashed by the marketplace, have considerably weakened the influence of the family, the community, churches, associations and even the State on individual citizens. Today, individuals are much more independent, but what they have gained in independence they have lost in terms of principles, values and vital reference points for human coexistence. Independence brings along a conviction that everything is permitted and everything is possible. It is the freedom of the marketplace taken to its final consequences, which are turning out to be fatal. The market has unleashed forces which are devouring its sponsors.
Crime is linked to unemployment, since those who lack a steady job will steal to feed their families. Thus, crime is closely linked to poverty. As wealth becomes more concentrated, criminal activity increases. The nations which enjoy a high GNP, and which have the best-trained and -equipped police in the world (U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany) are also suffering some of the highest crime rates. But that is not all. People also steal out of frustration.
Inequality and the lack of opportunities feed resentment, to such an extent that frustration is a more powerful motive for stealing than hunger itself. In this way, crimes against property serve a double function: to redistribute wealth and as social revenge. Crime not only allows low-income homes to have access to goods usually only enjoyed by higher-income neighbors, but also gives vent to frustration and resentment around the lack of opportunities, around inequality and injustice. Thus, the more skewed a nation's distribution of wealth, the greater the crime rate.
The majority of crimes are committed by urban youth. Furthermore, criminal activity has increased along with urban areas. Youth emigrate to the cities with the hope of finding a steady, well-paid job, but their illusions are soon shattered. So, pressured by hunger, the yearning to find an opportunity and the changes happening around them, they are inexorably pushed toward crime. Frustration feeds profound resentments, which helps explain why youths reject education, church and community, political and social organizations. However, these youth do not remain isolated, but instead regroup and create subcultures which offer them an alternative to the society which rejects them and denies them opportunities, but which at the same time promote a life of crime.
When a young person joins a gang [mara], it means that he or she acknowledges that other options have been closed off or that those which remain are not attractive. Street gangs offer youth an environment which fosters criminal activity, but it is also a space for them to show off their skills, make contacts and find some sort of mutual protection. Some of these groups operate like informal associations, but others are very well organized, and follow military, sports, monastic or police models.
Society tends to consider these people criminals, not only because of their conduct, but also because of the way in which the authorities, politicians and the media react to them. The police, in particular, consider their lifestyle as the precursor to a life of crime. In fact, a confrontational attitude is the most obvious way to encourage them to behave like criminals.
The use of violence to repress criminal activity is not a good solution. Repressive violence will not put an end to violent crime. Politicians tend to demand repressive violence in order to win prestige, to be seen as hard-line and intolerant of violent crime. It is a highly popular issue, and it has a low political cost. Increasing police capabilities and improving the administration of justice could be helpful in investigating and punishing crimes that have already been committed, but they won't wipe out crime. By the same token, the army also represents no solution whatsoever. Eradicating violent crime means attacking its causes and not its effects.
The globalization of capital, investment and the marketplace has resulted in the universalization of violent crime. As wealth becomes evermore concentrated and the ranks of the poor swell, as attractive opportunities for the slip out of the grasp of the majority, and as community, religious and institutional links begin to break with the expansion of individualism, consumerism and freedom, the door opens wider to violent crime. If we choose to continue with globalization we must be prepared to coexist with violent crime. The accumulation of wealth in few hands will produce countless victims, among them even the very same privileged individuals who benefit from globalization. The principal enemy of a State of law is globalization. That ideal cannot become a reality as long as the majority of the people are marginalized and impoverished.
Proceso is published weekly in Spanish by the Center for Information, Documentation and Research Support (CIDAI) of the Central American University (UCA) of El Salvador. Portions are sent in English to the *reg.elsalvador* conference of PeaceNet in the USA and may be forwarded or copied to other networks and electronic mailing lists. Please make sure to mention Proceso when quoting from this publication.
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