Armed Forces, Police and Crime-fighting in Latin America

David Pion-Berlin, Miguel Carreras


Over the past two decades, the armed forces have increasingly been asked to take an active role in the fight against the rampant crime in Latin America. Since the militaries in this region are not always trained to conduct themselves with restraint, the possibility of excesses and human rights violations is always latent. Despite that prospect, there is a high level of public support for military counter-crime interventions throughout the region. The key argument in this article is that when the Latin American public supports military interventions to combat crime, it makes a comparative judgment call about the relative efficacy of military vs. police conduct in domestic security roles. Latin American citizens have very low confidence in the capacity of the police to fight crime effectively and to respect human rights. They place more trust in the armed forces as an institution capable of performing effectively and in accordance with human rights standards and the rule of law. This study develops these arguments in greater detail and then turns to recent Americas Barometer surveys that clearly show that Latin American citizens place more trust in the armed forces than the police as an institution capable of effectively and humanely fighting criminal violence.

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