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Criminal Violence in Latin America


Credits: 4 ECTS

Second semester

Elective Courses




The Americas -including North America, Latin America and the Caribbean- is the most violent region of the world. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODOC, 2021), the continent has the highest intentional homicide rate per 10.000 inhabitants (14,96). It includes the countries with the highest homicide rate (Jamaica, 52,17; Honduras, 38,25). Three of the principal Latin American countries have increased their rates (Brazil, 22,38; Colombia, 27,48, Mexico, 28,18). Among these three countries near 100.000 people were killed in 2021, much more than countries in war like Irak (5.459), Afghanistan (1.613) or Myanmar (15.299).

In Latin America, criminal violence is much more than statistics: it has become the principal problem of security, producing a “culture of violence” related to past civil wars and to present narcoculture. Pablo Escobar, El Chapo, Brazil commandos, Colombian and Mexican cartels are well known thanks to television series and popular culture products. “Mano dura” policies are promoted by populist leaders and often have approval of the population. Nevertheless, the causes, logics, consequences, and alternatives to this situation are less known.

This course is based on a new wave of scholarship that analyses the similarities and differences between different types of political violence, and particularly between civil wars and criminal violence. Specifically, it focuses on situations characterized by collective criminal violence. The first part of the course will discuss labels and definitions for different classifications of violence. Is criminal violence a kind of political violence? Should we categorize violence in some Latin American countries as armed conflicts? How does criminal violence differ from civil war violence? We will then move to examine the causes, logics, dynamics, and consequences of organized criminal violence. Finally, we will turn to policies directed to this kind of violence by the governments – considering the logic and effectiveness of militarized policies on the one hand and more developmental policies on the other – and by different international actors.

The second part of the course will focus on one of the most visible forms of collective violence in Latin America: youth gangs. Outcomes of the TRANSGANG research project on transnational gangs will be presented, with case studies on Latino gangs in the US and the Caribbean, Maras in Central America, Sicarios and Bacrims in South America and Latino gangs in Spain. Specifically, we will focus on gangs as agents of mediation and cultural responses to youthcide. The third and last part of the course will be dedicated to present several case studies by the students.


  • Exercice 1: 20% - Video commentary
  • Exercice 2: 30% - Reading test
  • Final essay: 50%