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Criminal Violence in Latin America


Credits: 4 ECTS

Second semester

Elective Courses




In 2018, 78,667 people were killed violently in Brazil and 43,089 in Mexico, compared with 29,584 in Afghanistan and 16,905 in Syria in the same year—despite the fact the first two countries are not considered to be at war. Direct conflict deaths now account for only a fraction of violent deaths worldwide, and as the examples above suggest, the level of criminal violence is especially high in Latin America, which has around 8% of the world’s population and 33% of the world’s homicides. This presents both a security challenge and a development challenge.

IR and international security scholars have traditionally been concerned primarily with war—disproportionately so, given that most lethal violence does not occur in war zones, and the levels of lethal violence in non-conflict settings are often higher than in war zones. In recent years, however, literature across the fields of political science, IR and conflict studies has sought to redress this imbalance by shifting attention to criminal violence. This course builds 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, this course focuses on situations characterized by collective criminal violence in Latin America. We begin by discussing labels, definitions and thresholds 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 then move to examine the causes, logics, dynamics and consequences of organized criminal violence in Latin America. Finally we turn to policies directed at this kind of violence by Latin American 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.


  • Midterm essay: 25%
  • Presentation: 25%
  • Final exam: 50%