The Besieged Polis

Dr. Kevin Casas-Zamora, former Vice-President of Costa Rica and current Secretary for Political Affairs of the Organization of American States, visited the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies to present a talk on his latest book, The Besieged Polis: Citizen Insecurity and Democracy in Latin America. In his latest project, Dr. Casas-Zamora focuses on the threat citizen insecurity poses to emerging Latin American democracies. Defining insecurity as the lack of free exercise of and limitation of fundamental rights, he traces the correlation between citizen insecurity and the threat it poses to democratic governments while offering possible solutions. With the ravages of the drug war in Mexico and Central America, his talk was especially apt in outlining how violence can weaken democratic institutions.

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Dr. Jill Lane and Dr. Kevin Casas-Zamora

One important finding from his research is the correlation between the objective levels of violence versus the perception of violence and the impact perception has on citizens’ reaction to violence. When the perception of violence is high citizens tend to lose confidence in governmental institutions and are less likely to report crimes. A decrease in crime reporting can increase lawlessness and impunity as well as weaken the democratic institutions tasked with public law enforcement. Citizens that live in fear were found more willing to accept authoritarian regimes at higher rates than those living in areas with low levels of violence and insecurity.

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Dr. Kevin Casas-Zamora

During the question and answer portion of the event Dr. Casas-Zamora emphasized that a lack of tax revenue can severely limit governmental investment in security and infrastructure. There isn’t  an easy way to eradicate insecurity. A solution will necessitate a complex approach between different branches of government, a modernization of law enforcements institutions, increasing resources to police forces, reassessment of anti-drug policies, prevention of teen pregnancies, and investing in opportunities for youth

Posted by José Raúl Guzmán – MA Student at CLACS

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