Friday, March 30, 2018

Private "Security" Companies Outnumber Police in Latin America?

Latin America has long been plagued by high rates of crime and violence (not to mention a ridiculous amount of government and police corruption). Yet, a report released this week at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, that not only has it gotten worse but that it may be linked to the booming industry of Private Security Companies (PSC) (aka Private Military Firms).

Many of these groups are unregistered, meaning they avoid official oversight, and its contributing to larger domestic issues. The study shows there has been a simultaneous rise in this industry and overall in violence and crime, though this may also be attributed in part to a systemic problem of corrupt, inefficient, and unaccountable public police. In large part, these services are paid for by the wealthy evading taxes, leading to less funds for public law enforcement and, because the private security industry pays better, there is also a drain of skilled professionals from the public to private. It's a sad cycle happening all over Latin America. In Mexico alone, the PSC industry has grown 120% in the last 6 years.

In many countries, there are more members of PSCs than police officers: Brazil is 4:1, Guatemala 5:1, and Honduras a shocking 7:1. Even in the US, going into law enforcement is a very dangerous and often unpopular career move, so I can't imagine what difficulties they face in these countries. In some cases, they are being hired by local or foreign governments for security or training, but in many cases it's private companies and members might be asked to kill activists opposing the client or those who get in its way.

The study urges countries to adopt the Montreux Document which creates guidelines for operations and criteria for PSCs but so far only four Latin American countries have signed it. This is a very poor omen to daunting cycle of violence and evasion of the law. While this might be initially perceived as a domestic issue, I think there are large implications for them being hired out by foreign companies or by domestic companies abroad. If powerful enough, these forces could challenge the local governments/law enforcement where clients have operations.

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