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Latin America has some of the highest levels of violence worldwide; what is more, violence levels have been on an upward course in many countries in the region in recent decades.[1] According to some estimates, the incidence of homicide in the region is more than two times greater than the world average.[2] Widespread violence results in major human, social and economic losses. The direct costs of violence include losses stemming from criminal acts – loss of lives, emotional, and physical damages, and the resulting disincentive to investment – as well as the expenses incurred in preventing violence.

The losses attributable to violence in the region are significant. Some economists estimate that the costs of violence in Latin America reached 14% of GDP in 1997, while others claim that GDP per capita in the region would be up to 25% greater if crime rates were similar to those observed in other countries.[3] In particular, the costs of practical measures aimed at preventing violence are considerable. For instance, despite their smaller size, in 2001 the Brazilian subsidiaries of General Motors spent almost three dollars for every one dollar spent on security in the company’s U.S. headquarters.[4]

[1] See Rafael Di Tella, Sebastian Edwards & Ernesto Schargrodsky, Introduction, in The Economics of Crime: Lessons for and from Latin America 2 (forthcoming, University of Chicago Press), available at (“The Economics of Crime”) (analyzing the literature on the economic effects of crime in Latin America).

[2] Walter C. Prillaman, Crime, Democracy, and Development in Latin America, Center for Strategic

and International Studies, Policy Papers on the Americas, vol. XIV, study 6 (2003), at 3.

[3] Tella et al., supra note 1.

[4] A Conta Vai para Todos Nós, Revista VEJA, June 13, 2001.


Paper originally presented at SELA 2011, Insecurity, Democracy, and Law in Santiago de Chile as part of the panel on “The Limits of Criminal Law.”