A range of criminal organisations operate in Central America’s northern triangle. Violence conducted by criminal organisations is one manifestation of a broader culture of violence that is endemic to many Central American societies (UNODC, 2007).
At the personal and societal level:
- The extensive loss of life through homicide is the most obvious humanitarian outcome of violence in Latin American and Caribbean cities (UNODC, 2007; Muggah and Nouvet, 2013).
- The presence of criminal organised violence contributes to a culture of violence that is self-reinforcing (Marilena Adams, 2011).
- Men and women experience violence differently:
- Young men, aged 15 to 34, are both the perpetrators and victims of violence and account for the overwhelming majority of homicide victims in Central America (World Bank, 2011).
- Women are present in youth gangs in numerous roles and are often subject to physical, psychological and sexual violence (Umaña & Rikkers, 2012).
- In urban settings, the police, vigilante groups, gangs and organised crime groups resort to gendered armed strategies, including systematic sexual crimes, femicide and forced displacement (Gratius et al, 2012).
- Violent crime acts as a kind of anti-development by undermining financial, human and social capital. Furthermore, fear and the perception of crime restricts mobility, which interferes with social and economic interaction, as well as education, access to health care, and other development services (UNODC, 2007; Imbusch et al (2011).
- The every-day tension, fear and uncertainty that exist in contexts of chronic violence have systematic effects on psychological and physical health (Marilena Adams, 2011).
- Irregular migrants are vulnerable to being trafficked and being victimised by criminal organisations through robbery, kidnapping and exploitation (UNODC, 2012).
At the institutional and state level:
- The cumulative impacts of individual trauma stemming from victimisation have wider implications for public institutions and state resources. For example, violent crime increases the number of patients admitted to hospitals with injuries (UNODC, 2007).
- Violent crime impedes economic development:
- Countries afflicted by violent crime are deemed unsafe for foreign and domestic investment. Crime also increases the costs of conducting business through direct losses and increased insurance costs (World Bank, 2011).
- Crime appears in all Central American countries as one of the main constraints to productivity and growth. This occurs through the diversion of resources to crime prevention and the loss of worker productivity resulting from the fear or threat of violent crime (World Bank, 2011).
- Crime victimisation can erode public confidence in the ability of the state to combat violent crime. Citizens of northern triangle countries tend to have less trust in the criminal justice system, are more likely to approve of taking the law into their own hands, and have less respect for the rule of law (World Bank, 2011; Ten Velde, 2012).
- Increased violence has a direct negative effect on public support for democracy, with a significant portion of Central American citizens believing that high crime rates would justify a military coup (UNODC, 2007; Marilena Adams, 2011).
- The northern triangle has seen the emergence of ungovernable areas, where the police have been ejected and drug traffickers offer goods and services to the public to ensure protection of their activities (UNODC, 2012).
- Organised violence hampers the work of humanitarian and development agencies by impeding access to communities and increasing expenditure on security measures (Nouvet & Muggah, 2013).