Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

The Politics of Law and Order in Chile

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Crime now tops Chile’s domestic political agenda, even though Chileans are comparatively safer than their counterparts in the region. Since 1990, nationwide surveys by the Centro de Estudios Públicos and Fundación Paz Ciudadana consistently point to crime as one of the top two public concerns. The anxieties—fueled by media attention and political posturing—may be overblown. Nevertheless, the government is responding with new initiatives aimed at curbing violence. The approaches and results, however, are open to question.

Citizen demands for greater security parallel an unprecedented rise in crime. In 2007, reported crimes reached the highest level yet, with 2,668 incidents for every 100,000 inhabitants. In fact, since the early 1990s, reported property crime has almost tripled, and personal crime, such as theft, assaults and robbery, has grown twofold. To its credit, Chile is the only Latin American country where law enforcement institutions are generally trusted and praised for professionalism. A May 2008 survey by several Chilean think tanks reports that 57 percent of the population trusts the Chilean national police—the highest level of any institution.

But crime is often the subject of political posturing…

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