The Mano Dura Promise: Dilemmas of Human Rights and Security in New Latin American Democracies




Shipp, George F., Jr.

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Violent crime rates associated with drug trafficking and the availability of small arms in Latin America is alarmingly high. A variety of frameworks for combatting this kind of crime exists. Some crime-stopping tactics involve the coordination of the international community and others encompass the participation and cooperation of the societies within the affected nations. Yet despite the availability of these tactics, individuals in some Central American nations have demonstrated a preference for mano dura, an aggressive strategy against crime that targets perpetrators with harsh punishments. Mano dura, translated both as ‘iron fist’ or ‘strong hand,’ is an extremely important crime-fighting strategy to study today since it reminds many proponents of democracy of the authoritarian regimes that are still fresh in the minds of many Latin Americans. This thesis explores why Latin American populations express support for mano dura today, despite the potential dangers it presents. Throughout this project, the current situation in Guatemala is examined in detail since crime rates there are among the highest in the region and because the nation’s newly elected president promised he would clean up crime using a mano dura strategy. The thesis, which is supported by theoretical arguments and evidence from case studies, illustrates that the populations preferring mano dura are part of a society surrounded in the memory, imagery, and discourse of violence. Had civil war conflict resolution in Latin America involved a greater degree of restorative measures and the participation of local communities, then mano dura may not have become such an attractive policy for individuals today.



Mano Dura, Crime strategies, Latin American policing, Moral panic, Human rights and security, Culture of violence