2017 January Reviews

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Graham Denyer Willis. 2017. Before the Body Count: Homicide Statistics and Everyday Security in Latin America. Journal of Latin American Studies. Vol. 49 Issue 1.

Latin America is by far the most violent non-warring region in the world. Although it is home to 8% of the world’s population, roughly one-third of the world’s homicides occur in Latin America and the Caribbean. In analyzing such issues as crime, violence, security and governance, homicide statistics have become a common measuring tool across the countries. The data on murders produced by the governments are often taken for granted and manipulated by media or policymakers. For example, a sharp drop in murders is often presented as a result of successful anti-crime public policies. The article by Denyer Willis assumes a critical approach to homicide metrics and reveals that homicide cases, when carefully studied, in practice may reflect the control on homicide statistics exerted by organized crime groups. In other words, the decline in violence may be a deliberate strategy of criminal organizations, rather than the result of police effectiveness. This observation is based on an engaging account of the author’s qualitative research in a Brazilian city of São Paulo where the majority of prisons and marginalized neighborhoods are controlled by an organized crime group known as the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC). By enforcing moral norms among criminals in the communities and by effectively punishing those who disobey, the PCC created an alternative justice system that came to regulate violence in the city. The article also provides an important discussion of the implications of this informal regulator  for governance. The findings are relevant for cities across Latin America and should be taken into consideration by anyone using the official homicide statistics.

Abstract: Homicide statistics are a widely accepted metric of security and democracy. This article argues for a focus on how bodies come or do not come to be counted – of what happens before states enumerate. The experience of São Paulo relates that how many people die and how many do not is connected to the governance of an organised crime group known as the PCC. The punishment practices of the PCC and groups like it throughout Latin America reshape the lived paradigm of governance over life and death, albeit in concealed ways. Statistics are produced by and are productive of a de jure state, different from the state de facto. The acceptance of state-made homicide figures, whether for analysis, visualisation or political claims, is consequential for the future of lived security and social science knowledge production.

Keywords: homicide, governance, statistics, organised crime, police, São Paulo, Brazil, Latin America

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022216X16000407

Manuel Vogt. 2016. A New Dawn? Indigenous Movements and Ethnic Inclusion in Latin America. International Studies Quarterly. Vol. 60.

In the recent decades, Latin America has seen a reemergence of social movements among indigenous population. However, their effect on promoting the inclusion of indigenousrepresentatives into top political positions have not received enough scholarly attention. Using a data set on ethnic organizations in all Latin American countries from the end of World War II to 2009, Manuel Vogt analyzes the political consequences of indigenous mobilization. He finds that the success of indigenous leaders’ political inclusion depends on a confluence of factors: the organizational strength of a movement and the level of democratic freedom in the country. These findings are supported by a detailed case study of Ecuador, home to the strongest indigenous movement in Latin America. Overall, this article makes a significant contribution to the scholarly literature on “descriptive representation” (i.e. the inclusion of underprivileged groups in state institutions) and democratization in Latin America.

Abstract: This article investigates how indigenous movements in Latin America promote the political inclusion of historically marginalized indigenous groups. I argue that the social pressure produced by a strong movement promotes the inclusion of indigenous representatives in formal leadership positions. However, this effect depends on both the movement’s internal unity and the general responsiveness of the political system. I examine my claims using a mixed-methods design. I draw on a new group-level data set on ethnic parties and ethnic civil society organizations in Latin America between 1946 and 2009. My statistical analysis finds that indigenous groups with well-organized movements are more likely to achieve inclusion in executive positions of state power. The level of democratic freedom in a country greatly conditions this effect, while movement-internal factionalism undermines the political effectiveness of indigenous mobilization. I illuminate the causal mechanisms underlying these results in a case study of the rise and decline of indigenous mobilization in Ecuador.

 Keywords: social movements, indigenous population, Latin America, descriptive representation, Ecuador

Reena N. Goldthree. 2016. “A Greater Enterprise than the Panama Canal”: Migrant Labor and Military Recruitment in the World War I-Era Circum-Caribbean. Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas 13, 3-4 (December 2016): 57-82.

In mid-1917, in the midst of the Great War, the British Army launched in Panama an enlistment drive for the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR), a labor battalion supporting the war effort in Europe. The recruitment campaign, which drew one in eight of all BWIR volunteers, was a novel attempt to mobilize British colonial subjects living outside of the Empire. Its success suggests, as Reena Goldthree posits in this article, that there was a “dynamic interplay between labor migration and military recruitment” in the circum-Caribbean during the war years. Arguing that soldiering and military labor should be considered as a form of commodified work and not simply as a patriotic service, Goldthree seeks to reconceptualize soldiers as “transnational laborers.” She illustrates how British West Indian men in Panama actually lobbied for the right to enlist in the British Army, therefore shaping recruitment practices from below, and situates their enlistment within the context of the mass labor migration that existed throughout the region in the early twentieth century. Ultimately, Goldthree suggests that the labor migrations of the BWIR illustrates how colonial peoples “attempted to navigate, adapt, and remake imperial labor needs for their own ends.”

Abstract: Tens of thousands of Barbadians, Jamaicans, and other British West Indians journeyed to Panama during the first two decades of the twentieth century, seeking work in the Canal Zone, on the plantations of the United Fruit Company, and in port cities on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Following the outbreak of World War I and the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, migrant workingmen pursued a new employment opportunity—wartime military service in the British armed forces—as the job market on the isthmus contracted sharply and wages stagnated. This article examines the enlistment of British islanders in Panama as soldiers in the British West Indies Regiment during World War I. It responds to recent calls to “bridge the gap between military history and labor history” by exposing the dynamic interplay between interimperial labor migration and military recruitment in the circum-Caribbean.

Perova, Elizaveta, and Sarah Anne Reynolds. "Women's police stations and intimate partner violence: Evidence from Brazil." Social Science & Medicine 174 (2017): 188-196. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.12.008

Can women’s police stations reduce the impact of intimate partner violence in Brazil? In a recent article in Social Science & Medicine, Perova and Reynolds (2017) analyze public data over a five-year period in Brazil to estimate whether the municipal female homicide rate changes according to the presence of a women’s police station. The answer? Well, it depends. In cities, Brazil saw a 17% reduction in female homicides with the establishment of women’s police stations. In rural and other areas, however, the patterns were less clear. Check out their article to learn more about the factors that may impact the success of women’s police stations, as well as reasons they may flounder.

Abstract: Although women's police stations have gained popularity as a measure to address intimate partner violence (IPV), there is little quantitative evaluation of their impacts on the incidence of IPV. This paper estimates the effects of women's police stations in Brazil on female homicides, a measure of the most severe form of IPV. Given that a high fraction of female deaths among women ages 15–49 years can be attributed to aggression by an intimate partner, female homicides appear the best proxy for severe IPV considering the scarcity of data on IPV in Brazil. We assemble a panel of 2074 municipalities from 2004 to 2009 and apply a difference-in-differences approach using location and timing to estimate the effect of establishing a women's police station on the municipal female homicide rate. Although we do not find a strong association on average, women's police stations appear to be highly effective among young women living in metropolitan areas. Establishing a women's police station in a metropolitan municipality is associated with a reduction in the female homicide rate by 1.23 deaths per 100,000 women ages 15–49 years (approximately a 17 percent reduction in the female homicide rate in metropolitan municipalities). The reduction in the homicide rate of women ages 15 to 24 is even higher: 5.57 deaths per 100,000 women. Better economic opportunities and less traditional social norms in metropolitan areas may explain the heterogeneous impacts of women's police stations.

Keywords: Brazil; Intimate partner violence; women's police stations; Homicide

Pollett, Simon, et al. "Evaluating Google Flu Trends in Latin America: important lessons for the next phase of digital disease detection." Clinical Infectious Diseases 64.1 (2017): 34-41.

In a recent article in Clinical Infectious Diseases, Pollett et al. (2017) analyze data from eight Latin American countries to address a scintillating research question: Can Google predict an epidemic using data in real time? Mexico’s search history on Google Flu Trends (GFT) indicated strong correlations with influenza activity, but for other countries, the relationship remained murky. Read the full article to learn about what these researchers recommend for future biosurveillance tools.

Abstract: Latin America has a substantial burden of influenza and rising Internet access and could benefit from real-time influenza epidemic prediction web tools such as Google Flu Trends (GFT) to assist in risk communication and resource allocation during epidemics. However, there has never been a published assessment of GFT's accuracy in most Latin American countries or in any low- to middle-income country. Our aim was to evaluate GFT in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. Weekly influenza-test positive proportions for the eight countries were obtained from FluNet for the period January 2011–December 2014. Concurrent weekly Google-predicted influenza activity in the same countries was abstracted from GFT. Pearson correlation coefficients between observed and Google-predicted influenza activity trends were determined for each country. Permutation tests were used to examine background seasonal correlation between FluNet and GFT by country. There were frequent GFT prediction errors, with correlation ranging from r = −0.53 to 0.91. GFT-predicted influenza activity best correlated with FluNet data in Mexico follow by Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay. Correlation was generally highest in the more temperate countries with more regular influenza seasonality and lowest in tropical regions. A substantial amount of autocorrelation was noted, suggestive that GFT is not fully specific for influenza virus activity. We note substantial inaccuracies with GFT-predicted influenza activity compared with FluNet throughout Latin America, particularly among tropical countries with irregular influenza seasonality. Our findings offer valuable lessons for future Internet-based biosurveillance tools.

Keywords: Google Flu Trends, Latin America, digital epidemiology