New Rents are Supplanting Old Rents and Precarization of Labor Relations is Supplanting Marginality
In Central America, new rents—in the following are considered only those new rents which have a relation to the “poorer middle strata”—take the shape of remittances and maquila, amongst others.54 Remittances merely subsidize the local labor force instead of empowering it. Maquila, in turn, does provide new job opportunities, but these opportunities are underpaid and often precarious. Both types of economic rents tend to restrain the development of local capital. In the case of remittances, the labor force is outsourced to foreign countries. In the case of maquilas, and different from the role of labor as part of a dynamic market equilibrium, the local labor force is “cheapened” by the underpayment of local employees. Both remittances and maquila rather prevent or at least defeat the empowerment of local labor (and in the case of maquila also of local capital) and therefore reinforce the basic mechanisms of the rent economy instead of promoting capitalist development.
However, both remittances and maquila raise high expectations as substitutes for the lack of full employment and corresponding local employment opportunities. At the same time—and this is the crucial issue in explaining criminal violence—both fail to meet these expectations and thus generate even more frustration than before. Under these circumstances, in the sense of Merton,55 another and a new substitute, or a “substitute of substitutes”, is required. In these situations, criminal violence is a last option and a final compensation without further prerequisites.
The fact that in Central America the significance of remittances and maquila has already surpassed that of the “old” inflow of foreign exchange earnings realized on the basis of mineral and agrarian exports, and that this forms the basis of a new development paradigm in the region that coincides with elevated levels of violence, is still unknown. Taking remittances
Fig. 2.2 Change of foreign exchange earnings of El Salvador, 1978 and 2004 (Source: PNUD, Informe sobre desarrollo humano. El Salvador 2005. Una mirada al nuevo nosotros. El impacto de las migraciones San Salvador: PNUD, 2005: 7)
as an example, the chapter shows in the following a correlation and then a causal relationship between new rents and high levels of factual violence which erupts as criminal violence.
What is known, in contrast, is the impressive role of remittances in the structure of foreign exchange earnings. The case of El Salvador is instructive in this regard: Fig. 2.2 shows the Salvadorian structure of foreign exchange earnings in 1978 and 2004. The black parts of both bars mirror remittances. The difference in 2004 between remittances and every other source of foreign exchange earnings, as well as compared to the entire structure of foreign exchange earnings in 1978, is enormous.
While old rents (rooted in the mono-agrarian export model as well as, after their failure, in the following import-substituting strategies) caused the civil wars of the Central American conflict in the 1980s, the change of rent economies towards today’s dominance of new rents, for example remittances (and maquila), does have a comparable causal effect for contemporary post-conflict criminal violence.
Empirically, both Honduras and El Salvador reveal a clear coincidence between high regional rates of homicide and rates of remittances (and maquila). In the case of remittances and rising homicide rates in El Salvador, this relation can be illustrated (Fig. 2.3). Guatemala fits well into the model on the third rank on both the dependent and independent variables.
In Nicaragua, in contrast, the share of remittances is relatively low and corresponds to the low level of criminal violence.56 Figures 2.4 and 2.5 illustrate the corresponding relative data, each as a percentage per capita in US dollars and as share of income.57
Fig. 2.3 Annual remittances to El Salvador in billion US dollars, 1980-2010 (Source: own elaboration on data provided by World Development Indicators, accessed: 31.10.13) http://data.worldbank.org/products/wdi
Fig. 2.4 Remittances per capita in US dollars, 2006 (Source: Pablo Acosta, Pablo Fajnzylber, J. Humberto Lopez, “How Important are Remittances in Latin America?” in Remittances and Development. Lessons from Latin America, ed. Pablo Fajnzylber, and J. Humberto Lopez Washington D.C.: The World Bank, 2008: 28, 39)
El Salvador, as today’s leader in terms of its homicide rate, likewise exceeds the other countries in per capita remittances in 2006, as shown in Fig. 2.4. Honduras and Guatemala, characterized by high levels of violence, both outrank Nicaragua and of course Costa Rica in terms of per capita remittances. This holds true even for the remittance share of income,
Fig. 2.5 Remittances as share of income, 2006 (Source: ibid.)
which is shown in Fig. 2.5. Following this measurement, El Salvador is only surpassed by Honduras (which was for a certain time the leader in terms of homicides in the region). However, El Salvador still ranks even higher than Guatemala. Moreover, Nicaragua, in contrast, finds itself at the other pole, even when applying the entire Latin American ranking (unfortunately, Costa Rica was not included in this ranking). Even though this elaboration is focused on the case of El Salvador, it highlights the correlation between remittance rates and homicide rates. Of course, this correlation is still not a causal explanation. This causal explanation will be explored only briefly due to space constraints.
The fundamental hypothesis related to this causal explanation states that in Central America the current perpetrators of violence either were socialized as children of remittances senders and now have lost this status, or are now at best remittances receivers, or they are completely excluded from remittances, or they finally switched from being remittances senders to receivers. In the last case, in addition to a loss of status, this signifies a loss of economic income. In cases in which remittances stop, they are no longer sufficient, territorial or social structural neighbors earn more remittances, or even if the same families in former times earned more remittances than today, adolescents are relatively deprived. While remittances might permit somebody to buy a pickup, others can only afford to buy a horse. While remittances will allow somebody to buy a top-brand shirt, the non-receiver will not be able to. These things frustrate people. Rotker puts this relative deprivation (among almost equals) in a nutshell,58 citing Vallejos’ parable “La Virgen de los Sicarios”:
How can anyone murder for a pair of tennis shoes? You, a foreigner, will ask. Mon cher ami, it’s not because of the shoes: it’s about of the principle of Justice that we all believe in. The person who is going to get mugged thinks it’s unfair they rob him because he paid for them; the one who robs him thinks it’s unfair that he doesn’t have a pair himself.
Quite often, it is only about having things of a particular brand.59 In this sense, relative deprivation can, but does not necessarily, follow from the fact that an adolescent does not own a particular product, but wants to have this product. Relative deprivation could likewise originate in the fact that this product is not from a top brand, which in turn is owned by one of their peers and at the same time is a symbol of the esteemed gang. As the quotation shows, it is about perceived injustice.
Relative Deprivation among (almost) Equals within the Poorer Middle Strata Becomes More Important than Deprivation between the Rich and the Poor
In the case of criminal violence, relative deprivation does not suggest that (poor) people compare themselves with (rich) relatively distant social groups. Instead, people treat as reference groups particularly those groups “to which the individual relates himself as a part or to which he aspires to relate himself psychologically”,60 in this case the poorer middle strata.
As Podder argues, inequality and relative deprivation share the minimum level at zero.61 He admits, however, that the maximum level is different. The maximum level of economic (as well as political) inequality in all measurements is achieved if a single individual owns everything and all others are among the “have-nots”. The maximum level for equality, on the other hand, is defined as ubiquitous social welfare.62 In contrast to the maximum level of inequality, relative deprivation rather evolves at the minimum level, almost at the level of zero. Theoretically, relative deprivation reaches its maximum if 50 % of the population belongs to the “have- nots” and the other 50 % to the “haves.”63 The maximum level of relative deprivation therefore does not depend on the distinction between “haves” and “have-nots” but evolves “somewhere in the interior of the upper and the lower bound of inequality”.64 In the same vein, Jack Nagel argues that
For two individuals the expected discontent of the poorer will be greatest when their difference in wealth is moderate, rather than large or small. If their difference in wealth is small, comparison is highly probable, but the resulting discontent will be small. If on the other hand, their difference in wealth is great, then comparison produces high discontent but is unlikely to occur.65
Which such a focus, the Gini coefficient is rather misleading. The Gini coefficient is determined as the area between the line of total equality and the Lorenz curve. The higher the inequality and the higher the Gini index, the larger this area is. This area evolves because it links the maximum levels between the respective percentages of every quintile or decile in the overall income of the population from the richest to the poorest.
As Podder and Nagel show, however, relative deprivation is mainly about inequality internal to the lower or poorer middle strata, or between single poorer quintiles (not the poorest). The Gini coefficient, in contrast, measures general inequality and therefore includes all income quintiles, which means all classes and income strata.
The lower middle strata, hence the second and third income quintiles, are crucial not only regarding relative deprivation among the poorer middle strata but likewise in terms of the offender’s background.66 This is an important point in explaining criminal violence. As Agnew states: “(w)hen people are treated badly, they get upset and engage in crime.”67
Within Regime Hybridity, the Deficient Performance Becomes More Important than the Deficient Democratic Substance
Non-democratic segments of political regimes mirror not only the deficient democratic substance of the regime, but also its deficient performance, particularly the deficient performance of the security sector. Concerning this issue, it is crucial to distinguish between the political regime’s deficient democratic substance and its performance.
Hybrid political regimes in Central American countries are characterized by the fact that two of the regime segments (exclusion/inclusion as well as rule of law) are non-democratic in substance. However, the other regime segments, such as civil authority and polyarchy, in contrast, are democratic.
In Central America, political exclusion results from oligarchic rule— from the political domination of a small minority. In fact, political exclusion results from coup d’etats and their consequences (Honduras), from brutal attacks directed by the army and the police against protest movements (Guatemala, as well as Honduras), from the systematic exclusion of indigenas (Guatemala and Honduras) and garifunas (Honduras), and from recurring attacks against human rights activists. Veto powers as well as (at least in Guatemala) still tolerated “hidden powers” of the state prevent political rights of participation from materializing. Furthermore, the police brutally attack peasant protests and anti-mining movements. Political exclusion decreased considerably in El Salvador in 2009 as the leftist Mauricio Funes government assumed office. The same government failed to achieve complete political inclusion. Indeed, violent political veto powers to challenge political rights to participation were largely dissolved in El Salvador, but the leftist government paradoxically allowed the oligarchy to impose their minority interests through gentle pressure. The “orthodox” part of the political basis of the party in government (Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberation National, FMLN) in particular was concerned about this fact and gradually withdrew from politics. Even social protest faces serious challenges to putting forward its political claims in the light of counter-terror regulations.
Political inclusion occurs less frequently even than the reduction of political exclusion. When political inclusion in Central America increases, it is usually achieved by clientelism and corporatism rather than being selfdetermined “from below”. Clientelism and corporatism are more likely to further reinforce rather than overcome political exclusion. This latter issue is highlighted by both Honduras and Guatemala, where (informal) incorporation is ensured “from above”. Inclusion therefore occurs beyond the formal access to autonomous democratic participation. Yet political participation as democratically lived political inclusion is even more uncommon than political inclusion per se.
In political terms, violence is a substitute for denied political participation. The literature commonly discusses this relation regarding political violence. Likewise, criminal violence follows this pattern, although it does not share political claims and objectives. Criminal violence serves as a substitute precisely in situations in which frustration based on political exclusion is unable to be expressed politically. Moreover, these situations are characterized by the fact that ambitious conditions, for instance collective mobilization after long-lasting experiences of civil wars, are still lacking. Criminal violence institutionally compensates for a lack of advancement not just in non-violent political inclusion, but also in violent political opposition. Under optimal democratic circumstances, these advancements are achieved through peaceful political opposition.
Since only a functioning democracy is indeed a democracy, its institutional performance is equally as important as its (non-)democratic substance in characterizing the regime as democratic or non-democratic. In contrast to political violence, however, the deficient performance—that is to say the deficient institutional functioning—of the political regime is even more decisive for evolving or condemning criminal violence than the deficient democratic substance of the political regime. In other words, the performance of the political regime is crucial because even if enabling structures of criminal violence (either as economic or as political exclusion) are present, preventing structures, if they function well, might be able to condemn criminal violence.
That is to say, a well-functioning preventive structure is able to intervene as external control even when relative deprivation, strain, frustration and even aggression already exist but have not yet erupted into violence. While enabling structures provide fertile soil for violence, preventive structures avert violent outbreaks despite the presence of enabling structures. Consequently, it is useful to introduce the just mentioned distinction between enabling structures and preventing structures of (criminal) violence. Enabling structures of violence combine both the failure of economic substitutes (remittances and maquila) in overcoming the deficits of non-market economies as well as the failure of political substitutes (armed opposition) in overcoming non-democracy. The latter issue in particular refers to “external control” in the light of criminological theories and therefore exclusively to a particular part of the political regime: its performance (in the ideal case founded on the rule of law).
In Latin America, the lack of preventive structures and the deficient performance of political regimes are derived from the “anomic state”.68 This concept highlights that an anomic state claims there is rule of law, but does not realize this claim. The absence of rule of law finds its expression particularly in the poor performance of the security sector. In the Central American context, the security sector attempts to balance its control deficit by the mano dura, for example by increasing its control surplus. The political regimes in this region were prone to non-democratic influences, since older (security) institutions were dismantled more quickly than newer ones could be built, political transitions went unfinished and resulted in regime hybridity, and peace building likewise remained non-democratic.69
Charles Tittle developed the control balance theory (in his case, to explain self-control),70 which can be applied to external control. Tittle argued that deviant behavior and crime are rooted either in a deficit or in a surplus of control. The alternative would be a control balance that excludes both the deficit as well as the surplus. At the same time, civil society also tends towards a control surplus, since it attempts to balance its own control deficit (owing to a lack of democratic engagement) and at the same time to compensate for the deficient state by vigilantism. The engagement of civil society corresponds to the state’s control surplus. Taken together, both the anomic state as well as civil society engaging in vigilantism generates a double and hence an extremely external control imbalance.
Mano dura reveals the state’s control surplus, particularly in Central America’s Northern Triangle. Mano dura signifies, firstly, the insufficient conceptualization of a logical, compact and democratic security strategy; secondly, the systemic priority of sanctions in contrast to primary prevention and rehabilitation (whereby sanctions are conceptualized as physically repressive and not based on rule of law); thirdly, the militarization of the police force, of police patrols, as well as of the criminal justice system; and finally, the awful work of the judiciary, which is unable to remain independent from other state institutions.
The civil society’s control surplus finds its expression in vigilante justice as private security companies, or as social cleansing and lynching. The lack of cooperation between the police and democratic sectors of civil society, particularly those present in barrios, highlighted by the fact that the community police have largely failed, steadily reinforces this control imbalance. In the same vein, the control surplus does not compensate for the control deficit, either on the part of the state or on the part of civil society. Instead, they reinforce each other. Civil society thereby does not come into conflict with the state. To the contrary, they act in concert.