Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 07/2008

Discourses on Violence in Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Nicaragua: Social Perceptions in Everyday Life

Sebastian Huhn

June 2008

German Institute of Global and Area Studies


Central America has the reputation of being a violent region with high crime rates, youth gangs, drug traffic, and ubiquitous insecurity. Politicians, the media, and social scientists in and outside the region often claim that the societies are in complete agreement with their judgment of the situation and that all society members are calling for law and order and social segregation. Focusing on Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, the paper analyzes the social perception of violence and crime. On the basis of essays written by secondary school students and interviews with citizens from all walks of life in the three countries, the paper points out how elite arguments on violence and crime are translated into everyday life, and what society members suggest be done to deal with these problems. The sources prove that there are noticeable hegemonic discourses on violence and crime in Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Simultaneously, a majority of the respondents call for social and integrative solutions rather than the so-called “iron fist.” The repressive trend in Central American policies therefore does not necessarily receive the presumed affirmation asserted by many authorities on and in the region.