Democratization Under Assault: Criminal Violence in Post-Transition Central America

46 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 26 Aug 2009

See all articles by Jose Miguel Cruz

Jose Miguel Cruz

Florida International University (FIU)

Date Written: 2009


Why does Nicaragua have less violent crime than Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras? All these countries underwent political transitions in the 1990s, and most of them faced widespread internal conflicts during the 1980s. Many explanations point to the legacies of war, socioeconomic underdevelopment, neoliberal structural reforms, and a lingering culture of violence. However, these arguments do not fully explain why, despite economic reforms conducted throughout the region, warless Honduras and the wealthier countries of Guatemala and El Salvador are more ripped by crime than Nicaragua. This paper argues that public security reforms carried out during the political transitions shaped the ability of the new regimes to deal with crime. The persistence of violent entrepreneurs in the new security apparatuses, their relationship with new governing elites, and the role of civil society and the U.S. during the transitions, determined later success or failure in tackling crime in Central America.

Suggested Citation

Cruz, Jose Miguel, Democratization Under Assault: Criminal Violence in Post-Transition Central America (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Jose Miguel Cruz (Contact Author)

Florida International University (FIU) ( email )

University Park
11200 SW 8th Street
Miami, FL 33199
United States

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