Saturday, December 8, 2012

Domestic Violence in Latin America

Unfortunately, the Latin American and Eastern European countries that have recently made the transition from political repression or Communism to democracy have not shown similar gains for women.  Chile regained its democracy in 1990 after a brutal right-wing military dictatorship sponsored by the U.S. which killed some 3,000 peaceful leftist activists.  Chile even elected the first female President in South America recently, Michelle Bachelet.  Yet even in Chile in 2004, men abused a shocking 50% of married women, inflicting physical violence on 34% and psychological abuse on an additional 16%.  Another study found that 85% of Chilean women are physically, emotionally, or sexually abused by their partners.  So the restoration of Chilean democracy has done little or nothing to improve the lives or status of Chilean women.

In addition, the examples of Botswana and Costa Rica illustrate that even the absence of a national military and a long-standing historical tradition of peace and democracy do not necessarily translate into gains for women.  Costa Rica and Botswana are both distinguished by virtue of being the only countries in their respective regions, Latin America and Africa, which have abolished their militaries.  Costa Rica and Botswana also have much longer traditions of peace and democracy than other countries in their regions.  Yet almost identically high proportions of women are being hit by their male partners in both Costa Rica and Botswana: 58% in Costa Rica and 60% for Botswana.

The story across Latin America is particularly depressing. Men systematically rape and hit their female partners throughout the region.  In many countries, men abuse over half of their female partners.  Some 52% to 60% of Nicaraguan women in the capital of Managua say they have been hit by their male partners, including 11% of pregnant women.  In Peru the rates of domestic violence are even higher than in Nicaragua.  Some 49% of women in the capital Lima and 61% of women in Peru’s second city of Cuzco were hit by their male partners.  In addition, some 23% of women in Lima and 47% of women in Cuzco were sexually assaulted by their male partners.  Think for a  moment about the fact that men are battering roughly six in ten women in Costa Rica, Botswana, and Cuzco, Peru.   

Peru is known for being a highly stratified society driven by discrimination based on race against indigenous peoples and by income against poor people.  Peru was the site of the Inca Empire, which was built on racial oppression of non-Inca people and of human sacrifice.  The Spanish conquest of Peru was even more devastating to the indigenous people in Peru, millions of whom died from war and disease.  In recent years Peru has moved toward greater political democracy and capitalism.  However, the democratization of Peru is not likely to improve the condition of its women. 

Nicaragua has had a tumultuous history in the second half of the 20th century.  Prior to 1979, Nicaragua suffered under the Somoza regime, which was characterized by a small land-owning elite using the military to repress the poor majority.  Following the Communist Sandinista revolution, Nicaragua suffered a civil war.  The Sandinistas were defeated in the late 1980’s by the U.S-backed Contras, and democracy was established in Nicaragua with a free election in 1991 which brought Violetta Chamoro to power.  Eventually the Sandanistas won free elections in Nicaragua and have begun re-imposing Communism in Nicaragua in alliance with the Chavez regime in Venezuela.  The women of Nicaragua have suffered high levels of male violence in their homes throughout the political turmoil in their country.

Men are abusing nearly half of Mexican women and over six in ten women in Colombia as well. Men are hitting a staggering 65% of women in Colombia and 47% of women in Mexico.  Some 40% of women in Durango City, Mexico, say they have been hit by their partners at some point in their lives.  One study of nearly 100 women in Quito, Ecuador, found that 25% were being regularly beaten by their partners, and another 41% were threatened with violence.  Thus, 2/3 of women in Quito, Ecuador, are living under the shadow of male violence from their partners.   

The high rates of domestic violence in Colombia may be related to the longstanding drug and civil war which has plagued Colombia for decades.  But given the high levels of ongoing domestic violence in Chile, but it seems unlikely that the defeat of the drug lords and the restoration of relative social peace in Colombia will make any difference for Colombian women.  Mexico has a long history of authoritarian military repression against indigenous peoples and poor people particularly, and it seems possible that the transfer of the Latin American drug war from Colombia to Mexico in recent years could increase already sky-high levels of domestic violence in Mexico.  Ecuador is also known for its high levels of economic inequality and increasingly for its authoritarian Communist regime allied to Chavez in Venezuela, neither of which bode well for the women of Ecuador.

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