Chapter 9: The Violence of Development

This chapter concerns itself with the causes and effects of the wave of violence that for the last two decades have been affecting those sectors of Central American society that have devoted their efforts and energy to defending local and national environments, local communities and policies aimed at benefiting a majority rather than an elite.

It is important to begin with an outline of the origins of the current crisis of violence in Central American societies, and it is important to acknowledge at the outset that these origins lie at least in part with the monopoly of power held by an elite in the Central American region. As the Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS, Centre for Exchange and Solidarity) in El Salvador explains:

There is a clear transition of power happening in Latin America. There has been a widespread rejection of the elite’s monopoly of power, which was inherited from Spanish Colonialism and was unconditionally backed by the United States governments for the past century. This rejection has resulted in the replacement of military dictatorships with democratic processes over the past two decades. Given that the economic elite largely maintained political power at the beginning of the transition from military dictatorship to democracy, the elite thought their monopoly was invincible and that their economic domination and privileges would be enough to maintain a monopoly on political power.[i]

Other origins of the violence in Central America, however, are also relatively easy to identify, as the following illustrates. As early as 1935, the real role of the US military was noted by some of those within the US armed forces. In a piece entitled ‘War is a Racket’, Major General Smedley Butler declared:

I spent 33 years … in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico … safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902 – 1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.[ii]

This chapter covers a range of aspects of violence in the region. In some cases, the material here could not be included in Chapter 9 of the book. In other cases, some items which have been included in the book are also included here, but in an expanded form.

Keywords: Human rights abuses | Authoritarianism | Drug trafficking | Oligarchies | Impunity | Death squads | US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) | Social cleansing | Femicide | Coup in Honduras | Gangs / ‘maras’ | ‘Plan mano dura’ | Prison fires | International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG)

[i] Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (2009) ‘CIS condemns military coup in Honduras’, San Salvador: CIS, 29 June 2009.
[ii] Major General Smedley Darlington Butler (1935) ‘War is a Racket’, available at: (accessed 18.03.10).