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Why is it so difficult for countries to build a police force that is professional, effective, and respects human rights?

Policing, Migration, and Violence in Latin America

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This course explores the origins of policing in Latin America and some of the contemporary challenges in the relationship between citizens, police forces and the state in the Western Hemisphere. By taking a long-term perspective, we seek to understand why highly unequal countries in Latin America (and the US) have faced such difficulties in effectively providing citizen security while ensuring the respect of fundamental human rights. We will connect such failures both to historical debates regarding the legacies of colonialism and contemporary debates regarding forced displacements and migratory flows. The provision of security in Latin America has often been plagued by torture, excessive use of force, military deployments and police brutality. During the colonial era, political order was often imposed using the coercive force of the State to police settlement patterns, repress indigenous rebellions, and chase runaway enslaved peoples. Police forces in Latin America are often unable to contain crime, while poor citizens in urban favelas or remote villages often need to resort to solutions that bypass or even challenge the State in its monopoly of the legitimate use of violence, or seek to escape their precarious conditions through migration. We will explore both the origins of these policing failures, and their effects in terms of migratory flows to both the US and Latin America today.

Movie club and salon. Class sessions will be enriched with cinema screenings in the evenings of movies and documentaries that will bring to life some of the issues discussed in class. Those screenings will include a zoom segment to allow for a follow up discussion with directors, producers or a relevant expert.

Field trips. We will seek to have three field trips. One will be a visit to libraries containing historical documents of the colonial era. A second one will be a visit to a California Mission. A third trip will be a visit to the Salinas Valley or Half Moon Bay, to learn about the challenges faced by undocumented indigenous migrants in agricultural areas of California. If possible, we will arrange a fourth trip visit police headquarters in Oakland, to learn about contemporary efforts at police reform in the US.

Meet the Instructors

Beatriz Magaloni

Graham H. Stuart Professor of International Relations; Professor of Political Science; Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

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Beatriz Magaloni is the founding director of the Poverty, Violence and Governance Lab (POVGOV) within FSI's Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. Most of her current work focuses on state repression, police, human rights, and violence.


Alberto Diaz-Cayeros

Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

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Alberto Diaz-Cayeros joined the FSI faculty in 2013 after serving for five years as the director of the Center for US-Mexico studies at the University of California, San Diego. His work has focused on federalism, poverty and violence in Latin America, and Mexico in particular, with more recent work addressing crime and violence, youth-at-risk, and police professionalization.