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Attitudes Toward the Right to Kill in Latin American Culture

NCJ Number
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice Volume: 22 Issue: 4 Dated: November 2006 Pages: 303-323
Roberto Briceno-Leon; Alberto Camardiel; Olga Avila
Date Published
November 2006
21 pages
This study examined how support for the right to kill under various circumstances differed across cities and among social categories in a sample of residents of Latin American countries and Madrid, Spain.
The study found that attitudes varied according to social characteristics and country of residence. The view that it is acceptable to kill a person who threatens one's family and property was prevalent among older respondents, men, and Catholics. There was also an identifiable group that supported "social vengeance," i.e., responding to violence with violence. This attitude was prevalent among younger respondents and those with higher education. The rule of law was most firmly internalized in residents of Madrid, Spain, and least firmly internalized in Caracas, Venezuela. Surprisingly, there was very little support for violent reactions to violence in Cali, Colombia. Protestants were more respectful of the right to life than Catholics under all circumstances. Protestantism in Latin America, unlike Catholicism, tends to be an internalized spiritual experience that is expressed in a detailed behavioral code for daily life. Generally, women were less supportive of violence under all circumstances than men. This paper argues that until the right to kill is purged from citizen's minds can a society prevent violence outside of official state action. Further, the circumstances under which the state and its representatives commit violent acts must be limited and narrowly defined. Otherwise, the state becomes a model for citizen behaviors. The study was conducted in 1996-1997 in seven cities of six Latin-American countries that included jurisdictions with varying homicide rates. Madrid, Spain, was included for comparative purposes. A total of 1,200 individuals responded to a face-to-face questionnaire administered by trained interviewers. 7 tables and 36 references


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