Promoting Educational Peacebuilding in Latin American Cities

Conflict and violence in Latin American cities have had a devastating impact on the welfare of their residents. According to the Inter-American Development Bank Latin America is the most violent region in the world, with a homicide rate of 22 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017 (approximately 4 higher than the global average). It is the only region where homicide is the main cause of death. Violence is highest in poor urban neighbourhoods and on the outskirts of large cities. Fighting crime diverts precious resources from key areas such as health, education and infrastructure and is estimated to cost countries an average of 3.5% of GDP.

There are many drivers behind persistent high levels of crime in the region such as rapid urbanisation and unequal access to employment, education, health and basic infrastructure. Institutional weakness, human rights violations and authoritarian government policy is not helping to put a stop to violent crime. Most Latin American governments have adopted hard line and repressive responses, but these have had little effect in reducing urban violence. A portfolio of different interventions is therefore needed in order to make cities safer and more secure places to live, work and play.

Today, more and more cities are implementing innovative crime and violence prevention programmes. Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city, has been recognised as a successful hub for alternative approaches that combine education, culture and youth programmes as well as participatory urban planning. Under the new “Medellin Model” infrastructure and urban architecture projects were built in the poorest areas of the city which included a library park and a cable car and escalator system to vertically integrate neighbourhoods. New programmes to provide affordable internet access and free extracurricular activities to young people were also created as well as alternative conflict resolution mechanisms.   This multi-level strategy has been linked to a significant decline in crime and murder rates. In 2007 for example the homicide rate in the city fell from 93 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants to 28 homicides per 100,000 people. In 2017 Medellin was named a UNESCO Learning City and in 2019 gained a Learning Cities Award.

The research project, coordinated by the University of Glasgow, Educational Peacebuilding in Medellin and Acapulco: Understanding the role of education, culture and learning in responding to crises examines Medellin’s life-long learning strategy that aims to promote peacebuilding and violence reduction. The project uses participatory methods to help share and transfer learning from Medellin to Acapulco (Mexico). In the 1950s, Acapulco was considered a top tourist destination and refuge for celebrities, but in the past 20 years, the resort has changed dramatically becoming one of the most violent cities in the world, struggling day to day to cope under the strain of gang warfare. Responding to key issues identified during the research, the project team will plan to make practical recommendations for responding to the current crisis of violence in the city.

The first insights from analysis exploring Medellin have highlighted five main public policy dimensions in which education, culture and the arts have played a significant role in the reduction of violence and the promotion of peace:

  • Education and culture as a vehicle for social inclusion. Fostering education and art-based activities through a strategic partnership of cultural and educational institutions to reduce local socio-educational disadvantages.
  • Implementing policies specifically targeted at young people. This includes both the equipment and the development of educational hubs, subsidising full or partial scholarships for young people, combating discrimination and poverty through educational and art-based activities at the community level.
  • Promoting citizen coexistence through a civic culture. These programs and training activities have been offered by local government and institutions and aim to generate trust and confidence to improve family and community integration.
  • Using culture and learning to promote the city. Encouraging art and cultural activities that alter the perceptions of a city to encourage tourism, enable business relocation and attract inward migration of residents to improve the city's identity.
  • Peace and reconciliation programs. This includes the disarmament, demobilisation and social reintegration of members of armed groups to prevent recidivism in armed groups and long-term social integration.

In the next stages of the research project, the team will conduct interviews with key community stakeholders in Acapulco and develop a remote approach for mapping local community infrastructure using participatory methods. Despite the challenges of Covid-19, the research will continue to engage and work alongside politicians, community members, young people and stakeholders in both cities, in order to move forward in the creation of the vision for 'the Acapulco we want'.

This project is funded by the British Academy through the Education and Learning in Crises Programme.


Visit the British Academy Educational Peacebuilding in Medellin and Acapulco: Understanding the Role of Education, Culture and Learning in Responding to Crises page.

First published: 3 March 2022

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