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Jul 13, 2010 | Publications

The Global Consortium on Security Transformation (GCST), a partnership of six institutions located in different regions of the world which aims to encourage “existing south-south and south-north security and development debates,” recently released a series of working papers. One of the papers, “The Privatisation of Security in Latin America,” provides an excellent literature review of existing sources of data on private security companies (PSCs) in Latin America.

The paper begins with a regional review of the private security situation in Latin America and the available sources of data. The author, Fernando Gabriel Cafferata, highlights the scarcity of documents covering the region as a whole. In all, he reviews eight reports relating to the regional private security situation. Among the broad trends identified in the report are:

  • A growing market: “in 2003 there were at least 1.63 million private guards in Latin America; in 2007 there were 2.7 million” (4); “the median growth of the private security industry in Latin America has been between 9% and 11%” (7)
  • Increasing scale and transnational dynamics: there is a regional trend towards concentration and professionalization, but as one of the reports points out: “Although some PSCs employ more than 10,000 guards, most PSCs are still family companies” (12). Large transnational companies like Securitas are also changing the market dynamic.
  • Legal versus illegal companies: “Another characteristic of the supply in Latin America is competition through “price” wars. Bigger PSCs find it difficult to compete with illegal PSCs, mainly because they provide cheaper services, albeit of poorer quality” (13).
  • A diverse marketplace: Customers who can afford it are demanding higher quality and more professional services, but there remains a demand for low cost (often illegal) alternatives. The market is segmenting according to the price consumers are willing to pay.

In the second section of the paper the author provides a series of country reviews, identifying the available reports on private security in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador and Venezuela.

This paper is a very useful resource, providing a thorough review of existing literature, an analysis of knowledge gaps and a thoughtful list of topics for further research.