Many factors contribute to alarming rise in violent crime; Panama sees a “deadly” weekend.

Crime

The loss of fundamental values ​​and the expansion of organized crime in Panama are eroding the security and well-being of society, leaving in their wake a trail of violence and fear under the regime of death, said criminologist Marco Aurelio Álvarez. The expert refers to the violence that is ravaging the country, where eight people were murdered in a single weekend. Seven victims of firearms, young people between 18 and 27 years old.

Last Friday, a 27-year-old student was murdered and another injured in an armed attack that occurred at the regional headquarters of the University of Panama, in the province of Veraguas. The attack took place in the morning, when a still unidentified individual shot at the student who was engaged in an academic activity.

The National Police relates the case to rivalries between gangs.

The fact highlights how violence has penetrated even into educational spaces, traditionally considered safe havens and personal development centers. “Gang violence breaks into higher education, evidencing the failure of the political system to protect and prevent crime among young people,” said Álvarez.

On Saturday, three young people (18, 20 and 22 years old) were murdered in sector 4 of Samaria, in San Miguelito. All three were victims of firearms. In San Miguelito, 26 people have been murdered so far in 2024.

A day later, on Sunday, another 18-year-old young man, a U-17 soccer player, was murdered in the town of María Chiquita, in the province of Colón. During a sporting activity, where liquor was being drunk, a fight broke out and six people were injured, and one was killed.

The tragedy occurred while a softball league was in progress. Those attending the league were, presumably, acquaintances, area residents and family members. Two suspects were arrested.

The province of Colón is the second with the most homicides, only surpassed by the province of Panama (69). Until April of this year, 35 homicides had been recorded on the Atlantic coast.

At 18 years old, the young man from Colon had an extensive football career. He was chosen by Julio Dely Valdés to be part of the Arab Kingdom U-18 team, where he managed to debut in the ‘Liga Prom’ in 2022. In 2023 he was called up for the Panama U-17 National Team, representing the nation in the Indonesia World Cup.

One of the main factors contributing to the increase in organized crime and violence in Panama is economic and social inequality. The lack of job opportunities, poverty and social exclusion create a breeding ground for young people to feel attracted to gangs and organized crime as a way to obtain income and social recognition. This hopelessness and lack of viable alternatives drive many to engage in criminal activities, reinforcing a cycle of violence and criminality, Álvarez explained.

Another critical factor is corruption and institutional weakness. The infiltration of organized crime into institutions, including security forces and judicial systems, undermines the State’s ability to respond effectively to the problem, he adds.

“Impunity, lack of law enforcement and the complicity of certain officials allow criminal organizations to operate with relative freedom, increasing their influence and reach. This erosion of state authority fosters an environment where the law of the strongest prevails over respect for life and the common well-being,” said the expert.

The proliferation of illegal weapons is a factor that amplifies violence. The ease with which firearms can be obtained contributes to the escalation of conflicts and confrontations, both between gangs and against the authorities, indicated Álvarez. Guns not only increase the lethality of confrontations, but also fuel a culture of violence and power through intimidation and fear.

“Arms trafficking, facilitated by porous borders and the lack of effective control, exacerbates insecurity and the feeling of vulnerability among citizens,” concludes the expert.

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