Slum Wars of the 21 Century: the New Geography of Conflict in Central America


Although the last of the civil wars that plagued Central America during the 1970s and 1980s was formally brought to an end in 1996, violence has continued to affect the region unabated into the 21 century. It has been widely contended, however, that there has been a fundamental shift in the political economy of this brutality, which according to various commentators now occurs predominantly in the more prosaic form of crime and delinquency rather than ideologically-motivated political violence. Drawing on the specific example of Nicaragua, this paper suggests that the alteration of the landscape of conflict in Central America can be interpreted differently, as a geographical transition from ‘peasant wars’ (Wolf, 1969) to ‘urban wars’ (Beall, 2006). The underlying nature of this new geography of violence is then explored, first theoretically and then empirically. Although past and present forms of brutality initially seem very different, present-day urban violence can in fact be seen as a continuation of past struggles in a new spatial context. The dynamics of these contemporary ‘slum wars’ suggest that this ongoing conflict is becoming more intense into the 21 century, largely as a result of this new


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