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Last Updated: Monday, 9 January 2006, 18:10 GMT
Latin Americans' respect dilemma
By Tom Gibb
BBC News, Sao Paulo

Brazilian police
After an era of militarily enforced respect, Latin Americans yearn for more tolerance

In much of South America, the issue of respect is tied up with attitudes towards the establishment, towards everyone from politicians to bankers.

The Argentinean economic meltdown four years ago badly eroded faith in the authorities.

A continent-wide UN survey last year found almost half of Latin Americans have lost respect for democratic institutions.

Many respondents would have accepted a return to the forced "respect" of military dictatorship if this would improve their living conditions and stop the crime wave which has rocked the continent.

Some see this as a crisis for democracy, reaching out to many other areas of respect.

But others see it as reflection of the profound and positive changes taking place across a continent after decades of brutal military dictatorships.

'Machista culture'

Old people in particular complain of a lack of respect by the young.

Nelida Cordiviola, 85, who walks with difficulty with a cane, is one of many older people in Argentina shocked at lack of respect from the young.

"For children the word of their parents is no longer sacred. This is a loss of respect," she said.

The marked contrasts in wealth resulting from Argentina's economic crisis are leading to increasing lack of contact and respect between different social groups of young people

At the same time she sees other changes as positive. In the past relations between men and women, she says, were dominated by the "machista" culture of the continent.

Women had to turn a blind eye to their husband's double lives. Today she sees women forcing more respect from their partners.

However campaigners on women's issues point out that there is still a long way to go on this score.

Women's rights campaigner Beatriz Ruffa says there are 200 rapes a year reported in Buenos Aires province - although the real figure is probably four times that. Very few cases result in prosecution.

Crime of all types has seen a dramatic increase in Argentina since the economic collapse.

This is not only out of economic desperation, says Maria Elizabeth Cordiviola, the director of a school in Buenos Aires.

Teenagers, she says, are very intolerant of difference.

The marked contrasts in wealth resulting from the crisis are leading to increasing lack of contact and respect between different social groups of young people.

Respect demanded

Respect is also the central value in much of Latin America's underworld.

Crime experts say that a large proportion of the killings in Brazil's slums, where the murder rates are higher than many war zones, are carried out because the killers fear losing respect if they let a bad debt go.

Respect is a tenet of macho gang culture

Values of respect are also changing in the workplace.

Maria, who asked not to use her full name, is in the process of leaving a job in a multinational in Argentina because she complains she did not feel respected.

She had to work with a camera filming her computer to check what she was doing.

She was reprimanded and lost a pay rise because she took off her shoes while working, and says even her trips to the bathroom were logged.

"Our parents wanted the respect of a job," she said, "but many young people want to work freelance or be their own boss to feel respected."

While some fear for Latin America's democratic future, others place their hopes in the growing activism of civil society in many Latin American countries, pushing for more respect for the general population from the courts and other institutions of government.

They hope that more and more people are demanding tolerance and respect in society.

But until such efforts bear more fruit the old Argentine saying still rings true.

"About football, politics and religion, it is best not to speak."


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