If your country declares war on someone you should at least know about it. That’s how it was in the past. Diplomats exchanged papers, heads of state gave motivational speeches, occasionally from a balcony. The generals said they had expected it, the soldiers obeyed, the people cheered. The difference between conflict and peace was clear. After seeing dreams of glory shattered on the coffins of their children mothers then began to protest. Gasoline was not found, bread was scarce, a black market was organized, maintenance of the tanks was interrupted, various territories were invaded and the most intelligent launched an appeal for an end to the hostilities. It was clear-cut. Tragic, repetitive, but clear.

In many emerging economies, organized crime has replaced the armed insurrection as the main challenge to the state

Today this is no longer the case. Or at least that's not all. There are cities in the world where the boundary between criminal violence and armed conflict has been drastically reduced, where the distinction between war and peace is imperceptible. The big drug traffickers, for example, have real armies, they build impregnable fortresses, they give "jobs" to a part of the population, sometimes they shoot each other but above all they kill anyone who puts their nose in their business. Even the way in which we speak about conflict has changed and the word "war" is increasingly accompanied by specific phenomena such as terrorism or drug trafficking. The use of the term is not entirely inappropriate if we consider to be true the fact that in many Latin American countries the violence of the so-called street gangs is comparable to the atrocities of the civil wars of the past.

There is more. According to Kieran Mitton, who teaches International Relations at the King's College Department of War Studies in London, 'the repressive responses provided by police, military and city authorities, often poorly equipped to deal with phenomena of this magnitude in urban settings, have led to an extreme situation. This vicious circle has therefore alienated local communities, distancing them from the police force and fueling the problem of crime control. In Brazil, for example, many of the residents of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro are more afraid of being killed by gunshots fired by the police than actual drug traffickers.”

There are cities in the world where the distinction between conflict and peace is imperceptible

Populations do not always have the perception of being involved in an armed conflict, although some scholars argue that crime has replaced insurrection as the main challenge to the state. Perhaps we should begin to see organized crime as the equivalent of an invading army. The alternative is to agree with Leonard Cohen when he sings "there is a war between those who say there is a war and those who say there is not".

Graffiti from the 1950s in Harlem demonstrates the presence of street gangs even at that time

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