The elites of Latin American societies, founded on genocide of indigenous peoples and the Atlantic slave trade, always manifested anxiety about mixed race ‘dangerous classes’ and used violence to ‘keep them in their proper place’. Contemporary depictions of poor people and migrants as threats to the rest of ‘society’ replicate securitisation discourses associated with neoliberal capitalism elsewhere in the world. Latin America also replicates much of the North Atlantic world in the way centre-left governments adopted public security policies embodying the same logic, despite their pretensions to mitigate social inequality and racism. Moves back to the right multiply the contradictions: fiscal austerity, attacks on wages and social entitlements and abandonment of national sovereignty over resources fail to solve economic problems but increase inequality, motivating regimes lacking political legitimacy to resort to the criminalization of social movements and militarization of internal security. Using Brazil and Mexico as examples, and considering border security as well as internal security, this paper also shows how political mafias promote the rise of criminal mafias in a securitized environment in which public guardians of order contribute to the escalation of violence but may also see themselves as victims of the system they serve.