Fears That Latin America’s Drug Drug Cartels Are Worse Than The Mafia Go Viral

Is the Latin American mafia dead? Or are so-called “narco-democracies” beginning to take over? The latter is a false and worrying prognosis.

The Central Intelligence Agency reports that the most successful narcotics trade in the world today is coming from Mexico, through Guatemala to the US border. It’s called the “Dominican Republic Trap”: the political elite make profits off domestic and international drug trafficking; the military now provide security; and the Narco-mafia makes more money buying the guns, hiring corrupt cops, and executing border crossers.

Only the C.I.A. agency considers this oligarchy a threat to democracy, not just because it sucks dollars out of poor neighborhoods, but because it lets powerful players dictate the country’s policies. For all its success, the Dominican Republic “covertly commands corrupt, criminal deep-state forces in order to succeed in their hybrid profit-warfare economy.”

Closer to home, the Honduran gangs, long-feared as “the principal neo-empires” of Honduras, are surging back to power. According to the Honduran C.I.A. report, a wave of intimidation against “popular leaders, unions, bloggers, intellectuals, and more” has “either not been reported or has not been answered.” And tensions that were once “under control” are turning into armed conflicts. Since the last presidential election, the United Nations reports, gang members have killed more than 300 people. One rebel gang leader said he was going to attack his rival gang. “If you don’t take care of us, we’re going to kill you,” he said.

The Honduran dictatorship, cut off from an independent judiciary and international funds, has remained relatively unified as it takes power. It has no reason to break with, or criticize, the armed forces for their role in a life of blood, torture, and drugs. But in much of Latin America, it has caught up.

All over the region, elections are tainted by threats, bribes, or violence; poor governance, which has fostered corrupt electoral politics; and the death squads, which have become the instrument of governments that are unwilling or unable to solve serious problems. The International Crisis Group reports:

“Governments of [Uruguay, Argentina, Costa Rica, Chile, and Brazil] have survived — and even prospered — for many years by securing the loyalty of the police and security forces, thereby hampering their control over criminal violence. As a result, the states have become increasingly unstable and it is the security forces rather than the politicians that determine the policies and organization of criminal violence.”

See Al Jazeera, The New York Times, and the New York Times on this topic, for more examples.

How it happened: The fall of the long-reigning political mafia in Ecuador and in Bolivia. Both started to collapse, politically and economically, in recent years. In Ecuador, the state quickly exited its relationship with a centuries-old criminal structure in a surprise move that shook the nation.

In Bolivia, the police and military “collaborated with a wealthy family cartel known as Bancha Vásquez, which controlled the country’s multi-billion dollar cocaine trade.” Though the mafia has fallen, current President Evo Morales remains strong and makes it possible for him to avoid running again because he continues to use the Bancha Vásquez police. If Morales does not run again, would the power of “narco-democracies” spread?

• Follow Felix Savi on Twitter

• Salvador Sánchez Cerén for The New York Times, as reported here.

• David Smilde for The New York Times, by Erika Moen and René Goldberg.

• Victor Alcorta, who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Cabinda region.

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