Transnational Crime in the Americas: An Inter-American Dialogue Book

By Tom Farer | Go to book overview

1

TRANSNATIONAL ORGANIZED CRIME: AN OVERVIEW

Rensselaer W. Lee III


INTRODUCTION

Recent transformations in the global economy and in international political alignments have been a boon to the criminal underworld. Capitalizing on increased cross-border flows of goods, money, and people, criminal organizations have expanded their territorial reach and augmented their wealth and power relative to national governments. This development has spawned various direct and indirect threats to U.S. national interests. On the one hand, the new face of organized crime introduces new uncertainties into the international political environment, complicating U.S. relations with a number of foreign governments. For example, powerful narcotics constituencies increasingly influence electoral processes, challenge the political status quo by seeking de facto political representation, and undermine the rule of law in a number of Latin American and Asian states. In postcommunist countries, violence, corruption, and predatory behavior associated with emergent mafiya formations possibly complicate the transition to free markets and the development of stable democratic systems. On the other hand, organized crime’s business lines—such as extortion rackets and trafficking in weapons, drugs, or (potentially) fissile nuclear materials—are themselves a threat to public safety and the health of populations. The devastating social and human consequences associated with drug consumption in the United States represent an obvious case in point.

The contours of the new international crime threat are in certain respects diffuse and ill-defined. Organized crime itself is an elusive phenomenon. Most definitions include at least three characteristics—continuity of operations, practice of corruption, and a capability to inflict violence. Some include Weberian attributes such as a hierarchical structure, clear division of labor, and prescribed

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