Transnational Organized Crime and International Security: Business as Usual?

By Mats Berdal; Mónica Serrano | Go to book overview

12
From Drug Trafficking to
Transnational Organized Crime
in Latin America
Mónica Serrano and María Celia Toro

The main business of transnational organized crime in Latin America is drug smuggling. Arms smuggling, the industry of kidnapping, and vehicle crime, which are increasingly well organized and thriving in Latin America, are directly or indirectly related to drug smuggling: as businesses, they are variations on a theme. The transition from small and relatively organized illegal markets to large-scale and chaotic drug markets has been remarkably conducive to the explosion of a whole range of organized criminal activities in the region.

There are two broad clusters of explanations accounting for this transformation. The first stresses the importance of drug smuggling as a prime carrier of other criminal activities, one that replicates their components. Drug trafficking is indeed often referred to as a complex of associated crimes including, among others, arms trafficking, money laundering, and the illicit trade in chemical precursors. Thus, many observers have stressed the extent to which the spheres of illegality and impunity produced by drug trafficking have provided the incubator for hatching many other criminal activities. The second explanation highlights the many ways in which specific efforts to suppress drug smuggling, and in particular the disbanding of corrupt police agencies, have often established an organizing basis for other criminal enterprises across a range of activities. This explanation, that is, follows the paradoxes of a perversity thesis vis-à-vis criminal enforcement. Considerations of state weakening and failing governance capacity have also been important in explaining the rise of transnational organized crime in the region at the dawn of the twenty-first century. State weakening, however difficult to calibrate, has more often been associated with the turbulence accompanying political and economic transitions. Yet, as this chapter attempts to show, in some

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