On Monday, October 27th, Clingendael hosted the launch of a new book called Illicit Networks and Politics in Latin America. The result of over two years of research between Clingendael’s Conflict Research Unit, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), and the Netherlands Institute of Multiparty Democracy (NIMD), the book combines historical analysis, case studies of how the nexus between organized crime and politics is created and deepened in four countries – Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Guatemala - and policy considerations.
During the book launch at Clingendael two of its authors, Ivan Briscoe
(the Clingendael Institute) and Catalina Uribe Burcher (International Idea), presented the key findings of the research and their implications for future policy. They stressed that the nexus between organized crime and politics is a growing global concern that affects new as well as established democracies, as it erodes the basic principles of democratic governance such as the rule of law, equal exercise of citizenship rights, responsiveness and transparency, while also causing in certain cases extreme insecurity. Political corruption is the preferred tool for illicit networks to advance their businesses. While the phenomenon is not exclusive to Latin America, the region has been particularly vulnerable to these problems because of the presence of some of the most pervasive and profitable crime networks.
These illicit networks not only focus on drug trafficking (although this is still their most profitable activity), but also trafficking in arms, women, children and counterfeit medicines. Other notable activities include illicit mining, logging, and money laundering. The unparalleled inflow of illicit money to the region comes at the same time as two important shifts in the political arena are taking place: politics has become increasingly expensive, and there are new difficulties in controlling the entry of money in politics. As a result, politicians are not simply unwitting victims of criminal influence, but are themselves more interested than ever in forging links to crime.
According to the research, an integrated approach is needed to anti-corruption policies, institutional building, and coordination between and within different levels of government. Investigative journalists and a strong civil society can also play an important role in weakening the power of illicit networks.
Other speakers included regional expert Catalina Niño (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Colombia) who stressed that the absence of violence does not mean that organized crime has disappeared, and expressed her concern that organized crime in Latin America is often more powerful than the state. Vanda Felbab Brown (Brookings Institution) shared this concern, and explained that while all around the world “crime and politics go together like bread and butter”, what makes Latin America unique is the high level of violence that accompanies this relationship. During the closing remarks Pepijn Gerrits (NIMD) stressed the need for a new policy approach towards the growing presence of illicit networks, not just in Latin America but also in the Netherlands, where drug-related crime groups have been gaining ground in the southern provinces.
Download Illicit Networks and Politics in Latin America here
Illicit Networks and Politics in Latin America was also presented and at the UN headquarter in New York. A video of the event can be watched here
on UN Web TV