A wave of corruption scandals has gripped Latin America over the past year. From Argentina and Brazil, to Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, rackets involving state actors, the judiciary, business and organized crime have caused internal unrest and caught international attention.
Published in a special edition of PRISM, the journal of the Center for Complex Operations (part of the United States National Defense University), this article argues that in order to understand these dynamics it is crucial to look more closely at two interconnected realities characterizing many Latin American countries: first, the existence of criminalized areas that are beyond formal state control; and second, the presence of illicit networks within the state.
More often than not, these two are addressed through distinct sets of policy responses: one focusing on increasing state and security force presence, and the other on installing more control within the state through strengthening judicial institutions and enhancing checks and balances. This article argues that this division of tasks is no longer helpful, and that instead the existence of criminalized areas and the perseverance and mutation of illicit networks in the state should be seen as an integrated set of dilemmas. It explores how the two criminal systems are connected, paying specific attention to shared economic interests and the political party system, before addressing implications for policymakers, including the need for a more holistic approach towards security across the region.
This article drew heavily on the research carried out by the Clingendael Institute for the book Illicit Networks and Politics in Latin America, published by International IDEA in 2014:http://www.idea.int/publications/illicit-networks-and-politics-in-latin-america/en.cfm