Drug policy is engulfing Latin America

The assassination of Fernando Villavicencio, centrist candidate for the Ecuadorian presidential elections, It has to do with the corruption that plagues the country like so many others in Latin America. Former journalist Villavicencio, a harsh anti-corruption critic, had sent former President Rafael Correa – a refugee in Belgium – to the bench, where he was sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison.

The international community was quick to condemn the assassination: Washington called it a “heinous act of violence” and the European Union an “assault on democracy”.. Once again, violence against politicians poses a serious threat to the electoral process and the people’s ability to express their democratic will. Once again the reasons for this murder must lie in the networks of corruption and drug trafficking.

In recent years, Ecuador, once an oasis of peace in South America, has faced a wave of drug-related violence that erupted in the midst of the electoral process. has caused the deaths of a mayor and a candidate for the Ecuadorian Parliament.

Beyond this attack in Ecuador, how can we understand the rise in violence that threatens democratic institutions and Latin American politicians? Latin America is the most violent region in terms of homicide rates. Its tragedy lies in the fact that it is a region without external conflicts (no country is at war) but undermined by internal unrest. El Salvador, Venezuela and Honduras have the highest homicide rates. Every year more than 20,000 people die violently in Mexico and more than 50,000 in Brazil.

Geography is one of the main reasons Latin America has become a global focus of crime. Home to three of the world’s largest cocaine producing countries – Colombia, Peru and Bolivia – as well as major cocaine export destinations to Europe and the United States, the region has played a key role in the illicit drug markets for more than 40 years. While Central America, Colombia and Mexico have long been plagued by violence, Changes in drug trafficking routes and networks have sparked violence in countries like Ecuador and Costa Ricapreviously considered safe and peaceful compared to some of their neighbors.

Many factors have contributed to actual or perceived public insecurity. Drug production has reached unprecedented volumes New profitable routes for drug trafficking in Paraguay and Argentina also play an important role. Most crimes are linked to organized gangs engaged in drug trafficking, robbery and turf wars.

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According to the United Nations There are about 70,000 drug dealers spread across 900 different gangs. In addition, some guerrillas are still active, for example in Colombia, Peru and Paraguay. In many cases it is a war that does not bear his name, as it pits limited and sometimes failed states in developing countries against organizations (cartels, guerrillas, gangs) that thrive in poor areas.

Widespread economic troubles in Latin Americawhich became particularly acute during the pandemic, pushed more people into organized crime. Widespread corruption in the region has also meant that a number of clandestine markets have emerged. These markets are not limited to drug trafficking: criminal networks are also involved in human trafficking, fuel theft, illegal logging and mining, and extortion. Some organizations seek not only to increase their influence in political parties, government institutions, and legal firms, but also to consolidate their control over communities through new recruits and supporters, while expanding their geographic base.

However, this somewhat apocalyptic panorama has some nuances. First, The violence is concentrated in certain “poles”, such as Central America and the major coastal suburbs of Brazil: from Mexico City to Rio de Janeiro, a “diagonal of violence” appears to be forming. Southern Cone countries like Argentina and Chile do not have such high levels of violence. In addition, the guerrillas of the South American continent are increasingly restrictive due to their diminishing capacity to act.

Fighting drug trafficking and reducing social inequalities are two of the keys to reducing violence in South America. Both of these problems have been observed exacerbated by the economic crisis sweeping the continent. In particular, the EU and Spain must work together in this fight, since this criminal phenomenon can contribute to regional destabilization, which can have consequences for the European extension of “Latin American drug policy”.

Frederic Mertens de Wilmars He is Professor and Coordinator of the International Relations course at the European University of Valencia.

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