Countries

One of Latin America’s most impoverished nations, Bolivia is the world’s third largest producer of coca after Colombia and Peru, and a key transit point for drugs. In addition to serving as an air bridge for Peruvian cocaine, Bolivia is home to foreign criminal organizations, particularly Colombian groups, some of which run cocaine laboratories in the country...

Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy, has seen some important security advances in recent years, taking dozens of communities in Rio de Janeiro from criminal gangs through its innovative UPP security program. However, it faces a serious threat from its two largest domestic criminal gangs, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando Capital - PCC) and Red Command (Comando Vermelho), who are...

The Caribbean's geographic location and countless islands make it a huge transshipment route for drugs heading to the United States, a dynamic that has fostered high rates of violence and gang-related crime. Weak governance and endemic corruption have been essential in strengthening organized crime's roots in the region...

 

Despite the government's advances in security over the last decade, at least a half dozen major criminal groups still operate in Colombia. Several of them have put ideology aside and focus on drug production, trafficking and distribution on a local level, even while they continue to move arms, launder money, kidnap and extort. The complicated panorama has been fueled by...

Ecuador's geographic location and other environmental characteristics have long provided incentives for transnational organized crime to exploit the country as a drug transshipment point and a logistical safe haven. Once considered one of the most insecure countries in the region, Ecuador has succeeded in tackling certain manifestations...

El Salvador is a relatively small but growing player in the drug trafficking business, serving as a recipient and storage point along the Pacific Coast, and a bridge via the Pan-American Highway, the Fonseca Gulf, and small roads from Honduras that cut across the relatively unpopulated mountains. Local transport groups have their roots in the country’s civil war, when many...

Guatemala's criminal organizations are among the most sophisticated and dangerous in Central America. Some of them have been in operation for decades. They include former members of the military, intelligence agencies and active members of the police. Transporting illegal drugs north comprises the bulk of their activity, but organized crime in Guatemala is also involved in marijuana and poppy cultivation...

Executive Summary One of the poorest countries in Latin America, Honduras is also among the most violent and crime-ridden countries in the region. This is, in part, due to its role as a strategically important transit nation for the transnational drug trade, as well as macroeconomic shifts, endemic poverty, corruption, and political turmoil. Estimates vary, but between 140 and 300 tons of cocaine...

Mexico is home to the hemisphere’s largest, most sophisticated and violent organized criminal gangs. These organizations have drawn from Mexico’s long history of smuggling and its close proximity to the United States, the world’s largest economy, to grow into a regional threat. Their networks stretch from Argentina into Canada and Europe. They traffic in illegal drugs, contraband, arms and humans...

Nicaragua has been spared much of the violence that has shaken its neighbors, and while the country does appear to host at least one transnational criminal organization, so far it has not seen the kind of gang wars affecting the Northern Triangle countries: Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. While Nicaragua sees plenty of drug trafficking over its borders, local traffickers...

Panama's location connecting Central and South America has historically made it a key transit point in illegal trafficking routes, as well as a refuge and negotiating area for criminal organizations. Its favorable economy and the Colon Free Trade Zone (CFZ)'s booming contraband market have long attracted international money launderers. The country's weak judicial...

Although violence in Peru has been relatively low since the end of its civil conflict in the late 1990s, the cocaine trade is on the rise in the country, which surpassed Colombia to become the world's largest producer of cocaine in 2011, according to some estimates. Profits from drug trafficking and illegal logging have fueled a small resurgence of the...

Known as "the Switzerland of Latin America," Uruguay has some of the lowest crime rates and strongest state institutions in the region. At the same time, however, the historically peaceful country is undergoing a steady rise in crime and insecurity, much of which is linked to drug trafficking and small-scale gang activity. The country -- which is testing some of...

Venezuela is a key transit country for drug shipments going from Colombia to the United States and Europe. The illegal drug trade has traditionally been controlled by foreign organizations, particularly Colombians, attracted by poor rule of law and corruption. However, there is evidence that beginning in the mid-2000s corrupt elements in the security forces stepped up their role in the...

Investigations

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Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy. Unlike their paramilitary and drug cartel predecessors, the BACRIM maintain a diversified...

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power. In rural sectors, uniformed BACRIM armed with assault rifles still patrol in...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.