The spread of drug-related violence in Latin America

Latin America and the Caribbean

Violence in Mexico increased substantially during 2008 and it appears that the rise may continue well into 2009, as the Mexican government combats the country's powerful drug cartels. However, as pressure on narcotraffickers increases in both Mexico and Colombia, drug-related violence has seeped into many of the countries' neighbors, a topic that emerged in various media articles across the region this week. According to one article in La Nacion, one of Argentina's top newspapers, the spread of narcotrafficking and drug-related violence is evident in Peru, Argentina and Costa Rica, in addition to the violence in Colombia and Mexico:

the expansion of Mexican narcotrafficking in the region is evident. The president of Peru, Alan García, has expressed his concern about the growing penetration of these groups and asked Mexico to send antinarcotics police to the country. The internationalization of the drug lords has been recognized by countries like Colombia, where the increasing collaboration between Mexican and Colombian narcotraffickers is documented. And it has also been recognized by our country, where various Mexican citizens, linked to the Sinaloa cartel, are detained for the investigation for illegal trafficking of ephedrine to Mexico. The Sinaloa cartel has also extended its presence to Costa Rica, a country that the cartel uses for drug storage.

An Agence France Presse article published in El Nuevo Herald discussed the growing drug-related violence in Panama, as both Colombian and Mexican cartels are forced to travel to other countries to "directly care for their cargo" as a result of increased actions against drug traffickers in Mexico. According to the article:

Panamanian authorities captured 53 tons of drugs in 2008, but they were not able to stop narcotrafficking's rise to the 'main' cause of crime and murders in the country by Mexican and Colombian cartels. ... Narcotrafficking activities in Panama increased as a result of the repression of Mexican and Colombian cartels in their own countries, which "produced a migration [of traffickers] to different countries in Central and South America and Panama does not escape this reality," assured the chief anti-drug prosecutor, Jose Abel Almengor.

Mateo Samper's December 17th article in Colombia's Semana magazine alludes to this problem, arguing that while both Plan Colombia and the Mérida Initiative were conceived as anti-drug policies, "in essence, they are both faltering and are going to fail." As an alternative to these policies, he argues for a region- or even world-wide policy of legalization, or at least baby steps toward such a policy through decriminalization in the region: "If the governments of Latin American countries sit down to discuss and coordinate more sensible regional policies regarding drugs, they could propel change on an international level." The region is experiencing a "balloon effect" (a term referring to what happens when one squeezes a half-deflated balloon) of the spreading violence, as individual countries implement policies to fight the spread of narcotrafficking and drug-related violence within their borders. The projected increase in drug-related violence in Mexico in 2009 could be reflected, though to a lesser extent, in many countries throughout the region.