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Research Report


Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2017
Pages: 65
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 5-10)

    Transnational organized crime, with its unprecedented wealth and influence, has become the most significant threat to security and prosperity in the Americas. The US government considers transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) a pressing threat to national security and has implemented initiatives, such as the 2011 Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime and the 2017 “Presidential Executive Order on Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking,” to better detect, disrupt, and dismantle these criminal networks. The Trump administration has the opportunity to intensify these efforts by exercising and expanding prosecutions, sanctions, and enforcement agencies’ legal authorities;...

  2. (pp. 11-17)

    For decades, Colombia has faced extraordinary challenges as ground zero in the hemispheric fight against transnational organized crime. However, determined Colombian leadership, with support and cooperation from the United States, has made dramatic gains in the struggle against criminal groups. The peace accord with the FARC, Colombia’s largest TCO, brings new challenges and opportunities for the fight against organized crime, requiring continued vigilance and cooperation from the United States.

    Throughout much of the past century, Colombia has been plagued by illegal guerrilla forces and notorious cocaine cartels. Beginning in the mid-1990s, the FARC outgrew its traditional supportive role in the...

  3. (pp. 18-25)

    The Venezuelan state is permeated by transnational organized criminal activity. Elements of the national government directly manage and support drug trafficking, money laundering, terrorism financing, support for guerrilla movements, and international corruption. In many cases, the very officials and institutions that in other states would normally be responsible for policing and suppressing these activities are directly engaged in committing or abetting these crimes. While some have informally dubbed Venezuela a narco-state, the moniker highlights only one aspect of a wider criminal enterprise. Today in Venezuela, no internal force is capable of confronting this pervasive criminality, making international oversight and enforcement...

  4. (pp. 26-31)

    Both the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxy group, Hezbollah, are hyperactive in the Western Hemisphere. Iran’s primary regional goal is to establish a political, military, and paramilitary network alongside like-minded anti-American movements and governments to offset American influence and erode American legitimacy in the Western Hemisphere. Iran continues to exploit Latin American connections to support terror attacks, evade sanctions, and foment anti-American sentiment throughout the region.

    Hezbollah runs a vast terror-finance network in the Western Hemisphere that is part of its global financial operation. It also works closely with Iranian emissaries in the region to strengthen civil society...

  5. (pp. 32-36)

    Government corruption and criminality play a major role in transnational organized crime in the Western Hemisphere. In some places, transnational organized crime is so pervasive that it has severely corrupted state institutions.

    A “criminalized state” is reached when “senior leadership is aware of and involved—either actively or through passive acquiescence—on behalf of the state, in transnational criminal enterprises, where transnational organized crime is used as an instrument of statecraft and state power, and where levers of state power are incorporated into the operational structure of one or more TOC groups.”116 It is important to distinguish a criminalized state...

  6. (pp. 37-41)

    Violence in Central America has reached epidemic levels, particularly among the Northern Triangle nations of El Salvador, Honduras, and to a lesser extent, Guatemala. According to Brazil’s Igarapé Institute, El Salvador was the world’s most violent country in 2015 and 2016.135 Another study found that Honduran cities occupied both the third and fourth spots in a ranking of cities with the highest homicide rates in the world.136

    A recent Inter-American Development Bank report found that the cost of crime in El Salvador and Honduras was 6.1 percent and 6.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) respectively, more than twice the...

  7. (pp. 42-48)

    In Mexico, fighting transnational organized crime has become increasingly complicated over the past two decades, as drug cartels take advantage of the globalized economy to expand into weapons and human trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping, extortion, and other illicit endeavors. Globalization has expanded their areas of operations significantly; the Sinaloa Cartel, for example, now has a presence on six continents.156

    Nine large TCOs represent the principal transnational organized crime threat in Mexico. According to the Office of the Attorney General, these organizations control approximately 45 separate armed groups. Their activities are focused on high-impact crimes such as murder, armed robbery, kidnapping,...