Gangs and the New Insurgency in Latin America

Gangs and the New Insurgency in Latin America

Throughout the developing world, the post-Cold War era has seen the emergence of increasingly powerful and violent criminal organizations, often referred to as "third-generation gangs." These groups have exploited the major international trends of the past 20 years -- including economic and financial integration, innovations in communication technology, the prevalence of weak and failed states, and a thriving global arms trade -- to seize control over a myriad of illicit commercial networks. They now use violence and corruption to undermine the governments that oppose them.

Latin America has proven particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon. The region has porous borders and numerous illegal markets, and is awash with guns -- all factors conducive to organized crime. Corruption is endemic, and state institutions are weak. Widespread poverty and social alienation ensure the gangs a steady supply of young recruits. Densely packed urban slums give them near-impenetrable havens in which to operate. Finally, the deportation of tens of thousands of gang members from the United States over the past 15 years has overwhelmed local law enforcement systems -- especially in Central America and, in particular, El Salvador and Guatemala.

As a result, Latin America is now home to some of the world's most fearsome third-generation gangs. Central American maras such as MS-13 and M-18 have tens of thousands of members spread across several countries. The First Capital Command (PCC) of Sao Paulo, with perhaps 100,000 members, dominates the slums and prisons of South America's largest city and maintains alliances with mafia groups throughout South America. In Mexico, the drug trade has given rise to groups like Los Zetas, a relatively small organization that has nonetheless carved out lucrative trafficking and distribution networks, while cultivating relations with gangs in Central America and the U.S..

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.