Haitian Migration From Brazil: An Overview of Contributing Factors, Part Two

Posted in Brazil on June 11, 2020 by asmit127

By Alexandra Smith

The migration of Hatians out of Brazil and to the United States has been the result of multiple factors, among them being, a changing political and economic landscape in Brazil, an economic collapse and subsequent social and political unrest in Venezuela, and finally an inability to integrate into local Brazilian communities. The story of Hatian migration through Brazil, and subsequently to the United States, cannot be told without understanding one of the other major countries involved, and its precipitous internal economic decline.

In the decade between 2000 and 2010, Venezuela benefited from a rise in the price of oil, and that economic boon was utilized by president Hugo Chavez to implement populist policies and increase social programs (1). Those recent positive trends in quality of life and economy led many Haitians to see Venezuela as a destination for migration in the early 2010s. Though these policies helped in the 2000s, they became ineffective when the price of oil dropped dramatically in international markets. The next president, Nicholas Maduro, continued with the same populist policies as his predecessor with the majority of funding from the exportation of oil. This culminated in one of the worst economic disasters in the modern world, with in 2019, up to 97% of Venezuelans living in poverty. The effects of this massive economic downturn, in addition to social unrest, was a mass exodus of Venezuela refugees, in addition to the Haitians who previously settled there. These Haitians, already on the mainland and working in Venezuela, saw better potential opportunities in the United States, leading to an increased number of Haitians recently detained at the US-Mexican border.

The events in Venezuela also reverberated throughout Central and South America, and in particular, Brazil. In 2017, the Brazilian National Parliament attempted to pass a bill reforming the previous statute from 1980 in which treated immigrants as “a threat to national security” (2). Through political maneuvering, the bill was transformed to reinforce, rather than remove the status of immigrants as “threats to national security” (3). For Haitians in Venezuela, Brazil became a less attractive option for migration as the Venezuelan economy failed, thus leading to an overland migration pattern to the US-Mexican border.

Finally, as a result of the changing ideology of Brazilian government to migrants in the latter portion of the decade, the immigrants from Haiti already in Brazil, began to face challenges integrating into local Brazilian communities. Already in 2016, one migrant noted that, “The government is promoting a foreign policy to bring more Haitians to Brazil, but there is no public policy for Haitians here” (4). Despite the acceptance of avenues of legal migration to Brazil, Haitians often experienced instances of “racism in everyday situations” as well as a lack of language training programs, cultural integration, and general public policy initiatives aimed at migrants. In other words, the lives of Haitians when they finally arrived in Brazil were those of outsiders, and despite Brazil’s historical legacy of racial and ethnic diversity, Haitians found hostile communities rather than livable conditions. This inability to be accepted into local communities once they arrived in Brazil in conjunction with a shrinking of labor markets, and stricter government attitudes to migration, undoubtedly led Haitians already living in Brazil to other countries in search of employment and settlement.

In the case of Haitians already living in Brazil, or in the case of Haitians finding refuge in other South American countries such as Venezuela, it was not beneficial to attempt a return to Haiti in order to emigrate to the United States, and thus began choosing overland routes through Central America and Mexico, explaining the recent increase of Haitians appearing at the US-Mexican border. Undoubtedly there are other factors in play forcing Haitians to the border at this time, but this has been a sketch of the more recent developments in Central and South America that have led Haitians to move to and from Brazil to the United States.

1 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela, February 24, 2010, http://www.cidh.oas.org/Comunicados/English/2010/20V-10eng.htm

2 Jeffery Lesser and Shari Wejsa, “Migration in Brazil: The Making of a Multicultural Society,” Migration Policy Center, 29 March, 2018, https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/migration-brazil-making-multicultural-society

3 Though this bill received nearly unanimous support in the Congress, president Michel Temer vetoed portions of the bill to the point where the amended bill that was passed resembled a return to the “national security threat,” ideology in relation to migrants. In the context of mass migration from Venezuela in the decade from 2010 to 2020, this shift of policy was part of an effort to curb the amount of refugees and migrants coming into Brazil. The influx of migrants from Venezuela, coupled with an internal economic downturn in Brazil in the latter portion of the decade, made Brazil a less welcoming destination for refugees and migrants in recent years.

4. Gabrlela Bazzo, “Hatian Migrants Pouring in to Brazil Don’t Find a Warm Welcome,” Huf ington Post – Huf ington Post Brazil, August 22, 2016 https://www.huffpost.com/entry/haitians-migrants-brazil_n_56b4ca40e4b08069c7a6efe7?guccounter=1&guce_r eferrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAAKTvJa6BFkdAUh0CjobW6X dJTihgH7BY0dTD-CnPTgObrz3D3CqE3eShZM2zhHNVXi7yWlKk_jiGviws8lzPTf-Lv06NlEPsCkY7PAFEqJ ViW4jpFlQHhOW_7jxHhG7gGtfiHrOGBqsNAXaiYw0Wcf5iH6tTBc3FVawQJCPTM_1

Haitian Migration to Brazil: An Overview of Contributing Factors, Part One

Posted in Brazil on June 11, 2020 by asmit127

By Alexandra Smith

Over the course of the past ten years there has been a significant increase in the number of Haitian immigrants seeking asylum in South America as well as the United States from Haiti. At a glance, these two developments seem to be unrelated within the scope of Central and Southern American migration, but their connection lies within shifts of migration policy by Brazil following the earthquake of 2010, as well as in a complicated nexus of socio-political and economic changes within the country in the following years.

The earthquake in Haiti of January 12, 2010, with a magnitude of 7.0, caused over 300,000 deaths, displaced more than one million people, caused 7-8 billion dollars in damage, and damaged nearly half of all structures in the “epicentral area” (1). These outcomes had a devastating effect on Haiti, it’s economy, infrastructure, and it’s people. One of the ways in which the international community attempted to aid Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake(outside of disaster relief teams and economic contributions), was to make changes in refugee and immigration policies. Brazil was one of these counties. In 2013, several years following the earthquake, the number of refugee applications to Brazil from Haiti increased by 600%, and due to this increase, Brazil instituted a new policy in order to accept the increasing number of Haitian applicants (2). The Brazilian embassy in Haiti began to authorize up to 2000 visas per month, a policy that as of 2019, is still in effect. The result of this change in the number of visas granted to Haitians meant that by 2017, there were over 50,000 Haitians living and working in Brazil (3). It is important to note that other South American countries also expanded their approval of visas to Haitians, especially Venezuela, which also became a destination for Haitian refugees and workers.

Economic and labor markets also contributed to the acceptance of Haitian workers to Brazil. In the decade following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Brazil hosted several international sporting events. In order to build stadiums for these contests, Brazil actively encouraged migration into the country, hoping to supplement their domestic labor force with migrant workers. Stories of economic opportunity made their way back to Haiti, which resulted in the continued application for visas through the embassy, but also an uptick in the number of illegal immigrants being smuggled into Brazil, who were then given “Humanitarian visas” by the Brazilian government with the embassy vice-consul stating, “They’re already there, half a world away, and Brazil wouldn’t deny them” (4).

Regardless of whether or not the policy of granting humanitarian visas was for humanitarian reasons, economic ones, or simply because Brazil was in the international public eye as the leader of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, the number of Haitians increased exponentially in the years following the earthquake in 2010. These trends largely explain the reasons behind the significant number of Haitians in Brazil, but the question remains why there are a significant numbers of Haitians recently showing up on the US-Mexican Border.

1 Reginald DesRoches, Mary Comerio, Marc Eberhard, Walter Mooney, and Glenn J. Rix, “Overview of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake.” Earthquake Spectra 27, no. 1_suppl1 (October 2011): 1–21.

2 The State of Environmental Migration 2014: A Review of 2013, eds. François Gemenne, Pauline Brücker, and Dina Ionesco (Paris: IOM and Sciences Po, 2014).

3 Kyilah Terry, “New Hatian migration patterns end in displacement,” published by UCLA Center For India and South Asia and UCLA International Institute, April 17, 2019, https://www.international.ucla.edu/cisa/article/202365

4 Emily Gogolak, “Hatian Migrants Turn Toward Brazil,” The New Yorker, August 20, 2014 https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/haitian-migrants-turn-toward-brazil

Narcotrafficking on the US-Mexico Border

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 16, 2020 by asmit127

By Alexandra Smith

CW: Sexual Assault

Two cities on the US-Mexico border, Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, have experienced massive spikes in homicide rates since the intensification of the drug conflict in Mexico in 2006. These cities are important sites for battles between rival cartels because they are major entry-points into the United States, the world’s largest drug market. The rate of violence in these cities demonstrates the inability of the Mexican police to respond to high levels of violence and the way that violence is geographically oriented around the relationship between Mexican trafficking organizations and American consumers.

In 2018, 2,518 murders occurred in Tijuana, with around 90% estimated to be related to drug trafficking.[1] Violence in Tijuana is connected to competition between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel. Both have local allies: the CJNG are connected to the Tijuana Cartel, while the Sinaloa Cartel works with the local Los Dámaso network.[2] A report by Zeta magazine, which reports on drug trafficking and is not connected to the drug trafficking organization of the same name, shows that the two sides have been engaged in murder and kidnapping campaigns against each other.[3] Baja California, the state where this conflict is occurring, had a homicide rate of 89 per 100,000 residents in 2018, the second highest of any Mexican state.[4]

The Mexican state response to violence in Tijuana has been unimpressive. Between 2010 and 2016, only 4% of killings in the city resulted in a conviction for the crime.[5] Under the new national guard program, violence has only slightly decreased, with a reduction of 321 killings in 2019 compared to the 2018 figure.[6] Proponents of the policy under the presidency of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) say they are fighting impunity with more arrests, but with the number of killings remaining over 2,000 per year in the city.

Ciudad Juarez is another example of a border town with high rates of violence. From 2008 to 2013, a violent conflict between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Juarez Cartel resulted in the deaths of nearly 10,000 people.[7] The conflict began when the Sinaloa Cartel began to infringe upon the Juarez Cartel’s strong ties to the local police in order to begin attempt to take control of the city’s illegal economy.[8] Officials connected to the local cartel were replaced and on the ground level, violent confrontations broke out between different gangs.[9] Eventually, violence fell from the peak of 3,600 homicides in 2010, but murder rates in the city remain high, with 1,440 murders in 2017.[10] As long as Ciudad Juarez remains an entry-point to the American drug market, there will be reasons for drug trafficking organizations to compete for control.

The situation in the border cities also exacerbates the current migrant crisis caused by American immigration and asylum policies. Thanks to the “Remain in Mexico” program, thousands of refugees and migrants from Central America are being housed in camps near Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez.[11] Insight Crime analysis argues that “as criminal groups have fragmented, the smaller competing groups that have emerged have resorted to extreme violence and diversifying their criminal portfolios to also include crimes like extortion and kidnappings. Vulnerable migrants waiting in Mexico without any legitimate protection are the perfect prospects for such groups to prey upon.”[12]

Cartels have even collaborated with Mexican law enforcement to prey on refugees. In one case, Mexican federal police kidnapped a Honduran woman waiting to enter the United States in Ciudad Juarez. They turned her over to a cartel, whose members sexually assaulted her and extorted $5,000 from her mother who lived in the United States.[13] This case demonstrates the ways that US policy endangers people seeking to enter the United States, provides easy targets for drug trafficking organizations, and that the Mexican state security forces cannot be reliably trusted to protect innocent people.

Further Reading:

  1. For more information on the conflict between the Sinaloa Federation and the CJNG: https://www.insightcrime.org/news/brief/west-mexico-erupts-in-violence-in-next-generation-cartel-wars/
  2. For a report on violence and conflict between Drug Trafficking organizations in Juarez, read the report from Insight Crime: https://www.insightcrime.org/images/PDFs/2016/juarez.pdf  
  3. For information on the ways Drug Trafficking Organizations prey on migrants and asylum seekers stopped at the Mexico border: https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/migrants-prey-us-remain-mexico-program/

[1] https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/gamechangers-2019-mexico-body-count-amlo/

[2] https://www.insightcrime.org/news/brief/west-mexico-erupts-in-violence-in-next-generation-cartel-wars/

[3] https://zetatijuana.com/2016/10/ex-federales-en-cartel-jalisco/

[4] https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R41576.pdf

[5] https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-01-07/tijuana-drug-violence

[6] IBID

[7] https://www.insightcrime.org/images/PDFs/2016/juarez.pdf

[8] https://www.insightcrime.org/images/PDFs/2016/juarez.pdf

[9] https://www.insightcrime.org/images/PDFs/2016/juarez.pdf

[10] https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/desde-prision-desatan-el-infierno-en-ciudad-juarez

[11] https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/migrants-prey-us-remain-mexico-program/

[12] Ibid

[13] https://www.insightcrime.org/news/brief/mexico-police-collude-criminals-kidnap-migrant/

Drug Trafficking in Michoacán, Guerrero, and Jalisco: Cartels and the Autodefensas

Posted in Uncategorized on May 16, 2020 by asmit127

By Alexandra Smith

Three states in south-central Mexico: Michoacán, Guerrero, and Jalisco are centers of drug-related violence and demonstrate the complicated nature of violence in Mexico’s war on drugs. A number of major cartels operate or have operated in this region, including the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG), La Familia Michoacána (LFM), the Knights Templar, Viagras, and Cartel del Abuelo.[1] From January to October 2019, at least 6,606 homicides occurred in the three states, making it one of the three most violent regions in Mexico.[2]

These three states, sometimes referred to as the Tierra Caliente, play an important role in drug trafficking and production, while also offering cartels additional revenue streams. In 2016, The Intercept reported that Guerrero was Mexico’s leading producer of opium paste, while Michoacán produced methamphetamine.[3] The region is also a leading grower of limes and avocados, and extortion of farmers provides income to cartels, threatening civilians with no connections to drug traffickers.

The drug conflict in Michoacán is complicated by the development of autodefensas, local resistance militias formed in communities to fight drug trafficking organizations. One lime farmer, Hipólito Mora Chávez, formed a militia in his community to fight the Knights Templar cartel after years of violence against people in all sectors of society.[4] His experienced, outlined in an Intercept report by Ryan Devereaux, captures the complicated nature of violence in the region: rival cartels and state forces quickly worked to co-opt the autodefensa movement for their own purposes. Groups like the CJNG sent their members to join autodefensas in order to fight their rivals in Michoacán under the guise of heroes protecting endangered communities. The Mexican state, forced to respond to rising violence in the region, responded by making autodefensas an official armed wing of the Mexican state in 2014, giving many cartel members official uniforms in the process.

The consequence of this process is that an individual facing violence in this region may be facing threats from a variety of sources. They could be threatened by a member of a cartel operating either as a cartel member or masquerading as a member of a popular defense militia. They could be attacked by a genuine member of the autodefensas in a vigilante attack. The official state response to this lawless violence between cartels and autodefensas is demonstrative: the Mexican state is either uninterested or incapable of addressing the violence in Michoacán and instead seeks to paint over legal problems through official certification of violent groups as wings of the state.

Meanwhile, traditional drug trafficking violence remains a problem across this region. The CJNG, which emerged from groups working as subcontractors for the Sinaloa Cartel, has become one of Mexico’s most notorious cartels.[5] In 2019, the CJNG demonstrated its strength by killing 14 police officers in an ambush, and in the past has used public displays of bodies and the shooting down of helicopters to display its power in the region.[6]

The situation in the region is dire, with murder rates rising and the state being either unable or unwilling to respond. Appeals to the state for help have led to the state recognizing vigilante forces instead of presenting any sort of program to actually address drug violence. Meanwhile, cartels continue to compete over the strategically important territory, and communities are caught in the crossfire. For normal residents of Michoacán, this means violence they face could come from cartel members or official security forces, which may or may not be directly involved in drug trafficking.  

Further Reading:

  1. The most highly recommended further reading for the topic of Autodefensas: https://theintercept.com/2016/06/29/lime-grower-uprising-against-mexico-drug-cartel/
  2. For information on the CJNG: https://www.insightcrime.org/mexico-organized-crime-news/jalisco-cartel-new-generation/
  3. See the section on the “Tierra Caliente” for 2019 violence statistics: https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/gamechangers-2019-mexico-body-count-amlo/

[1] https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/gamechangers-2019-mexico-body-count-amlo/

[2] https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/gamechangers-2019-mexico-body-count-amlo/

[3] https://theintercept.com/2016/06/29/lime-grower-uprising-against-mexico-drug-cartel/

[4] https://theintercept.com/2016/06/29/lime-grower-uprising-against-mexico-drug-cartel/

[5] https://www.insightcrime.org/mexico-organized-crime-news/jalisco-cartel-new-generation/

[6] https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/15/americas/mexico-police-ambush-scli-intl/index.html

The Mexican State, Police, and Cartels

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 16, 2020 by asmit127

By Alexandra Smith

The “Drug War” framing of conflicts surrounding narcotrafficking suggests two sides in a pitched conflict: the state and drug cartels. However, drug traffickers across the region, and especially in Mexico, have relied on collaboration with state forces at multiple levels to protect their operations. Mexico’s long-time ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), is alleged to have had a close relationship with the dominant Sinaloa Federation during its governance of the country. At a local level, bribery of police officers ensures that traffickers can continue to operate with impunity. With the decline of the PRI, high-level government collaboration with the cartels is less organized and state responses are uneven. 

The PRI and the Sinaloa Federation had a symbiotic relationship during much of the twentieth century. The Sinaloa Federation, which began to coalesce in the 1960s and 70s, is alleged to have gained protection from Mexico’s one-party state and the PRI gained stability in the drug world by propping up a hegemonic cartel.[1] This relationship was challenged by the intervention of the United States’ Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which pressured the Mexican state to crackdown on traffickers, especially after the murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena in early 1985.[2] Over the next two decades, processes led to the decline of both the PRI and the Sinaloa Federation. Competition between regional drug trafficking groups within the Sinaloa Federation led to its splintering beginning in 1990, though levels of public violence were not particularly high.[3] Beginning in 1989, opposition parties to the PRI, such at the conservative National Action Party (PAN) began to grow, winning elections against the once hegemonic party. The PRI was also forced to address the growing public accusations of their connection to Sinaloa, leading to arrests of both PRI members and officials in 1996.[4]

However, while the declines of the PRI and the Sinaloa Federation meant it was harder for the state and drug traffickers to work together, it did not mean that violence was guaranteed to spike. The PAN victory in 2000 led to a change in policy from the PRI:  the new president Vicente Fox used federal forces to increase arrests of Drug Traffickers.[5] Accusations of alliances between politicians and traffickers continued, though the multi-party system meant that different regional governments could form corrupt pacts with competing organizations.[6] This is most exemplified by an event in 2005, when federal officers got into a “shootout” with city police in Nuevo Laredo.[7] This power vacuum, with competing cartels and no coherent government response, is what allowed violence to get out of control. 

At the local level, police corruption is widespread, making the police force an unreliable source of protection for victims of drug traffickers. Insight Crime argues that “the ease with which corruption spreads inside the police forces and the vast impunity for participating officers means that successive government reforms have shown no concrete results.”[8] In 2017, a survey showed that there were “an average of 1,688 corruption cases registered for every 1,000 active duty police officers.”[9] Police function within the framework of a state which often intentionally collaborates with drug traffickers, but they also have their own reasons to seek bribes or participate in illegal activities. Police “lack adequate training and support, receive dismal salaries, and must work long hours because of understaffing,” all of which give them incentives to supplement their income through relationships with drug traffickers.[10] The result is a lack in faith in police by members of the public, who understand that turning to the police may make them less safe. A 2018 survey showed that “just 6.1 percent of people have confidence in the federal police, while only 4.6 percent are confident in the municipal police.”[11] Mexican civilians have a justified fear of interacting with police officers, and the 2018 survey shows how universal these sentiments are.

Further Reading:

  1. For information on the public perception of police in Mexico, read: https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/police-reform-mexico/
  2. For information on the impact of state responses to DTOs, including Kingpin strategy: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/11/el-chapo-trial-mexico-drug-war
  3. For accusations of collaboration between government forces and the Sinaloa Federation:  https://www.businessinsider.com/the-us-government-and-the-sinaloa-cartel-2014-1

[1] Angelica Duran Martinez, The Politics of Drug Violence (Oxford University Press, 2018): 93.

[2] Ibid: 93.

[3] Ibid: 95.

[4] Ibid: 98.

[5] Ioan Grillo, Narco Warlords (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2001): 253-4. 

[6] Ibid: 255.

[7] Ibid: 255.

[8] https://www.insightcrime.org/news/brief/entire-police-forces-continue-arrested-mexico/

[9] https://www.insightcrime.org/news/brief/entire-police-forces-continue-arrested-mexico/

[10] https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/police-reform-mexico/

[11] https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/police-reform-mexico/

Drug Cartels and Their Business in Mexico

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 16, 2020 by asmit127

By Alexandra Smith

The conflict between the Mexican state, narcotraffickers, and other non-state actors has led to a crisis which has seen hundreds of thousands of murders and tens of thousands of disappearances since 2006.[1] A variety of cartels operate in Mexico, ranging from well-known organizations operating across state and national borders to small, local groups who inevitably work with larger cartels. These cartels profit off of the drug trade, but they supplement their income through extortion and relationships with corrupt government officials, as well other, often legal, business ventures.

The most prominent cartel operating in Mexico remains the Sinaloa Cartel, based in the mountainous west coast state of the same name. The Sinaloa cartel thrived through a strong relationship with the PRI, the political party which dominated all levels of Mexico’s government since the Mexican revolution until the 90s when they began losing local elections. However, with Mexico’s democratization in 2000, the Sinaloa cartel has lost many of its government connections, allowing other cartels to compete, driving up levels of violence.

One of the Sinaloa cartel’s biggest rivals is currently the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG), based in Central Mexico. The CJNG and other small groups “rely on a wider range of criminal activities to offset some of the losses from international drug trafficking” such as kidnapping and extortion.[2] This demonstrates how competition between cartels encourages smaller groups to act out violently, both for profit and to intimidate rival organizations. Another example of the range of activities of Mexican cartels is the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel, a local cartel which operates in Guanajuato, which engages in oil theft and extortion of small business owners.[3] The cartel is an example how local groups still act in violent ways which impact civilians, even outside of the regions most well-known for drug trafficking.

Insight Crime describes a number of well-known cartels, “The Gulf Cartel, the Beltrán Leyva Organization, the Zetas, Familia Michoacana, the Juárez Cartel, the Tijuana Cartel and the Knights Templar” as being in decline.[4] All of these cartels rose from regional to national prominence before eventually declining, some originally as subcontractors to other groups. Familia Michoacana is an example of a drug trafficking group which initially described itself as a community defense organization, but then developed into a narcotrafficking group. These groups owe their decline to a variety reasons, all of them violent: splits in leadership leading to violent confrontations, the rise of vigilantism in the case of La Familia, or the expansion of rival cartels.  

While they have been diversifying their activities in recent years, drug trafficking organizations in Mexico still gain the majority of their incomes from selling drugs to American consumers. The American demand for drugs has been historically unlimited and the price for drugs like cocaine is much higher in the United States than in Colombia or Mexico.[5]

One new source of income for the Sinaloa Cartel and CJNG is fentanyl. Fentanyl is often laced into other drugs trafficked by the cartels, such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines as has played a major role in the opioid epidemic.[6] A report by Insight Crime demonstrates that “the fentanyl trade requires vast networks of smaller subcontractors who specialize in importing, producing, and transporting synthetic drugs.” These characteristics are demonstrative of how the drug trade in Mexico functions: multiple groups work together to profit off of trends in American drug consumption.

The business of Mexican drug cartels is constantly shifting due to changes in American drug markets and different state responses to cartel activity. They also have complex relations with each other, sometimes subcontracting work to each other, at other times erupting into violent conflicts to secure markets. These conflicts impact all members of the community, as profit-driven violence entangles bystanders or cartels turn to extortion and kidnapping to supplement their incomes. Many cartels are regional, while some operate at a national or international level, but their interconnectedness cannot be ignored.  

Further Reading:

  1. For the latest news regarding Mexico’s drug trafficking organizations, see: https://www.insightcrime.org/mexico-organized-crime-news/mexico/  
  2. For a map of where certain trafficking groups operate, see: https://www.stratfor.com/sites/default/files/styles/wv_small/public/mexico-cartel-map-all-011419_0.png?itok=t0WJ1ytI
  3. A DEA report on which Mexican cartels sell drugs in American cities: https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2018-07/dir06515.pdf
  4. For a collection of visualizations of drug trafficking routes through Mexico and the United States: https://www.storybench.org/visualizing-mexicos-drug-cartels-roundup-maps/

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/06/mexico-drug-war-missing-estimate

[2] https://www.insightcrime.org/mexico-organized-crime-news/mexico/   

[3] https://www.insightcrime.org/news/brief/mexico-oil-thieves-guanajuato-extortion/

[4] https://www.insightcrime.org/mexico-organized-crime-news/mexico/

[5] https://psmag.com/social-justice/drug-cartels-are-too-big-to-fail-or-jail

[6] https://www.insightcrime.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Fentanyl-Report-InSight-Crime-19-02-11.pdf

Narcotrafficking Organizations in Mexico

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 16, 2020 by asmit127

By Alexandra Smith

The following list is incomplete because it is impossible to fully document the cartels operating in Mexico. The power and structures of cartels are constantly shifting. These cartels are merely the most prominent cartels at the time of writing.

The Sinaloa Cartel is Mexico’s most prominent, powerful, and long-lasting cartel. The Sinaloa cartel is based out of the western Mexican state of the same name, a home to trafficking operations since the early twentieth century due to its long Pacific coastline and mountainous terrain. The cartel dominated the early Mexican drug economy and formed a close relation with the PRI, Mexico’s ruling party during the one-party state period from the Mexican Revolution to 2000. Today, the cartel has reduced political influence due to the rise of multiple parties in the Mexican political system and the emergence of competing cartels. However, it remains incredibly powerful and operates across western Mexico and in cities on the US-Mexico border.[1] The cartel operates in 17 states and up to 50 countries.

The Tijuana Cartel or Arellano Felix Organization (AFO) is a trafficking organization operating on the US-Mexico border and functions as a “tollgate” organization. They profit off of charging taxes to other drug trafficking organizations moving drugs through plazas controlled by the AFO, especially in the border town of Tijuana. The AFO has been involved in an increasingly violent situation in Tijuana, with the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG competing for influence at the border crossing since 2015. Different factions within the AFO have emerged and its continued relevance is in flux.[2][3]

The Juarez Cartel is another cartel operating on the US-Mexico border and is involved in violent conflicts with the Sinaloa cartel. The Juarez Cartel originally worked with the Sinaloa Cartel and provided transportation and security for drugs produced elsewhere, including Colombian cocaine. While the Juarez cartel is based in Ciudad Juarez, it operates in twenty-one states. A rivalry with the Sinaloa cartel erupted in the early 2000s, leading Ciudad Juarez to become one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico since 2008.[4] The cartel primarily operates in Tijuana.

La Familia Michoacána and the Knights Templar are two competing cartels operating in the central state of Michoacán. La Familia emerged as an organization which advertised itself as a community defense organization, defending the state from national drug trafficking organizations. However, their actual origin was as a drug trafficking group aligned with the Zetas and they continued to be involved with the methamphetamine trade, among other synthetic drugs. The Knights Templar split from La Familia, also declaring a “commitment to social justice” and evangelical Christianity.[5] The Knights Templar largely won out in the conflict leading to the marginalization of La Familia, but both have been challenged by the vigilante autodefensas.

Los Zetas are one of the most well-known cartels, especially due to their reputation for public displays of violence. Los Zetas were formed by defectors from Mexican special operations and originally worked for the Gulf Cartel on the eastern coast of Mexico. They broke from the Gulf cartel and utilized an approach based on violently seizing territory across Mexico and Guatemala. However, the group has splintered since its rise to fame and no longer exists as a cohesive organization. Its splinters operate in different forms across its previous territories.[6] Today, the Zetas operate in Tamaulipas and the Gulf Coast states.

The Gulf Cartel is another long-lasting organization in Mexico, operating in the northeast of Mexico. The Gulf cartel was once quite powerful during the 1990s and early 2000s, and still exists despite a decline caused in part by the split by the Zetas and arrest of the cartel’s leader.[7] The cartel’s control over border cities like Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, and Reynosa allow it to continue to profit off of trafficking into the United States. The Gulf Cartel operates in Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, and 11 other states across eastern Mexico.

The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) is a rising cartel in Central Mexico, which only emerged in 2010, after a fight over drug trafficking in Jalisco.[8] The CJNG has used extreme violence in their fight with the Zetas, claiming responsibility for a 2011 massacre of 35 in Veracruz, and in 2015, they killed 15 Mexican police officers in Jalisco.[9] The CJNG is believed to have assets of over $20 billion and they operate in 20 states across Mexico, making it one of the most powerful cartels.[10] Insight Crime reports that “according to authorities, the CJNG operates in at least in 22 states: Aguascalientes, Baja California Sur, Baja California, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Puebla, Querétaro, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosí, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, Jalisco, Colima, Michoacán, Guanajuato, Morelos, Nayarit, Guerrero, and Veracruz, plus Mexico City and the State of Mexico.”

Further Reading:

  1. For profiles of these groups and other smaller cartels, go to the groups section of the Mexico page on Insight Crime: https://www.insightcrime.org/mexico-organized-crime-news/
  2. For a map of where certain trafficking groups operate, see: https://www.stratfor.com/sites/default/files/styles/wv_small/public/mexico-cartel-map-all-011419_0.png?itok=t0WJ1ytI
  3. A DEA report on which Mexican cartels sell drugs in American cities: https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2018-07/dir06515.pdf
  4. For a collection of visualizations of drug trafficking routes through Mexico and the United States: https://www.storybench.org/visualizing-mexicos-drug-cartels-roundup-maps/

[1] https://www.insightcrime.org/mexico-organized-crime-news/sinaloa-cartel-profile/

[2] https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R41576.pdf

[3] https://www.insightcrime.org/mexico-organized-crime-news/tijuana-cartel-profile/

[4] https://www.insightcrime.org/mexico-organized-crime-news/juarez-cartel-profile/


[5]https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R41576.pdf  24.

[6] https://www.insightcrime.org/mexico-organized-crime-news/zetas-profile/

[7] https://www.insightcrime.org/mexico-organized-crime-news/gulf-cartel-profile/

[8] https://www.insightcrime.org/mexico-organized-crime-news/jalisco-cartel-new-generation/

[9] https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/bloody-attack-police-mexico-raises-jalisco-cartel-profile/

[10] https://www.insightcrime.org/mexico-organized-crime-news/jalisco-cartel-new-generation/

Militias in Brazil

Posted in Brazil, Uncategorized on May 16, 2020 by asmit127

By Alexandra Smith

A major force contributing to the level of violence in Brazil are paramilitary groups called “militias,” often composed of former and current police officers, prison guards, and firefighters.[1] Ostensibly formed to combat criminal organizations, these violent groups have assassinated politicians and threaten anyone they believe to be connected to criminal organizations.[2] The militias operate in Brazil’s poorest neighborhoods, where they compete with gangs for control. Their connections to state power are hazy, sometimes facing crackdowns from police, though Brazil’s new far-right president Jair Bolsonaro is a strong supporter of militias.[3] Since the militias currently control even more favelas, a type of informal settlement or shantytown which emerged in Brazil’s major cities, than Brazil’s powerful gangs,[4] they are a likely source of danger for poor Brazilians fleeing violence.

The militia movement emerged in Rio de Janeiro in the 1990s and early 2000s as a reaction to amateur vigilantism and the growth of gangs in favelas and are seen as a positive force by some Brazilians, especially police officers and the upper-middle class.[5][6] The militias are enabled to fight gangs due to this tacit support from sectors of the Brazilian state, who see the militias as allies in the fight against gangs.[7] From their founding to 2019, the militias spread to a dozen of Brazil’s twenty-six states and in rural Brazil they have gained a new role: pushing locals off land sought after by businessmen.[8] Again, while the militia activities in rural Brazil are official denounced by the federal police, President Bolsonaro has made positive comments, suggesting that militias be legalized.[9]

A 2007 NACLA report ahead of the Olympic games in Rio found that militias routinely used force against alleged criminals and their family members.[10] The militias escalate violence with gangs, leading to shoot-outs in favelas, while “abusing residents with impunity.”[11] The militias also act as a business, extracting protection fees from businesses in the favelas they control, or providing services to residents as higher than market costs.[12] Meanwhile, the militia commitment to fighting drug trafficking is waning, with some militias now making deals with gangs and allowing trafficking in their territories.[13]

The political intervention of militias in recent years is not surprising given the support they are receiving from Brazil’s far-right president. In 2018, Marielle Franco, a Rio City Councilor and member of the leftist Socialism and Liberty Party, was assassinated by two former militia members. Franco opposed the level of state violence in favelas and strongly opposed the agenda of the current government. While it is unknown who ordered the assassination, commentators have pointed out the close personal connection between Jair Bolsonaro and both ex-police assassins.[14]

Gangs and traditional police bodies are not the only sources of violence in Brazil’s favelas, as politically motivated and economically motivated violence is often perpetrated by the militias. Many segments of Brazil’s society and state apparatus support the militias due to their stated aim of combatting gangs, but their extrajudicial attacks on favela residents means that they often do as much harm to civilians as they do to gang members. In 2018, a report found that 2 million people lived in Rio favelas controlled by militias, and while definitive numbers do not exist for militia members or areas controlled, they operate across Brazil.

Further Reading

  1. For news updates on militia activities in Brazil, see https://www.insightcrime.org/tag/brazil-militias/
  2. For more information on the connection between the Bolsonaro government and the militias, see https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/10/opinion/brazil-bolsonaro-militias.html
  3. For more information on the use of militias by agribusiness to harass small, often indigenous, landowners: https://www.reuters.com/article/brazil-landrights-militias/brazilian-farm-owners-form-militias-to-attack-land-activists-rights-group-idUSL5N1F24IY
  4. For data and analysis on the high level of police violence in Brazil: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-51220364


Barbara, Vanessa. “The Rise of the Milicia State.” The New York Times. 10 Apr 2019. Accessed 16 May 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/10/opinion/brazil-bolsonaro-militias.html

McLeod-Roberts, Luke (2007) Paramilitary Games, NACLA Report on the Americas, 40:4, 20-25, DOI: 10.1080/10714839.2007.11722302

Phillips, Dom. “Lesser Evil”: how Brazil’s militias wield terror to seize power from gangs.” The Guardian. 12 Jul 2018. Accessed 16 May 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/12/brazil-militia-paramilitary-wield-terror-seize-power-from-drug-gangs

[1] Phillips. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/12/brazil-militia-paramilitary-wield-terror-seize-power-from-drug-gangs

[2] Barbara. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/10/opinion/brazil-bolsonaro-militias.html

[3] Barbara.

[4] Barbara.

[5] https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/despite-recent-arrests-rio-militias-here-to-stay/

[6] McLeod-Roberts, 22.

[7] https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/despite-recent-arrests-rio-militias-here-to-stay/

[8] https://www.insightcrime.org/news/brief/militias-tentacles-reach-rural-brazil/

[9] https://www.insightcrime.org/news/brief/militias-tentacles-reach-rural-brazil/

[10] McLeod-Roberts, 20.

[11] McLeod-Roberts, 23.

[12] McLeod-Roberts, 25.

[13] Phillips.

[14] Barbara.

Contemporary DTOs in Brazil

Posted in Brazil, Uncategorized on May 14, 2020 by asmit127

By Alexandra Smith

Today, gangs like the Red Command and the First Capital Command play major roles in drug trafficking and violent crime in Brazil. However, the context of these organizations is more complex than the narrative often promoted by both Brazilian and international media and governments which centers gangs as the biggest threat to Brazil’s political, economic, and social system. The gangs are a symptom, not a cause, of an unjust, violent economic and social system dating back to Brazil’s dictatorship. Both the CV and PCC emerged from the rampant inequality in Brazil, as well as its inhumane prison system. Police violence and militias significantly contribute to the level of violence in Brazil. Further, the CV and PCC are able to exert social control in favelas, a type of informal settlement or shantytown which emerged in Brazil’s major cities, in part because they provide services and job opportunities to the poorest Brazilians often ignored by the state. Further, the government policy of considering areas where gangs operate as “rebel space” which needs to be “reconquered” contributes significantly to the level of violence.[1]

Red Command (CV) was one of the first gangs to develop in Brazil’s prison system, through an alliance between leftist guerillas and criminals.[2] Red Command was founded in 1979 and has been active in Brazil since then, rooted in the prison system but connected to organized crime across the country.[3] The group began in Rio’s state jails, but when the Brazil’s dictatorship (1964-1985) attempted to break up the gang by sending leaders to jails in distant states; they simply set up new chapters wherever they were sent.[4] The Red Command worked with Colombian cartels in the 80s to distribute cocaine and gained control of many of Rio de Janeiro’s poorest neighborhoods.[5] Within these neighborhoods, they even became a source of employment and set up parallel systems of government.[6]

Red Command is strongest in Rio de Janeiro, where “it was thought to control more than half of Rio de Janeiro’s most violent areas, though this fell to under 40 percent by 2008,” but the group is thought to be declining. In 2016 the group’s alliance with the PCC broke down, leading to outbursts of violence, especially in prisons.[7] Red Command worked with the Family of the North, based in Manaus, from 2015 to 2018.

First Capital Command (PCC) emerged in 1993 in the Taubate prison in Sao Paolo when they assassinated rival criminals following a football tournament.[8] PCC offered its members protection in the form of unity, as well as legal aid, and became an effective gang within the Sao Paolo prison system.[9] Beginning as a group which sustained itself through dues rather than organized crime, the PCC grew quickly while the government denied its existence.[10] The PCC gained prominence through simultaneous seizures of hostages in prisons, such as an instance in 2001 when they took control of 29 prisons and took 10,000 hostages.[11] The PCC has been able to intervene in Brazil’s political system to ensure the election of candidates it views favorably, and a truce between the PCC and the government led to a 46% drop in Sao Paolo’s homicide rate.[12]

During the last decade, the PCC has been involved in drug trafficking operations, money laundering, and engages in violent armed robberies.[13] The PCC has led prison riots in their fight against the RV beginning in 2016, resulting in hundreds of deaths, while operating in Uruguay, Bolivia, and attempting to recruit former Colombian leftist guerilla fighters.[14] The PCC has not only contributed to violence in Sao Paolo and the RV’s home state of Rio, but also in Northern Brazil, where allies of the two groups compete for control over prisons. PCC allies include the Guardians of the State in the northern territories of Brazil and the Friend of Friends in Rio de Janeiro.[15]

Further Reading

  1. For more information, background, and news on the Red Command, see: https://www.insightcrime.org/brazil-organized-crime-news/red-command-profile/
  2. For more information, background, and news on First Capital Command, see: https://www.insightcrime.org/brazil-organized-crime-news/first-capital-command-pcc/
  3. For regional homicide statistics, see: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/brazils-violence-map-shows-alarming-trends
  4. For more detailed statistics and maps on crime in Brazil (the website has English, Portuguese, and Spanish options): http://www.ipea.gov.br/atlasviolencia/


ARIAS, ENRIQUE DESMOND. “Gang Politics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.” In Global Gangs: Street Violence across the World, edited by Hazen Jennifer M. and Rodgers Dennis, by Venkatesh Sudhir, 237-54. University of Minnesota Press, 2014. Accessed April 25, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctt6wr830.15.

Coutinho, Leonardo. “The Evolution of the Most Lethal Criminal Organization in Brazil—the PCC.” PRISM 8, no. 1 (2019): 56-67. Accessed April 25, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/26597310.

Grillo, Ioan. Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America. New York: Bloomsbury Press (2016).

[1] Arias, 251.

[2] Grillo 42.

[3] Grillo 59.

[4] Grillo 93.

[5] https://www.insightcrime.org/brazil-organized-crime-news/red-command-profile/

[6] https://www.insightcrime.org/brazil-organized-crime-news/red-command-profile/

[7] https://www.insightcrime.org/brazil-organized-crime-news/red-command-profile/

[8] Coutinho, 57.

[9] Coutinho, 57-8.

[10] Coutinho, 58.

[11] Coutinho, 58.

[12] Coutinho, 61.

[13] https://www.insightcrime.org/brazil-organized-crime-news/first-capital-command-pcc-profile/

[14] https://www.insightcrime.org/brazil-organized-crime-news/first-capital-command-pcc-profile/

[15] https://www.insightcrime.org/brazil-organized-crime-news/first-capital-command-pcc-profile/

Historical Background on Drugs in Brazil

Posted in Brazil, Uncategorized on May 14, 2020 by asmit127

By Alexandra Smith

The high murder rate which exists in Brazil’s poorest communities today is a result of long term economic and social developments dating back to the 1950s in Brazil. First, high levels of economic inequality and urban poverty in Brazil led to migration to the cities and the formation of favelas. Second, the repressive military regime in Brazil imprisoned large numbers of dissidents and criminals, who were forced to form gangs to protect themselves from atrocious prison conditions. Third, Brazil became an important transit point for drugs produced in other parts of South America destined for the United States and Europe.

The growth of narcotrafficking and gangs in Brazil is connected to the growth of favelas, a type of informal settlement or shantytown which emerged in Brazil’s major cities beginning in the 1950s.[1] Favelas grew due to migration from rural areas to cities and the lack of adequate housing available for poor migrants. Favelas became politically organized in the 1960s, relying on clientelist connections to gain resources for favela residents, but the breakdown of these connections after the fall of military rule in 80s created a power vacuum.[2] From 1964-1985, Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship, which heightened social issues and poverty. Today, the favelas are the main area in which organized crime operates, due to the lack of state presence in the slums.[3] The organized crime organizations have “recruited thousands into their ranks, provide a certain social control, and even pave streets,” while operating as part of the drug trade.[4]

However, the origins of the organizations which today operate in the favelas come from the country’s prisons. Brazil’s military dictatorship, decided to keep communist guerillas and violent criminals in the same prisons.[5] Instead of fighting, the two groups worked together to form a prison gang called the Red Command in the early 1970s, which initially professed a leftist ideology, but soon became focused entirely on organized crime.[6] The gangs spread onto Brazil’s streets from the 1970s to 1990s.[7]

While organized crime in Brazil originated with a focus on gambling, or the so called “animal game,” international trends in organized crime drove gangs to participate in the more profitable drug trade.[8] In the 1980s, Andean cocaine traffickers were looking for new routes to send their drugs to developed markets and began shipping narcotics through Brazil with the tacit or active support of some elements of the state’s security forces,” coinciding with an increase in violence.[9] Colombian cartels in particular worked in Brazil on cocaine production, including building laboratories in the country.[10] Brazil is also targeting by international drug trafficking organizations because Brazil itself has a high demand for drugs, which makes it different than other Latin American countries which are simply areas drugs are trafficked through.

The result of these developments is a high rate of crime in Brazil concentrated in the poorest neighborhoods. Militarized crackdowns by authorities and conflicts between rival gangs keep violence levels high, while an opportunity for income provides incentives to join groups like the Red Command.

[1] https://www.insightcrime.org/brazil-organized-crime-news/brazil-profile/

[2] Arias, 239.

[3] https://www.insightcrime.org/brazil-organized-crime-news/brazil-profile/

[4] Grillo, 37.

[5] Grillo, 42.

[6] Grillo, 43.

[7] https://www.insightcrime.org/brazil-organized-crime-news/brazil-profile/

[8] https://www.insightcrime.org/brazil-organized-crime-news/brazil-profile/

[9] Arias, 239.

[10] https://www.insightcrime.org/brazil-organized-crime-news/brazil-profile/

Further Reading

  1. For a longer, but still accessible summary of Brazil’s criminal history: https://www.insightcrime.org/brazil-organized-crime-news/brazil-profile/
  2. For more information on Brazil’s brutal military dictatorship and its approach to issues other than Drug Trafficking: https://oxfordre.com/latinamericanhistory/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199366439.001.0001/acrefore-9780199366439-e-413
  3. For more historical background, and information on drug routes and use and Brazil: https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/miraglia-brazil-final.pdf


ARIAS, ENRIQUE DESMOND. “Gang Politics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.” In Global Gangs: Street Violence across the World, edited by Hazen Jennifer M. and Rodgers Dennis, by Venkatesh Sudhir, 237-54. University of Minnesota Press, 2014. Accessed April 25, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctt6wr830.15.

Grillo, Ioan. Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America. New York: Bloomsbury Press (2016).

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