The CSS Blog Network

A Review of Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and The New Politics of Latin America

A man full of tattoos, courtesy Alejandro De La Cruz/flickr

This article was originally published by the Small Wars Journal on 15 January 2016.

Ioan Grillo has served as an international media reporter in Latin America since 2001 and is fluent in Spanish. Most of his experience comes from his in-depth coverage of the Mexican narco wars, from which he authored El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency (Bloomsbury 2012). His new book, unlike his earlier one, takes a much broader perspective on the crime wars that have broken out in many areas within the Americas. In many ways, it can be considered an evolution of his thinking concerning this broadening Western Hemispheric security concern.

To be quite truthful, the reviewer is both amazed and at times abhorred by the situations Grillo—‘a crazy Brit’— placed himself in while working on this book. His hanging out with heavily armed and drugged Shower Posse members in Tivoli Gardens (essentially a garrison or fortified ghetto) is just one illustrative example. This is very much reminiscent of the work Gary ‘Rusty’ Flemming and Robert Young Pelton have done in the past related to Mexican cartels/gangs and global combat reporting, respectively. It signifies the important investigative role independent journalists and filmmakers can make via their ability to safely gain interviews with violent non-state actors on their own turf while the rest of us—and in particular police and military officers and governmental agents—would likely not survive such ‘snake pit’ encounters.

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Could Iran Be the Next Country to Legalise Cannabis and Opium?

Marihuana Grafitti. Image: Benzene Aseel/Flickr

This article was originally published by The Conversation on 22 October, 2015.

After Uruguay courageously legalised the use of cannabis under a new drug policy, could Iran be the next country to make it legal? From the outside, the image of Iran as retrograde and inherently conservative hardly fits with the reality of a more dynamic domestic political debate within. But drug policy is one of the areas of debate in which the Islamic Republic has produced some interesting, yet paradoxical, policies.

Iran has a conspicuous drug addiction problem – which officially accounts for more than 2m addicts (though unofficial figures put this as high as 5-6m). Drug traffickers risk harsh punishments that include the death penalty. Yet Iran also has very progressive policies towards drug addiction, which include distribution of clean needles to injecting drug users, methadone substitution programmes (also in prisons) and a vast system of addiction treatment. » More

Mexican Cartels as Vicious Firms

Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán arrested by members of the Mexican Navy. Image: Galaxy fm/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Small Wars Journal on 15 March, 2015.

At the height of his power, Sinaloa cartel kingpin, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was on Forbes’ most powerful list just below Robin Li, the CEO of China’s number one search company, Baidu.  Unlike Apple and Baidu, which have to report their annual earnings, acknowledge the members of their companies, and open their finances to government scrutiny, Mexican drug cartels have no such requirements. » More

Peru: the New King of Cocaine

Two lines of cocaine. Image: Nightlife of Revelry/Flickr

This article was originally published by the World Policy Institute on 3 February 2015.

The home of cocaine production has a new address. Stepping out from behind the shadows of its more notorious peers in the region, Peru is taking the helm from its South American neighbors as the leading producer of cocaine in the world. While Colombia’s production declines due to concerted efforts by both its government and U.S. foreign agencies (along with FARC being open to negotiations), a once dormant industry from Peru’s troubled past has resurfaced to meet market demand.

In the early 1990s, Peru was a major producer of cocaine but was eventually surpassed by Colombia following aggressive government policies in Peru to combat the black market trade. These policies have faded over time, and thus the expansion of cocaine growing has boomed once again. » More

Latin America Governed by Crime

The ‘Tropical Spring’ protest against corruption in Recife, Brazil.

Yet another scandal flooded the pages of newspapers in Ecuador in 2012 and 2013: the former governor of Manabí, César Fernandez, was caught trying to smuggle drugs – and not for the first time. Fernandez had only just been released from prison following a 2003 conviction on the same charges: that time using his connections in the port of Manta, nearby a US military base, to transport drugs for the Sinaloa and Cali cartels.

This is not a one off case, nor is it exclusive to Ecuador. The nexus between illicit networks and politics is a major threat to the integrity and effectiveness of democracy today, and many countries in Latin America are struggling against it. In Colombia, the murky relationship between Members of Congress and organized crime are well known at home and abroad. The parapolítica scandal shook politics at every level, and continues to do so. » More

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