For a variety of reasons, many of today’s armed conflicts exist at the intersection between politics and economics. As part of this phenomenon, organized criminal activity in armed conflict is increasing rapidly and poses many challenges for policymakers. In this context, an important question is whether there is space for mediation in resolving conflicts in which organized criminal activity plays a significant role.
The Commons Lab, an initiative of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars recently published a provocative article entitled “ New Terrorism and New Media.” In his discussion, Professor Gabriel Weimann of Haifa University in Israel focuses on insurgent movements such as Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. His work explains how terrorist movements utilize social media outlets, such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, to expand the reach of their ideology and attract new converts.
According to Weimann, social media is different than traditional internet resources because, with social media, terrorists are able to directly target individual followers. Thus, social media has increased the number of “lone wolf terrorists,” namely individuals who commit terrorist acts without being connected to a particular terrorist organization. With the rise of social media, Weimann argues that the war on terror has become increasingly “vital, dynamic, and ferocious,” and creates a new front in the struggle for international security.
However, the use of social media and new technology is not limited to violent groups in the Greater Middle East. Thus, the authors of this article would like to expand upon Weimann’s research by discussing how criminal groups in Latin America have also been successful at utilizing new media resources.
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.
Transnational crime has emerged in recent years as an important security issue on the international agenda, presenting considerable challenges to policymakers, researchers and agents combating these crimes. Governmental and academic actors have focused their discussions on the answer to the question “what is transnational crime?” with the belief that a more accurate and objective definition of the phenomenon would have a more effective impact. So, like many other categories of social sciences, defining “transnational crime” has become a constant challenge.
The UN, in 2000, through the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, tried to find an institutional response to this dilemma to solve the obstacle posed by the difficulty of a common definition across countries. It meticulously detailed every aspect of the category: “crime”, “organized”, “transnational” and its derivations or complements, such as “structured group”, “property”, “serious crimes”, “confiscation” among many others. This multilateral instrument proposed building an accepted homogeneous and global category for identifying and combating cross-border crime. From this first step of international recognition of a common threat, there should have followed an introjection of the parameters elaborated by the Convention in national laws and practices of law enforcement in each of the State parties.
Mexican Cartel Essays and Notes is a collection of twenty-three Small Wars Journal (SWJ) articles supplemented by operational and tactical notes covering a variety of cartel-related subjects. With a preface by Major General (ret) Robert Scales and foreword by Texas Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples, this volume, edited by Robert J. Bunker, collates much of the extant material and analysis available on the Mexican drug cartels published in the El Centro section of the SWJ between 27 May 2011 and 30 November 2012. Mexican Cartel Essays and Notes follows an initial anthology, Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency (May 2012). It paints a consolidated picture of the effects cartels have on governments and social constructs. The influence of cartels on all aspects of Mexican life, and their ever-expanding influence on life in the Border States and deeper into the U.S. is frightening when viewed in context and within a single volume.
Dr. Bunker’s innovative approach and selected content reflect deep concern with the growing threat posed by cartels in light of the U.S.’s failure to provide secure borders for its citizens and states. Through the volume’s consolidation of the works of thirty-two contributing authors, the perspectives and analyses of the cartel problem therein are wide ranging, covering various issues such as diversified income streams, cartel conflicts with U.S. law enforcement, human trafficking, and government corruption. Fundamental to such an approach is the desire to produce a centralized source of information that can be utilized by multiple stakeholders: policy makers to inform decision making; academics to draw on for future research; and educators to inculcate the long-standing Mexican cartel problem into discussions on the realities of transnational crime, human and narcotics trafficking, and the spread of violence and corruption across international boundaries.