Russell Crandall, associate professor of political science, and Savannah Haeger '16 call attention to the complex web of relationships between violent gangs and the Latin American governments that fail to enforce law and order. Drawing on the work of Mexico City-based British journalist Ioan Grillo, they outline what makes these gangs distinct from other infamous crime syndicates and argue that the failure to break the gangs will have dire implications not only for the citizens suffering under their rule, but also for the rest of the world.
Crandall and Haeger write:
But before drawing comparisons to other infamous crime syndicates, ideological rebellions, or terrorist groups around the world, it is important to note what is distinct about Latin America's situation in recent years. The gangs have no interest in dominating the "hearts and minds" of the people, nor do they want the responsibilities of actual governance, unless it comes with the opportunity to pad their own wallets as well. As Berkeley scholar Nils Gilman wrote in this magazine, the cartels instead aim to "carve out de facto zones of autonomy for themselves by crippling the state's ability to constrain their freedom of (economic) action." Constructing roads or funding schools just detracts from the gangs' main goal of making money via the narcotics trade and extortion.
Instead, they play the role of a spoiler. Thriving in a conflict that is not quite a civil war, but much bigger than typical criminal violence, these groups terrorize governments and societies, using corruption, extortion, and machine guns as their weapons of choice. Chillingly, many of the political and socioeconomic factors that facilitated their growth are common outside of Latin America as well. Such a model of criminal behavior could be easily replicated elsewhere in the world.