Illicit Trafficking in Latin America

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Major and growing illicit trafficking networks link Latin America to Europe, Asia, and North America. Through these networks, illicit drugs and trafficked human beings flow towards the developed world, while dirty money and smuggled guns flow back in return. The criminal enterprises that administer these networks contribute to making Latin America the only region of the world where violent crime, as measured by rates of intentional homicide per 100,000, is rising rather than declining. Countries in the region that sit astride the main nodes in the illicit trafficking networks are the ones that suffer from the worst of the criminal violence.

The shape of the trafficking networks linking Latin America to the developed world can be explained by the geographic distribution of the supply of illicit goods and services. The main illicit drugs trafficked remain relatively constant—cocaine, marijuana, heroin, methamphetamines – but the relative proportion produced by source countries (principally Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico) varies across time. Undocumented labor flowing to the United States from the region was historically trafficked from Mexico.  However, this flow has largely stopped and even reversed, only to be replaced by a spike of human trafficking from Central America caused in great part by high levels of violence in that region.  The main supplier of illicit weapons and money flowing to Latin America continues to be the United States, but other regional arms producers and drug consumers, such as Brazil, play a role as well.

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