Colombia’s Constitutional Court is debating lifting a judicial ban on the spraying of glyphosate during the controversial aerial fumigation of illicit coca crops, a decision that is unlikely to fix the Andean nation’s coca problems but one that will surely impact the trajectory of future anti-drug operations.
In the south Ecuador city of Guayaquil, organized crime has created a vicious circle of drug consumption: violent microtrafficking networks peddle drugs on the city streets creating the addicts that fill illegal and abusive “rehabilitation” clinics set up to milk profits from their misery.
Since beginning in Brazil with the “Operation Car Wash” (“Operação Lava Jato”) investigation in 2014, the Odebrecht corruption scandal has been headline news across Latin America. Presidents, lawmakers, and business tycoons alike have been charged and jailed across the region.
A spike in police slayings have El Salvador's officers on edge as some called on social media for extrajudicial executions of suspected members of the street gangs, an issue that will be front and center for the country’s newly elected President Nayib Bukele.
With a worsening crisis in Venezuela, dark days in Nicaragua, an ever more fragile peace process in Colombia, new governments and new ideas in Brazil, Mexico and beyond, 2018 was a year of turmoil across Latin America and the Caribbean. Homicide levels have reflected this uncertainty, rising sharply in parts, continuing to drop in others.
Increased pirate attacks in the waters between Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela show that criminal gangs in the Venezuelan state of Sucre are trying to dominate the drug trafficking route from the country's coast to the Caribbean.
It is hard to be optimistic for 2019. The current trends all point to a strengthening of organized crime throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, as the criminals adapt far more quickly than authorities to changing conditions and take advantage of new opportunities.
Which criminal structures have gained the most strength in Latin America in 2018? Three groups, all based in different nations, have engaged in aggressive expansion, both territorial and economic, and are set to dominate the region’s criminal landscape.
The six bodies, minus their heads, were dumped just before dawn on a morning in late October. They were left in front of a gas station on the outskirts of Creel, in the state of Chihuahua -- each corpse wrapped in a black bin bag and secured with brown tape around the neck, waist and ankles.
Turbulence reigned in 2018, but there was one constant: the flow of Venezuelans fleeing their country. The unceasing migration has left thousands of people homeless, penniless and ripe for exploitation by organized crime groups.
As 2018 came to a close, two things became clear: the once impenetrable armor against corruption that the United States and other international donors provided in the region has weakened; and the political and economic elites of Central America are simply unwilling to allow not only international commissions but also their own attorneys general offices and other independent investigators to get too close for their comfort.
Presidential elections in the two countries at the heart of Latin America's drug trade both brought significant change in 2018: Colombians responded to a cocaine boom by voting for a return to hard-line security policies, while Mexicans reacted to record-high violence by voting to take the "war" out of the “war on drugs.”