Organized Crime Finds Fertile Ground Across Latin America

Gangs and drug trafficking groups are getting stronger in Latin America according to recent reports. The worrying trend has been blamed on a number of factors that are allowing the groups to expand and become more bold; a weak and flawed law enforcement, overcrowded jails, and poverty within the general population.

On May 25, Sabritas, a subsidiary company of PepsiCo, suffered a series of coordinated attacks on its facilities and trucks in the state of Michoacan, Mexico.

According to Julio Hernandez, a spokesman of the state of Michoacan, it appears that a drug gang was involved in the attacks that burned dozens of Sabritas delivery trucks, and damaged buildings at five distribution centers across the state.

Mexican drug cartels make extra money by demanding protection payments from small businesses that operate in the cities under their "control," AP has reported. However, they have never targeted a transnational firm such as PepsiCo in such attacks before.

According to Insight Crime, a group researching and analyzing organized crime in Latin America, drug trafficking groups are looking to suppress the media, and are willing to go to extreme extents to do so.

On April 28, Mexican reporter Regina Martinez was found dead in her home in Xalapa, Veracruz. Insight Crime has reported that even while local authorities were "hesitant to speculate about the motive of the killing," the group is certain it was her heavy reporting about organized crime organizations that made her the target of drug gangs like the Zetas.

The organization says that Martinez case is not an isolated one, as it has been reported that many other journalists have been killed by drug cartels.

Insight Crime also says that some killings in September 2011 were committed against social media bloggers who had spoken out against drug cartels in the country. The group reported that messages were left next to the bodies of victims threatening to kill anyone else who continued to use social media forums to speak out against them.

Recently Forbes Magazine named the Sinaloa Cartel leader, Joaquin Guzman, as one of the most powerful people in the world. Guzman was listed as number in the prestigious rankings, higher even than Apple CEO Tim Cook. According to the magazine, Guzman's net worth as of March 2012 was $1 billion.

Gangs and drug trafficking groups are also causing problems in other Latin American countries. Various media outlets in El Salvador have reported that gang groups are forcing small businesses to pay them a fee, which they call "rent," to leave them alone.

Sources indicate that the companies most frequently targeted are private transportation companies. For example bus drivers are ordered to pay the "fee" or face violence or even death.

In June 2010, gang members set a bus on fire when the owner company refused to give the payment. The brutality of the gang was witnessed as the bus was set ablaze even with passengers still inside. In that incident 14 people died and 16 others were injured.

In March of this year it was rumored that El Salvador's president Mauricio Funes made an agreement with the organized gang groups to provide better security within the jail system for their members, in exchange of stopping their acts of violence plaguing the country.

According to the United Nations, El Salvador has the highest murder rate of any Central American country, and one of the highest in the whole of Latin America.

Salvadorian newspaper El Faro claimed last March that several high profile gang members were transferred out from their maximum security prisons to other less secure facilities, as part of an alleged pact between the government and the gangs known as Salvatrucha and Mara 18. The deal was allegedly made to reduce the crime rate at a national level.

Two weeks after the alleged deal was conducted crime dropped by more than 59 percent, El Faro reported.

However, President Funes denied the newspaper's claims, and said that the government was simply working on a plan to reintegrate prisoners back into society following their jail terms.

Enrique Peña Nieto, a presidential candidate in Mexico, has also been rumored to want to incorporate a similar pact should he be elected.

According to Fox News, Peña Nieto was questioned about that pact, but he refused to comment saying only that "the goal should be to reduce violence in the country."

Another country that struggles with organized crime in Latin America is Colombia, where the subversive group known as FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) allegedly finances its operations through drug trafficking, extortion and the kidnapping of foreigners and military members.

Insight Crime reports that since 1982 the FARC has been taxing coca growers and cocaine laboratories. It claims that after the death of its military commander, Pedro Antonio Marín, in 2008 the rebel group has been moving towards increasing its political influence.

The FARC has released dozens of hostages since 2008 after reported mediation with the Colombian government, and in February the group announced it would stop the practice of kidnappings for ransom, although the conflict between the group and the government military forces continues.

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