New Era of Gangland Violence

Criminal networks linking cartels and gangs are no longer simply a crime problem, but a threat that is metastasizing into a new form of widespread,networked criminal insurgency.1 The scale and violenceof these networks threaten civil governmentsand civil societies in the Western Hemisphere and,increasingly, the United States as well. American policymakers have been slow to recognizethe evolution of the drug cartels and gangs from purely law enforcement problems to the strategic threat they now pose. Drug trafficking isvariously described solely in terms of a drug problem,

a challenge to other countries or a problem for states along the United States’ southern border.Drug trafficking groups are, in fact, a threat across all these categories – they are part of networksattacking the United States and other friendly countries on many fronts. Although the U.S.government is currently implementing measures to address the separate pieces of this problem – forexample, deploying National Guard units to the border – it has yet to craft a truly comprehensive domestic and foreign strategy to confront the inter-related challenges of trafficking and violence reaching from the Andean Ridge to American streets.This report is the product of a yearlong study by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Itseeks to explain the scale of organized crime in key countries in the Western Hemisphere and provideelements of such a strategy. We make these observations based on research and analysis of regional trends as well as conversations with government and law enforcement officials, in the United Statesand abroad, on the front lines of this fight.The first section presents the geography of crime in Latin America, outlining how the criminal networks in Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and other countries in between pose a common problem for the region and the United States. While the circumstances and potential futures of each country differ, they are linked. The following sectionshows how the same networks are also activeand growing within the United States, posing theneed for domestic as well as foreign action. Th elast section of this study recommends principles toguide a national strategy against cartels and gangs.Finally, to make the point that illegal drug traffickingis not the cartels’ only business, the appendix summarizes the major kinds of illicit commerce that support organized criminal groups in this hemisphere.

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