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Column 012813 Brewer

Monday, January 28, 2013

As Drug Use Rises in Latin America, Sex Exploitation Increases


By Jerry Brewer


Is there a sinister correlation between increased drug trafficking and the illicit sex industry in South America? Criminal opportunities and major markets for huge profits are all that is sufficiently needed for organized crime to place a stranglehold on a populace.


Organized crime proliferates when a rapid growth for illegal goods and services abounds.  This demand quickly breeds an underground economy or black market that can incapacitate and hinder deterrence capacities.   


The incredible demand for drugs in the US alone showcases the multi-billions of dollars a year that are simply handed away to transnational criminals to grow and prosper throughout the hemisphere.  Of course drug trafficking is but one facet of hedonistic demand, and one that could actually be sacrificed to reap vast revenues to replace it.  However, don’t look for many of these highly addictive deliriants to simply disappear.


Societal demand for products and services that generate or enhance the “pleasure of the individual” is rapidly growing in South America -- this at great misery and despair to those nations in the path.  And there are the victims in Mexico, with estimates of 70,000 people killed, while the missing cannot be counted; plus many people are falling prey to organized crime and street gangs in the northern cone countries of Central American.


Is progress being made to sufficiently address these critical issues?  What will be the possible future developments, and the likely longer-term impact this may have on society as a whole in this hemisphere?


Argentina is now the second largest domestic market for cocaine in Latin America, after Brazil. It has become both a major market and transit point in the world drug trade.


Furthermore, Argentina is currently “a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking,” according to the U.S. State Department.  There appears to be significant numbers of sex trafficking victims from rural areas or northern provinces, and along the Chilean border, who are “forced into prostitution in urban centers.”  Many are sent to wealthier provinces in central and southern Argentina.


What is equally disturbing is that there are a large number of foreign women and children, primarily from Paraguay, Bolivia, and Peru, subjected to sex trafficking in Argentina.


Argentina remains a transit point for foreign women and girls trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation in Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Western Europe, and other countries.


In Mexico, congresswoman Rosi Orozco claims that more than 800,000 adults and 20,000 children a year are trafficked for sexual exploitation. The US State Department estimated that at least 100,000 Latin Americans are trafficked internationally each year. It has identified Spain, Italy, Portugal, the United States, and Japan as major destination countries for Latin American trafficking victims.  Panama has been a destination for women from Colombia and Central America trafficked “to work in the sex industry.”


Although human/sex trafficking and drug smuggling are increasing at an alarming rate in the Americas, there is no concrete evidence of specific organized Mexican drug gang involvement correlating with sex trafficking specifically in South America. However, according to the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition (BSCC), criminal gangs from Mexico, Central America, Russia, Japan, Ukraine, and several other countries have been caught attempting to traffic victims across the U.S.-Mexico border.


There was also a claim by Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho, who said that the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas had expanded their operations in Argentina and were moving into sex trafficking. "I have clear evidence of the presence of drug cartels involved in trafficking that are already operating in Argentina. These organized criminals have begun to settle and are buying human beings." Reports of the presence of both drug gangs in Argentina in recent years are rarely disputed.


There is no doubt that human trafficking is one of the world's most lucrative illicit trades — it is estimated that organized crime groups earn “tens of billions” of dollars annually. Given the highly profitable nature of the human trafficking trade, and its size in Argentina, it is a reasonable assumption that Mexican criminal groups will try to establish control of the sex trade there.


Human trafficking is very appealing compared to drug sales that systematically require more drugs and high risk, compared with the ownership and use of sex laborers over and over again, as long as they are alive and capable. If not, it appears they are abundantly replaced.


In a fairly regional effort, the Department of Organized Crime at the Ministry of the Interior in Chile is working closely with Argentina and other neighbors in an endeavor to eradicate organized crime, especially targeting mobsters and gangs involved in drug production and trafficking, human trafficking and so-called white slavery, and illicit arms trafficking. Officials are continuing efforts to form alliances and joint programs, with actions that can be of great value to their respective homelands.


And Chile’s efforts to curb human trafficking reportedly are producing positive results.



Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at

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