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Column 122313 Brewer

Monday, December 23, 2013

Corrupting Influences are taking a Toll on this Hemisphere

By Jerry Brewer

Corruption in Mexico and many Latin American and Caribbean nations has been a major destabilizing force to homeland security, tourism, and overall fiscal development. Erosion of public trust has come not only from the perceived lack of safety and security due to astronomical homicide rates for some, but also the saturation of organized crime.

Transnational organized crime and its seemingly endless financial resources is the lifeblood of corrupting police, government officials, the military, business leaders and others. Few expenses are spared to undermine the forces directed against them, as well as the ramifications of what the rule of law could do to them.

According to some estimates, the illegal economy accounts for eight to 15 percent of world GDP.  This includes the illicit networks involved in human and sex trafficking, arms brokers, narcotics trafficking, counterfeit consumer goods, human organ trafficking, oil theft, and a myriad of related services and products.
 
Estimating the annual costs and revenues generated by transnational criminal networks has been the strategic and proactive work of the US State Department's Crimes Program Division - Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). Part of this effort is for building up law enforcement capabilities of foreign governments to combat the increasing linkage between drugs, crime and corruption.  

The incredible estimates of the world illicit criminal revenue include $32 billion annually for human trafficking; $1 trillion for bribery; $500 billion for counterfeited and pirated products; $750 billion to $1 trillion for narcotics trafficking and related organized criminal enterprises. 

In Mexico, President Enrique Peña Nieto, with more than ten months into his presidential term, is inundated with the violence of transnational organized crime. Over the past four years more than 1,200 municipal employees have been killed, and 43 mayors, council members and police officers have also been victims. 

It is believed that around 40 percent of Mexico's cities and towns suffer daily threats from organized crime. Much of this violence comes from organized crime thugs actually dictating whom the mayors hire as police chiefs. Many of these corrupted facilitators operate with impunity, as others cooperate to survive the retaliation by murder. 

In Argentina, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is rapidly losing her credibility as an estimated one million people took to the streets in protest recently in Buenos Aires. This was the third mass protest against her rule since last year. Chants rang out of "Defend Democracy and Justice."  

The current protests in Argentina echo many Chavez-era accusations in Venezuela that decried mismanagement and corruption. Too, Cristina Fernandez has closely followed Chavez's actions by calling for an overhaul and stricter control of the judicial system. This is seen as an attempt to take over and control the court system. Legal experts say the reform would make it "very hard for people and companies to challenge laws and presidential decrees, especially those that expropriate private property" (The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 18, 2013). 

Angry protester chants, such as "no to impunity," claim that this would undermine individual's rights and freedom, and that it would give the government the ability to impeach judges with a simple majority vote, instead of the current two-thirds majority. Critics say the legal moves are designed to "prevent investigations into corruption and reverse a series of rulings against the government's attempt to dismember the 'Clarin' media empire." Too, recently Fernandez's rule suffered new allegations that businessmen have laundered tens of millions of Euros, obtained from public works contracts, through offshore accounts.  

Combating converging threats requires following the money. Violent transnational organized criminals and their networks continue to vie for a greater market share in the global illegal economy. Applying significant pressure on these networks in one region usually forces a reaction to take place by their adapting their operations and routes to new areas of lesser control and oversight. The corruption cycle begins anew in the absence of identifying and targeting the criminal organization’s main source of revenue and modus operandi in influencing, corrupting, and eliminating those that reject their control. 

Criminal organizations must be able to launder their illicit proceeds from criminal acts. In 2012, eight Caribbean nations/territories were designated by the United States as jurisdictions of primary concern for money laundering activities. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime UNODC reported that the Caribbean is the "most important destination for the laundering of cocaine-related income."

Democratic governments that enforce the rule of law understand that illicit trade is a barrier to economic growth. It weakens legitimate markets and majorly upsets global supply chains. This significantly impacts collective security in this hemisphere. 

Human trafficking and enslaved human capital is a thriving criminal enterprise on the increase. Billions in revenue from the labor and exploitation continues to be a threat to communities across this hemisphere. These organized criminal enterprises target vulnerable men, women and children daily. These victims are routinely exploited, abused, forced to work in brothels, sweat shops, and the fields. Many are eventually murdered when their cooperation wanes or they are no longer of value to their authority oversight.  

The effects of illicit trade and corruption are felt every day. As dirty money and illicit financial flows enter a nation’s financial system it erodes the integrity of legitimate markets and legitimate commerce loses. We must not allow illicit enterprise to replace fair and open markets, and we must undertake greater efforts to protect, respect and value human life. 

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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 www.cjiausa.org.

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