Global Criminal Networks Evolving Beyond Capacity Of Current Institutional Structures

Eduardo Salcedo-Albarán, City Journal

Imagine that your son or brother has joined a protest against government corruption. During the demonstration, police arrive and force them onto a bus. You rush to the site of the event; you ask about him, but no one tells you anything. You keep searching, your anxiety mounting because you know the depth of the corruption in the city: police and the mayor often collaborate with local drug traffickers. You comfort yourself, remembering that your son or brother was with a large crowd. As the days pass, however, you realize that they weren’t taken into custody by the police; your son or brother has vanished. Two, then three, years pass, and you’re told that it’s too dangerous to keep looking, because “important” people were involved—the mayor, in fact, may have ordered local drug traffickers to kidnap the demonstrators.

What level of corruption is required for the kidnapping and disappearance of 43 students, as happened on September 26, 2014, at the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College, State of Guerrero, Mexico—and getting away with it? It’s a corruption that goes beyond the traditional definitions that scholars advanced in the 1990s when defining administrative and systemic corruption, in which, say, a local political leader or police chief might receive kickbacks and bribes in exchange for going easy on crime. An international commission of experts investigating the Ayotzinapa events found something far more complex: the perpetrators “didn’t hide their identities,” and there had been possible coordination between the Guerreros Unidos crime syndicate, which was presumed to have killed the students, and at least 18 police patrol units from various municipalities, one state patrol unit, and government officials at various levels. Though some authorities received real-time information about the kidnapping, they didn’t act to protect the students. The commission also noted that Ayotzinapa is a hotspot for heroin trafficking to Chicago—but it is just one of 2,446 Mexican municipalities affected by the convergence of massive corruption and transnational criminal forces that traffic in drugs, arms, minerals, and human beings.

As bad as it seems, this is not just a Mexican problem: mutual coordination and co-optation between lawful and unlawful players are increasingly common worldwide. The 2014 mass killing in Mexico as well as several other cases reflect a crisis in the institutional architecture of nation-states in Latin America, Africa, former Soviet countries, and Southeast Asia, where new forms of corruption, sustained by vast macro-criminal networks, metastasize with a complexity that outstrips current institutional capacities, investigative methodologies, and judicial systems.

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