How Caribbean Organized Crime is Replacing the State

llorensN6Z6UCaribbean security specialist Lilian Bobea writes about a bleak situation in which criminal groups are establishing clear-cut alliances with political parties and sectors of the state in Caribbean locations such as the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. By doing so, she writes, they are arguably bringing benefits to certain marginalized communities that the state has long proved incapable of serving properly. See excerpts with a link to the full article below:

[. . .] Organized crime has become embedded in some Latin American and Caribbean societies to the point of becoming a parallel power, with interests that overlap with politicians, bureaucrats, and law enforcement officials. The confluence of all these factors defies any simple, conventional response. That is the perverse reality that many Puerto Ricans and Dominicans are experiencing today. Organized criminal groups have gradually transformed both societies, creating violent, yet resilient political and social orders based on a precarious balance of illicit activities like drug trafficking.

The victory of evil? Yes and no. In both countries, homicide rates have doubled in the last seven years. Yet despite the negative impact of this increased insecurity, these same criminal groups provide opportunities and resources, occasional employment, and protection to those who live in the most-affected neighborhoods. That is something the state has not been able to do, and which elected officials cannot or will not accomplish during their four-year terms in office.

The type of criminality that has penetrated these — and other — Caribbean societies behaves very differently from ordinary street crime. Like plants that are “heliotropic” and always look for sunlight, let’s call this criminal behavior “statetropic.” By that we mean criminal organizations that gear themselves towards the state. Statetropic powerbrokers offer profits to public officials in order to gain their allegiance and protection. Statetropic criminals prefer a scenario in which both high and low-level civil servants benefit from criminal activities. In turn, this puts the state in the untenable position of enforcing the law, while at the same time serving as an instrument exploited by criminal forces.

Statetropism is a useful term for describing conditions in Latin American and Caribbean democracies, but it manifests itself in different ways. Sometimes the state itself becomes an endorser of alternative political and social orders, by explicitly transferring power to non-state actors. This is the case in Jamaica and Haiti, where criminals groups (posses, yardies, and paramilitary forces) have become part of the political system. These criminal organizations have established clear-cut alliances with political party members and sectors of the state, which in turn transfer welfare resources to local powerbrokers, helping the government establish political control in garrisoned areas.

The phenomenon is now occurring in Puerto Rico as well, in public housing blocks called “cacerios.” Two of the biggest ones in San Juan municipality, Nemesio Canales (1,500 units) and Llorens Torres (2,000 units–shown above), have the highest density concentration of gangs. These criminal gangs played a critical role in allowing former ruling party the New Party for Progress (PNP) to win multiple victories in the last three municipal elections.

Here you have two important types of powerbrokers. On one hand, there are political castes, based on family ties, that inherit the available political spots in most of the municipalities. On the other hand, there are gangs that have carved out territory for themselves in these enclosed communities. This power sharing between politicians and politicized gangs in these neighborhoods compensates for the weakness of the state, ensuring a tenuous political stability that cuts across several political cliques. [. . .]

For full article, see http://m.insightcrime.org/pages/article/4438

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