COVID-19 is reconfiguring organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean

Published in Small Wars Journal

Robert Muggah

Latin America and the Caribbean are suffering from the twin epidemics of COVID-19 and organized crime and violence. On the one hand, a third of all the world’s COVID-19 related fatalities occurred in the region’s sprawling unequal cities, especially its most vulnerable neighborhoods. On the other, the region clocks over a third of all global homicides despite registering less than a tenth of the global population. Some 43 of the 50 most violent cities on the planet (with populations over 250,000 people) are located there.

The pandemic has yet to make a dent on the region’s grim standing in the violent crime rankings. That said, COVID-19 and government responses to it may be altering the opportunity structure for organized crime, especially in Mexico, the northern triangle countries of Central America, and South American nations such as Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay. The combination of disease contagion, state-imposed lockdowns, weakened police presence, and disruption of global supply chains is altering the behavior of cartels, gangs, militia and mafia, with dangerous implications for public security. Add to that a rapid economic deterioration in a region where close to 50 percent of the pre-COVID economy was already informal, and you have the makings of a long-term calamity.

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