HEMISPHERIC SECURITYThe Organized Crime Threat to Latin American Democracies

By Will Freeman

Published 3 January 2024

Latin America’s democracies and democrats don’t get enough credit for weathering inequality, violence, and economic stagnation. Miraculously, only two of the region’s former democracies, Venezuela and Nicaragua, have collapsed into full-fledged authoritarianism. In no other part of the world have so many democracies held up under such pressures for so long. Governments have learned to manage many threats, but they are failing to curb the growing power of organized crime.

Peru’s last dictator, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2023-12-07/former-peruvian-pr.... Click or tap if you trust this link.">Alberto Fujimori, has pulled off a jailbreak years in the making—not by tunneling his way out of prison but by the graces of the country’s highest court. His early release in December is part of a broader problem in Latin America, where the line between governments and crime keeps getting blurrier.

The 85-year-old Fujimori was a little more than halfway through a 25-year sentence for https://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/08/world/americas/08fujimori.html. Click or tap if you trust this link.">greenlighting extrajudicial killings and kidnappings and embezzling $15 million during his decade-long rule, which ended in 2000. But Peru’s Constitutional Court was apparently unbothered by his unpaid debt to society. The court brought about his release by reinstating a years-old presidential pardon.

That blatantly violated international law: The Inter-American Court of Human Rights forbade Peru from shortening Fujimori’s sentence. But as the country’s democracy https://english.elpais.com/opinion/2023-12-07/peru-a-year-of-dual-disgra.... Click or tap if you trust this link.">slid into chaos over the last year, Fujimori’s still powerful family worked to get sympathetic judges on the bench.

The resulting release of Fujimori, who ran Peru as a mafia state, comes as the country’s politicians are https://www.idl-reporteros.pe/la-ofensiva-para-desmantelar-el-equipo-esp.... Click or tap if you trust this link.">chipping https://elcomercio.pe/politica/congreso/en-vivo-congreso-insistencia-dic.... Click or tap if you trust this link.">away at the capacity to investigate corruption and organized crime. Peru isn’t alone. In several countries across the region, politicians appear determined to weaken the state’s ability to counter criminal groups.

In Guatemala, dozens of lawmakers sanctioned by the United States for corruption have fought to https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/dec/18/guatemala-presiden.... Click or tap if you trust this link.">block President-elect Bernardo Arévalo, an anti-corruption crusader, from taking office. In Ecuador, violent gangs are on their way to taking over, having recruited dozens of public officials to do their bidding, according to the country’s top prosecutor. In https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/mexico-losing-control.... Click or tap if you trust this link.">Mexico and https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/oct/18/brazil-militias-paramilita.... Click or tap if you trust this link.">Brazil, drug cartels and paramilitaries loom large over some state and local governments.