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What's in a Name? The Politics of Latin America's Organized Crime Lexicon

What's in a Name? The Politics of Latin America's Organized Crime Lexicon

Arguing about artificial labels that help make sense of organized crime in Latin America may seem trivial. After all, the reality lurking beneath these labels -- bodies riddled with bullets, bank accounts stuffed with cash, and enough cocaine to sink a submarine -- is so tangible, so immediate for the people wrapped up in its unceasing vortex. But the terms and phrases used about by governments and news outlets carry their own type of power. They help shape public opinion, domestic security policies, and the legal limitations of international actors. As...

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The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC) was a coalition of right-wing death squads that used the conflict to camouflage their illicit economic activities. These included drug trafficking, displacement, kidnapping, and extortion. The AUC once operated in two-thirds of the country with approximately 30,000 soldiers.

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  • What's in a Name? The Politics of Latin America's Organized Crime Lexicon

    Colombian soldiers are permitted to combat GAO

    Arguing about artificial labels that help make sense of organized crime in Latin America may seem trivial. After all, the reality lurking beneath these labels -- bodies riddled with bullets, bank accounts stuffed with cash, and enough cocaine to sink a submarine -- is so tangible, so immediate for the people wrapped up in its unceasing vortex. But the terms and phrases used about by governments and news outlets carry their own type of power. They help shape public opinion, domestic security policies, and the legal limitations of international actors. As organized crime in the region adapts to new realities on the ground, it's imperative that our lexicon for it does so as well.

  • Colombia Braces for Impact of Returning Drug Traffickers and Paramilitaries

    Hector Restrepo, alias "Perra loca"

    The release of Colombian underworld boss "Perra loca" from a US prison is adding to fears that a flood of recently freed drug lords and paramilitaries could have a violent impact on the country's already volatile criminal landscape.

  • Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

    Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces, prison authorities have joined them, while multiple government efforts to reform the system have failed.   

  • Intl Court Condemns Colombia for Bloody 2002 Military Operation

    Paramilitary fighter working with Colombian army troops in Operation Orion, 2002

    An international court's condemnation of the Colombian state's role in an infamous military operation in the city of Medellín speaks to the failings of militarizing the fight against illegal armed groups, particularly in heavily populated urban areas.

  • How Rejected FARC Peace Deal Compares to Earlier Paramilitary Pact

    Colombia's peace agreement was narrowly rejected in a plebiscite

    Following the narrow victory by those who opposed the peace deal between Colombia's government and the FARC rebel group, InSight Crime considers how it compares to the transitional justice agreement struck a decade earlier with right-wing paramilitaries.

  • Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

    By the end of 1993, Pablo Escobar was cornered. The cocaine king -- known as "El Patrón" -- was running out of money and options. His top assassins were either dead or had turned themselves in. Almost all of the senior members of the Medellín Cartel were either in prison, or had gone over to his rivals, a shadowy paramilitary group that called itself People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar (Perseguidos por Pablo Escobar - PEPES). Leading the hunt against him for the PEPES was one-legged former guerrilla and cartel enforcer Diego Murillo Bejarano, alias "Don Berna." Berna had turned on Escobar after El Patrón killed his boss, Fernando Galeano. As part of the plan to destroy Escobar, he and the PEPES had teamed up with the Colombian police's famed Search Bloc.

  • Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

    Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias 'Jorge 40' (Getty Images)

    Rodrigo Tovar Pupo never imagined it would come to this: dressed in an orange jumpsuit in a Washington DC courtroom and standing in front of a United States federal judge, the grandson of a wealthy Colombian cattle rancher and nephew to a governor was facing a possible 30-year jail sentence for drug trafficking. In his own mind, Tovar was a hero, not a drug trafficker -- a warrior, not a criminal.

  • Court Ruling Stirs Controversy Over Colombia's 'Para-Economy'

    A court ruling that mentioned Postobón sparked controversy.

    A recent ruling by Colombia’s Justice and Peace Court that mentioned Postobón called for employees of the iconic soft drink company to be investigated for possible past collaboration with a paramilitary group but did not explicitly implicate the company itself, court documents show.

  • Colombia Investigates Over 100 Disappearances from Bogotá Prison

    Modelo Prison, Bogota, Colombia

    Prosecutors in Colombia believe over 100 people were murdered, dismembered and disappeared in a Bogotá prison between 1999 and 2001, in a macabre example of how armed groups and drug traffickers turned Colombian prisons into hubs of organized crime.

  • Prosecution Gaffe Absolves Colombia Paramilitary of Drug Trafficking

    Former AUC chief Salvatore Mancuso

    The Colombian Supreme Court has absolved a former paramilitary leader of drug trafficking charges, reigniting doubts about the country's willingness and ability to administer justice to its most renowned war criminals.

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Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy. Unlike their paramilitary and drug cartel predecessors, the BACRIM maintain a diversified...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...