An alleged Texis Cartel member arrested in October 2012

Costa Rica's attorney general has warned that with the decline of Mexico's powerful cartels, Central American gangs could rise and take control of criminal operations in the region -- an extreme but not implausible scenario.

In a recent interview with El Universal, Costa Rican Attorney General Jorge Chavarria warned that Central America’s criminal groups could grow stronger and supplant their Mexican counterparts in the region if the Mexican cartels lose power.

“At the moment, the dominant groups are clearly Mexican. But if we look 10 years ahead, what will happen if in Mexico, the fight [against crime] has a positive effect from the point of view of the Mexican state?" Chavarria said. "That is how we have to look at it in order to see how we can avoid the consolidation of Central American organizations that could replace the Mexicans.”

The main candidates to step into the role of Mexican cartels are gangs in the “Northern Triangle” of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. El Universal highlighted the Salvadoran Texis Cartel and Guatemalan groups the Mendozas and the Charros as among the most powerful.

Chavarria said that no Costa Rican cartels have been detected so far, but that authorities must work to pre-empt their emergence, adding, “What is very risky for us is that someone starts to develop a leadership and establish a Central American organization in the face of a vacuum [in criminal structures] as [could happen] in Mexico and Colombia.”

InSight Crime Analysis

The decline of Mexican cartels may already be underway. Last month, US Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield announced that Mexico’s larger drug trafficking organizations were “on the verge of collapse,” thanks to sustained pressure on their operations in the region. The majority of Mexico’s large gangs, from the Beltran Leyva Organization and Gulf Cartel to the Juarez and Tijuana Cartels are now shadows of their former selves, as analyst Alejandro Hope has set out.

Brownfield acknowledged that the crackdown on Mexico’s groups means a greater risk for Central America and the Caribbean.

As El Universal points out, Mexican groups such as the Sinaloa Cartel and Zetas currently use Central American gangs as operatives to launder money, infiltrate local police and traffic drugs. If these roles reversed, Central American cartels would have to increase their presence in Mexico. This would be more difficult than it was for Mexicans to move south, as the Mexican state has far stronger institutions that the Northern Triangle. Mexican groups were able to take advantage of largely ungoverned spaces in the isthmus -- such as the north Guatemalan province of Peten -- to conduct their operations.

If Central American gangs increase their stake in the trade, they could also bypass Mexico as a transit point and traffic drugs through the Caribbean, a favored route in the 1980s. Both US officials and Caribbean leaders have suggested that the shift back to Caribbean routes may already be happening thanks to sustained pressure on drug trafficking through Central America. If drugs arrived in the United States by sea, Central American traffickers would be able to increasingly cut Mexican cartels out of the supply chain.

As Chavarria noted, these scenarios are not likely to take place in the immediate future. While Mexican monolithic criminal groups may be disintegrating, any shift of power south will take time. However, Central America's gangs, having spent years as subordinates to the Mexicans, could be well positioned to rise and take control of organized crime in the region.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
Prev Next

Venezuela Prisons: 'Pranes' and 'Revolutionary' Criminality

Venezuela Prisons: 'Pranes' and 'Revolutionary' Criminality

In May 2011, a 26-year-old prison gang leader held 4,000 members of the Venezuelan security forces, backed by tanks and helicopters, at bay for weeks. Humiliated nationally and internationally, it pushed President Hugo Chávez into a different and disastrous approach to the prison system.

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Honduras does not produce weapons,[1] but weapons are trafficked into the country in numerous ways. These vary depending on weapon availability in neighboring countries, demand in Honduras, government controls and other factors. They do not appear to obey a single strategic logic, other than that of evading...

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

As set out in this report, the legal structure around Honduras' arms trade is deeply flawed. The legislation is inconsistent and unclear as to the roles of different institutions, while the regulatory system is insufficiently funded, anachronistic and administered by officials who are overworked or susceptible to...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power.

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...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network.

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.

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

The weapons trade within Honduras is difficult to monitor. This is largely because the military, the country's sole importer, and the Armory, the sole salesmen of weapons, do not release information to the public. The lack of transparency extends to private security companies, which do not have...

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Estimates vary widely as to how many legal and illegal weapons are circulating in Honduras. There are many reasons for this. The government does not have a centralized database that tracks arms seizures, purchases, sales and other matters concerning arms possession, availability and merchandising. The laws surrounding...