A policeman in Santiago shows a gun seized from gangs

An investigation by journalism institute CIPER has found that despite Chile's reputation as one of the safest countries in Latin America, 83 neighborhoods in the capital city of Santiago are effectively run by gangs.

According to an investigation by Tabatha Guerra and Juan Pablo Figueroa of the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIPER), entire sections of the city lack police presence, a gap which is filled by street gangs with names like "Los Vatos Locos" and "Los Guarenes." Most of these areas have no or very little access to basic services like public transportation, and schools are few and far between. 

Guerra and Figueroa report that an estimated 700,000 of Santiago's nearly 5 million residents live in areas controlled by drug gangs, and the problem is getting worse. Demand for cocaine paste -- a cheaper form of the drug -- smuggled in from Bolivia is on the rise, which has sparked violent disputes over control of street-level dealing in these neighborhoods. These gangs' level of control is so powerful that locals often do not dare report crimes to the authorities for fear of repercussions. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The CIPER journalists' snapshot of urban life in Santiago shows a lesser-known side of Chile, which has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the most secure countries in Latin America, with a relatively effective court system and professional law enforcement. The fact that these drug gangs control entire neighborhoods in much the same style as Central American gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) demonstrates that there are still pockets where the rule of law does not apply in the country.

It also suggests that Chile may need to focus on securing urban areas in the country's interior, as well as securing its northern borders with Peru and Bolivia, the main sources of drug shipments.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
Prev Next

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...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Former Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla -- a decorated war hero and a longtime US ally -- finds himself treading water amidst a flurry of accusations about corruption and his connections to drug traffickers. López Bonilla is not the most well-known suspect in the cases against...