International Report Links Rising LatAm Drug Abuse to Violence

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The latest report by the International Narcotics Control Board illustrates the region-wide correlation between developments in drug trafficking, drug use and criminal violence in Latin America.

According to the newly released 2015 report the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), the body responsible for overseeing implementation of United Nations drug accords, drug trafficking has not only become a major security threat in the Americas, it is also contributing to rising drug use in countries involved in drug production and transshipment. These local drug markets in turn are generating increases in violence as criminal groups fight over the right to control them.

The report describes “growing concern at the increasing levels of drug abuse” in South America, where conflicts between crime groups over local drug distribution have been tied to rising violence in parts of ColombiaBrazil and Argentina, among other countries.

In Central America and the Caribbean, meanwhile, the INCB linked rising violence in areas where criminals fight to control drug distribution to the increased availability of drugs for sale on local markets.

The rise in the importance of local drug markets and their position as a driver of violence is likely attributable to the fact that drug traffickers are frequently paid not in cash but in drugs, which they sell on in local markets, states the report. According to the INCB, this is not only limited to paying for services with the product being trafficking but sometimes also sees traffickers shipping marijuana with cocaine and using it to pay for transport, storage and distribution services. 

According to the most recent UN drug use statistics, since 2012 use of marijuana has increased from 5.2 to 8.4 percent of the population in the Americas, while cocaine use has increased from 0.8 to 1.4 and opiate use from 0.5 to 2.0.

Speaking at the press conference to present the report in Bogota, INCB’s Francisco Thoumi said “It is very difficult for a drug transit or production zone not to end up consuming drugs.”

InSight Crime Analysis

The latest INCB report confirms the regional spread of a trend long identified by InSight Crime (pdf); growing drug abuse along trafficking routes contributing to rising violence.

As noted by the INCB, a major factor in this is the increasingly common practice of international traffickers paying for local services with product, an arrangement that is easier for the traffickers and potentially more profitable for their local partners, who can move the drugs on at high margin street prices.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Drug Policy

However, this is not the only factor behind the rise of local drug markets in Latin America. Organized crime networks in places like Colombia and Mexico have also realised the benefits of the small profit, large quantity model of microtrafficking, which may not bring in the astronomical returns of transnational trafficking but is considerably less risky and more reliable.

In addition, the breakup of some of the region’s largest criminal organizations into smaller, more localized factions has seen these groups pay more attention to local criminal activities such as drug sales rather than rely exclusively on international drug trafficking. 

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