Key policy makers and scholars discuss causes and consequences of drug-related violence in Latin America

Key policy makers and scholars discuss causes and consequences of drug-related violence in Latin America

From left to right: Alejandro Poiré, Fernando Carrera, Roberto Sa, General Óscar Naranjo, Jay Bergman listen to questions and comments from the audience

WATCH: Video footage from two-day conference on organized crime, corruption and drug trafficking in Latin America.

Video and audio podcasts of each of the conference panels are available at the bottom of this article

By Cynthia Gomez, UCLA Latin American Institute

“Very rarely do you get these types of people to speak to an audience and then answer direct questions,” exclaimed Jay Bergman, director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for the Andean Region, as he addressed an audience at UCLA’s Young Research Library during a policy panel on “Illegal Drug Markets, Crime and Violence in Latin America,” on February 23, 2013.

Bergman was referring to a panel that included the former director of the Colombian National Police Óscar Naranjo; current Sub-Secretary of Security for the state of Rio de Janeiro Roberto Sa; former Secretary of the Interior of Mexico Alejandro Poiré; and Guatemala’s Minister of Foreign Relations Fernando Carrera. The policy panel was the culminating event of a two-day conference co-organized by Hugo Hopenhayn , UCLA professor of economics and director of the Center for Argentina, Chile and the Southern Cone and Daniel Mejia, professor of economics at Universidad de los Andes in Colombia and founding member of the America Latina Crime Network (AL CAPONE).  The event brought together 30 researchers, scholars and policy makers actively involved in the discussion, analysis and combating of organized crime, corruption and drug trafficking in Latin America.

UC San Diego Professor David Shirk presents the latest data and analysis on drug violence in Mexico.

“It’s very important that we think about issues with a very strong emphasis on what the data is telling us,” said Alejandro Poiré, following the conference’s opening presentation “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2012.” That talk was presented by David Shirk, an associate professor of political science and international relations and director of the Trans-Border Institute at UC San Diego.

Shirk’s presentation was part of a morning session that addressed the current plague of violence in Mexico, including the effect of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s “war on drugs.” Under the Calderón administration, the primary strategy against organized crime consisted of “an escalation in the role of the military and the strengthening of the federal police,” said Shirk, who pointed to data from a report prepared by the Trans-Border Institute’s Justice in Mexico Project, which indicated a sharp increase in violence in Mexico under Calderón’s presidency (2006–2012).

Shirk also highlighted a significant shift in the geographic distribution of violence, noting that violence did not increase at the same level throughout the country but instead is “very concentrated in a small number of places in Mexico.”

As a result of the geographical concentration of violence, Shirk believes that tourists shouldn’t be completely deterred from visiting Mexico, depending on where they want to vacation and adding that “the odds of being killed by a drug trafficker are not very high . . . unless you ARE a drug trafficker."

Mexico’s illegal drug markets and violence were also analyzed in in the context of different regional approaches to drug policy and organized crime in Latin American countries such as Colombia and Brazil. Daniel Mejia pointed to factors beyond the impact of Calderón’s policies which may have contributed to elevated levels of violence in Mexico. Mejia noted that Calderón took office at a time when there was an increase in eradication policies in cocaine-producing countries — a factor he believes is more than coincidence.

General Óscar Naranjo provides commentary following a panel session. 

Mejia and other scholars believe eradication efforts in Colombia and pacification strategies in Brazil’s slums in Rio de Janeiro provide important examples and lessons in the creation of strategies and policies to combat organized crime and drug trafficking throughout Latin America. During their presentations, Bergman and Poiré echoed the importance of using the lessons derived from research to inform and develop new strategies to improve the efforts being carried out by drug enforcement authorities, institutions and policy makers. "This is the time when academia and academics' understanding and science can be applied to policy change," said Bergman.

In addition to providing the public in attendance with insight into current developments related to drug related crime and enforcement policies in Latin America, the conference provided established scholars — and up-and-coming experts in the field, like Sandra Rozo, a UCLA graduate student in applied economics — an opportunity to engage with fellow scholars and policy makers. “I received invaluable comments and suggestions,” noted Rozo, after presenting her research on the effects of aerial spraying on coca production in Colombia. Rozo was one of two graduate students who presented papers at the conference.

“Illegal Drug Markets, Crime and Violence in Latin America” was made possible by funding and support from the Latin American Institute’s Title VI grant from the U.S. Department of Education, The Center for Argentina, Chile and the Southern Cone, the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), America Latina Crime and Policy Network (AL CAPONE) and the World Bank.




Day 2
Rosalie Pacula – "An Alternative Approach for Measuring Drug Related Crime in Consuming Nations"
João de Mello – "Collusion, Price Competition and Inter-gang Violence"

Ben Lessing – "Violent Corruption and Violent Lobbying: Logics of Cartel-State Conflict in Mexico, Brazil and Colombia"
Beau Kilmer – "Reducing Drug Trafficking Revenues and Violence in Mexico:Would Legalizing Marijuana in the United States Help?"

Policy Panel:
Alejandro Poiré, Fernando Carrera, Roberto Sa, General Óscar Naranjo, Jay Bergman




Published: Monday, April 08, 2013