Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

The drug war hits Central America

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on April 14, 2011

by The Economist, April 14th, 2011.

For most of the 20th century, the small countries of Central America were a backwater, a tropical playground for dictators and adventurers. In the 1970s and 1980s they turned briefly into a violent cockpit of the cold war as Marxist-inspired guerrillas battled US-backed tyrants. Places like El Salvador and Nicaragua generated daily headlines around the world and bitter partisan battles in Washington. When the cold war ended, peace and democracy prevailed and Central America slipped back into oblivion. But its underlying problems—which include poverty, torpid economies, weak states, youth gangs, corruption and natural disasters—never went away.

Now violence is escalating once more in Central America, for a new reason. Two decades ago the United States Coast Guard shut down the Caribbean cocaine route, so the trade shifted to Mexico. Mexico has started to fight back; and its continuing offensive against the drugs mafias has pushed them down into Central America.

Whatever the weaknesses of the Mexican state, it is a Leviathan compared with the likes of Guatemala or Honduras. Large areas of Guatemala—including some of its prisons—are out of the government’s control; and, despite the efforts of its president, the government is infiltrated by the mafia. The countries of Central America’s northern triangle (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) are now among the most violent places on earth, deadlier even than most conventional war zones (see article). So weak are their judicial systems that in Guatemala, for example, only one murder in 20 is punished. (continue reading… )

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