Welcome to Pan-American Crime

The issue of criminality in society is nothing new for any human social group. From Hammurabi’s Code in Babylon to the destruction of the senate house in ancient Rome by the followers of Clodius and Milo, the effects and interaction between the criminal underworld and legitimate society have been well documented and studied throughout history. As can be seen with the development of Mexico’s contemporary cartel conflict, today is no different. However, the modern World is not the same as the ancient one. Science, economic and social development, and, most importantly,  the interconnected nature of modern human societies mean that a change in economic realities or culture in one area of the planet can have serious and near immediate consequences across the globe. As the price of salt production rises in Saskatchewan so does the price of general food production in many areas of the developing World that are intrinsically dependent upon affordable and preservable food. To give another example, during the 2009 floods in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia up to one fifth of the domestic rice production was wiped out. While this disaster not only dramatically affects the ability of the local population to feed itself within these countries – as many of the farms effected were essentially subsistence agriculture –  it also inhibited the ability of Japanese, Singaporean and Western businesses to export rice at a sellable cost. Meaning that in one annual flood not only do local farming populations starve, but businesses that sell the excess rice production and the buyers from poor countries who depend on a cheap and easily acquirable product will also evidently suffer.

Let us apply these somewhat obvious economic principles to the modern criminal experience. As Mexican cartels and their alliances began to disintegrate during 2005 – 2006 their ability to transport cocaine and marijuana into the United States’ domestic market also began to suffer, not enough to seriously damage their capabilities but enough that the price that Canadian and local criminal networks in the United States had to pay for illicit narcotics supplied by the Mexicans was altered. The consequence was criminal instability in many regions as local criminal networks fought for shrinking access to previously established supply networks. No better example can be provided than the bloody gang war which rocked the lower mainland of British Columbia in 2009 and 2010, as the Red Scorpion and UN (literally the United Nations – apparently even criminal organizations in Canada subscribe to multiculturalism) gangs assassinated one another in increasingly brazen shootouts throughout Vancouver and its surrounding environs. This example does not imply that the Mexican cartel wars have hampered the flow of drugs into the North American market, but rather that incidents as far away as Colombia or Argentina can directly affect the interaction of criminal networks on other continents and, consequently, the safety of those populations. Thus, we come to the goal of Pan-American Crime: to explore and document the influence of criminal activity on American cultures – a term utilized in this publication to indicate both North and South America.

But why bother? In a world so dedicated to individual safety, often at the expense of common sense, how can such activity really be seen to influence the daily life of “ordinary” citizens? The answer remains embedded in the development of modern Western civilization over the past 90 years. While the root causes of organized criminality remain the same (poverty, disenfranchisement, public apathy towards private violent acts) the interaction between criminal groups and their associates (lawyers, politicians, government bureaucrats) has become, at its essence, a transnational issue. Again, in looking at the most important and influential criminal organizations throughout history it becomes clear that pre-modern criminal enterprises depended upon the investment of these organizations within certain geographic and social parameters, meaning that the success of these organizations’ wealth generating enterprises relied entirely upon the development of lucrative criminal activities within these set geographic and social regions. Often these activities were traditionally accompanied by the corruption of sympathetic local officials, who were often related to or who were also personally invested in the areas where these local criminal enterprises operated. Perfect examples of such arrangements are the Chinese tongs and Sicilian mafia, who undoubtedly have had adverse effects on their respective communities for centuries (if not thousands of years), yet who constantly retained their power base within their specific territory in order to achieve financial and political success.  These organizations relied upon gambling, corruption, theft and extortion to finance their needs and, consequently, had no need to look outside of their regional interests. The criminalization of narcotics by Western countries changed this dynamic irreparably. As Prohibition helped to embed corruption, graft and organized crime along the eastern seaboard of the United States during the 1920s and 30s in the form of the Italian-American Cosa Nostra, the criminalization and development of the developed World’s most lucrative commodity, illicit narcotics, has created vast, almost unimaginable wealth and connections between the World’s organized criminal elements.

The reason that the sale of drugs has changed the nature of criminal enterprise is that the production of illicit narcotics can only really take place within certain geographic and political conditions, which exist thousands of kilometres away from the key points of distribution and consumption. Narcotics arguably remain the most profitable commodity in the World, although gold and oil production companies would thoroughly disagree. This fact indicates that any criminal enterprise that wants to make real money must sell drugs or risk losing its political and economic muscle; the reason being that if they don’t sell drugs, other illicit organizations will develop to fill that consumer need, and that the wealth these new organizations would then wield would quickly overwhelm those criminal organizations that do not participate. As the Italian-American Cosa Nostra developed to supply the United States with booze during prohibition in the early 20th Century – giving it previously unheard-of access to money, weapons and sympathetic local political support – pan-American criminal enterprises developed in the 1970’s and 1980’s to facilitate the distribution of drugs. These organizations have morphed and altered over the past forty years, but they continue to spread their tentacles of influence and power throughout the globe by virtue of the fact that they must sell to international markets to make substantial money, where local buyers, such as street gangs, must buy their product to remain relevant on the streets. Indeed, even the United States’ State Department  recently rescinded its label of Drug Trafficking Organization, or DTO, previously used to describe large drug trafficking rings, and replaced the label with Transnational Criminal Organization, or TCO. While officially this re-labelling is simply a recognition of the  presence and capabilities of Mexican cartels within the contemporary American underworld, unofficially, this is an admission that the vast majority of criminal networks operating anywhere in the World today can only function effectively – meaning sell drugs and commit other illicit money-making operations – by retaining active transnational ties with other criminal networks.

Although the term “global citizen” is a useless, utopic term, that thoroughly distorts the nationalistic system the global population lives in, modern organized crime is truly a global issue. The contemporary criminal underworld is vast and violent; it’s political reach and wealth unfathomable to the average citizen. It has become all of these things by virtue of the fact that this underworld is now a worldwide phenomenon. At PanAmerican Crime we will seek to develop our understanding of the international structures, networks and arrangements in hope of better understanding the modern North and South American criminal underworld and its adverse effects on our society.

Editor, PanAmerican Crime


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