Wars are on the rebound. There are twice as many civil conflicts today, for example, as there were in 2001. And the number of nonstate armed groups participating in the bloodshed is multiplying. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), roughly half of today’s wars involve between three and nine opposing groups. Just over 20 percent involve more than 10 competing blocs. In a handful, including ongoing conflicts in Libya and Syria, hundreds of armed groups vie for control. For the most part, these warring factions are themselves highly fragmented, and today’s warriors are just as likely to be affiliated with drug cartels, mafia groups, criminal gangs, militias, and terrorist organizations as with armies or organized rebel factions.
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Mexico is on the front lines of today’s metastasizing crime wars. Public authorities there estimate that 40 percent of the country is subject to chronic insecurity, with homicidal violence, disappearances, and population displacement at all-time highs. States such as Guerrero, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz are paralyzed by extreme organized violence … Owing to endemic violence and the government’s slow retreat from crime-ridden areas, some towns are now run by parallel governments made up of criminalized political and administrative structures. In what are increasingly labeled “narco-cities,” the entire political and economic apparatus exists to perpetuate a drug economy.
In Brazil, meanwhile large portions of some of the country’s biggest cities are under the control of competing drug trafficking factions and militias … in smaller cities across north and northeastern Brazil, gangs and militias are starting to battle for dominion in the favelas. Already, they effectively administer state prisons. Some vigilantes have started to try their hands at politics and are running for office, while others seek to influence elections through buying and selling votes. Organized and interpersonal violence killed almost 64,000 Brazilians in 2017, much of it concentrated among poorer black youth. The mayhem has also triggered repeated federal military interventions.
Making matters worse, Latin American armed groups are going transnational … Likewise, outside of the Americas, in metropolises such as Cape Town, Lagos, and Karachi, gangs recruit child soldiers to fight their battles and service booming cross-border trade in drugs, minerals, and trafficked people.
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Further, whereas the human cost of typical gang or mafia activity may be contained, the death and destruction that result from today’s crime wars are not. Millions of refugees and internally displaced persons have fled these gray-zone conflicts. But many of those who are dislocated are stuck in limbo, with most of them having been refused asylum … Governments have typically been reluctant to recognize the dislocated as war refugees, because it would grant legitimacy to the crime wars. Yet with all the civilians killed and maimed, mayors and journalists attacked, families forced to flee genocide and disappearances, the violence generated by crime wars is indistinguishable from that generated by traditional war.
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Given that some cartels and gangs front well-armed and disciplined soldiers, improvised infantry fighting vehicles, top-of-the-line communications and surveillance networks, and military-grade weapons (such as rocket-propelled grenades and antipersonnel mines), as well as use high-intensity tactics (including ambushes and attacks on police and military forces), the threat cannot be wished away.
There’s more at the link. I highly recommend reading the entire article, because the violence and disruption engendered by such gangs is already on the streets of the USA. In some cases, the worst gangs started here among refugees, migrated back to South America, and are now operating between their international bases.
The article compares the dominance of such gangs to “a pre-Westphalian era of perpetual conflict involving feudal kingdoms and marauding bandits”. That’s not a bad comparison . . . but it ignores the reality that such activities have been with us for centuries, have flourished in various parts of the world since World War II, and are still flourishing to this day. The advent of drug-money-funded cartels is simply piggybacking on top of an existing lawlessness that’s endemic in the Third World – and is also visible in US cities.
In traveling through Africa for many years, I accepted as a fact of life that the authority of the national government was likely to be transient at best once away from the capital city. Regional governors were often appointed, not because they were trusted by or loyal to the national strongman, but because they controlled enough “supporters” (usually armed thugs) that they could dominate a particular province or state. In return for delivering the vote in such areas (thereby ensuring that the national dictator could continue to milk his country and international aid for all he could steal), the regional governor could do the same in his area, subsidized by judicious bribes from the central government if necessary. In turn, the regional governors would appoint – or tolerate – local strongmen as they took over towns, “taxed” the inhabitants, set up roadblocks to “control travel” or “keep down bandits” (while taking bribes, or just plain stealing whatever they wanted, from passing motorists), and so on.
One learned to travel with hard currency – US dollars for preference, although gold coins, particularly English sovereigns and South African Krugerrands, were more highly prized in some parts of Africa – at the ready. Small fry – local cops, etc. – could be bought off with local currency. Mid-ranking leaders wanted something more negotiable, and warranted the “good stuff” (if one wanted to continue what one was doing without being strangled by bureaucracy and corrupt cops “finding” stolen property all over one’s premises). If one was doing relief work, one all too often had to pay a weekly or monthly bribe in order to be permitted to do so. If one didn’t, one’s relief supplies would be stolen, one’s local workers threatened into staying away (or doing the stealing on behalf of the local powers that be), and one’s personal safety was never guaranteed.
I ran into this early on, in a part of Africa where I was told, in fairly blunt terms, that I’d be permitted to carry on with my work, provided that I paid the equivalent of a couple of hundred dollars (in the buying power of those days) to the local strongmen, a “liberation committee” who “administered” the area. I couldn’t afford to both do that and continue my work, so I refused, and naively requested protection from the local “government” authorities. Not only did I not get protection (because I couldn’t afford the bribe necessary to obtain it), but I was stabbed in the back the next time I went into the affected area. I still bear the scar, accompanied by two lumps on either side of it (because the stabber hadn’t bothered to clean his blade since killing his last target, and I got a nasty infection from it. Unhygienic *******, he was.)
While I recovered, I listened to the recriminations of those who understood the situation better than I had, and “wised up”. There was a very (very!) criminal lawyer in those parts, with a finger in all sorts of underworld pies. He was untrustworthy in all except one critical aspect: if he was bought, he stayed bought. I went to see him as soon as my injury permitted, talked over my problem, and paid him a sum of money. He gave me a receipt, and wished me a speedy recovery.
I then went back to the area where I’d been stabbed, and walked into the house commandeered by the “committee”. They must have thought I was a deluded fool, walking right into a death trap – until I laid the lawyer’s receipt on the table. I told them that the money would be held in trust. If I was injured or died from any cause whatsoever – an ingrown toenail, the flu, a traffic accident, whatever – they would be held personally responsible. I also pointed out that in those days, in that place, local criminals would shoot anybody for $10-$20. They knew the lawyer, and his reputation. They understood exactly what I was implying.
From then on, whenever I went into that area, I had an armed escort within a few minutes, one or two men armed with AK-47’s showing up and shadowing my every footstep. They weren’t there to see what I was doing. They were there to make sure no-one else bothered me or caused me any trouble. Their bosses were under no illusions. They knew that their safety was contingent upon mine. We understood each other. I was able to continue and complete my work there in as close to safety as it was possible to find in that part of the world, at that time.
Such experiences were not at all uncommon in Africa during the latter half of the 20th century. The only reason they’ve declined since then is that local warlords and gangs have become more violent under the stresses of population pressure, and less money to steal in the local economy. Just look at the latest outbreak of Ebola in Zaire. Health workers and agencies are openly stating that they can’t enter certain areas with any degree of safety, because of the proliferation of gangs, militias and armed bandits that infest that part of the world, and prevent normal civilization from functioning. I couldn’t work there either, today, because there are too many groups who would demand payoffs. Paying one would just make the others angry – and they’d target me. There’s no future in that.
Such gangs also operate in other parts of the world. Look at the “Golden Triangle” in south-east Asia. Consider poppy farming in Afghanistan, which funds the Taliban insurgency. Consider piracy off Somalia and Nigeria, which provides income to whole areas, not just criminal gangs. I could give many more examples, but those will do for now.
In case you think this is all offshore, not a concern in the USA, think again. Gangs control entire areas of many US cities, from a block here or there, to entire neighborhoods. The conflicts between them are already legendary, and are a fact of life in a number of major cities. Think Crips versus Bloods, or Hispanic versus Black gangs, or competition over the control of the drug trade. Nor is it limited to minority groups. Motorcycle gangs are also involved, as well as prison gangs such as the notorious Aryan Brotherhood. There’s more than enough violence and mayhem to go around. Some US cities already boast “no-go” areas for cops, where no policeman in his right mind will go for fear that he won’t come out again, or that his family will be targeted for his eagerness to do his job. Consider Baltimore, to name just one example. There are others.
I’ve lived and/or worked in more than a few major American cities. In the light of my African experience, and my work with gangs inside US prisons, I can assure you, the “crime wars” are already a fact of life for many who live in US inner-city neighborhoods. There are already areas where, if you call the cops to report a crime, you’ll be targeted by the local criminals as a “snitch”. If you have a problem, you ask them to solve it, not the cops – or else. That’s only going to spread and get worse as more and more illegal aliens, many of whom come from areas where that sort of social structure is already a reality, flood across our southern border. They’re bringing the problem here with them – and we’re doing little or nothing to prevent them.
The Foreign Policy article is prophetic. Read the whole thing, and start to consider where you live, and what you can do to prevent things getting worse in your area – because they will, unless we all do something about it now.