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Drugs, Gangs, Transnational Organized Crime and "Malgoverened Spaces" in the Americas

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Journal article

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During the spring of 2014, the U.S. media and Washington politics were briefly dominated by the crisis of thousands of children from Central America detained at the Mexican border as they attempted to enter the United States.2 While the phenomena of children, among such immigrants was not new, the attention given by the media to their plight illustrated how the desperate conditions created by the cycle of crime, violence, and lack of opportunity in the region impacts the U.S., connected with the region through ties of geography, family, and commerce. In recent years, the challenges of gangs and transnational organized crime in the Americas have received increasing attention as threats to both the U.S. and the region.3 Many good analyses have been done of the phenomenon of Central American street gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio-18,4 transnational organized crime,5 and the security situation in individual countries such as Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. References are often made in such analyses to U.S. narcotics demand,6 or poverty and inequality as causal factors.7 Yet insufficient attention is paid to the systemic interdependencies between narcotics, youth gangs, and other forms of organized crime, underlying socioeconomic conditions, governance issues, and complicating international dynamics. This article advances the concept of malgoverned spaces to examine those interdependent and reinforcing dynamics as a system, using Mexico and the northern triangle countries of Central America as illustrative cases. The work is principally based on the author s experience over five years in applying system analysis techniques in conducting exercises with security officials in Mexico and Central America, although in consideration of the partner institutions involved, that work and the methodologies employed are not discussed in this work, and the views expressed are strictly the author s own.

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  • Sociology and Law

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