The coronavirus pandemic has forced criminal organisations in Latin America to make various internal changes. These adjustments stem from a desire to maintain their illicit operations despite the inconveniences: the trafficking of drugs and contraband, extortion and controlling the passage of migrants across borders. Their activities have been complicated by increased police checks and a lack of human activity.
As a result, organised crime gangs are having to move into previously unexplored territories, such as cybercrime or stealing medical supplies, for example. Some of the diverse dynamics being adopted by organised crime groups in Latin America are outlined below:
More social capital for criminals. Gangs such as MS13 and Barrio18 in El Salvador or the Jalisco cartel in Mexico, have created a situation whereby the criminals have supplanted the role of the State. The lockdown has afforded them a chance to consolidate control, win-over citizens and cultivate support.
The emergence of a new black market for medical equipment and medicines. Several countries on the continent already suffered from an active black market in medicines, and the pandemic has brought about an increase in thefts of medical supplies such as masks, hand sanitisers and even coronavirus detection kits.
The pandemic has exposed a severe lack of supply chain control in the medical field, which allows for products to be easily stolen.
More corruption. Healthcare systems have long been a target for corruption. Corrupt civil servants are taking advantage of the pandemic and using it as an opportunity to line their pockets.
More cybercrime. Criminals and hackers are taking advantage of increased online activity from citizens, businesses and government bodies. Brazil, Mexico and Colombia are the top three countries in Latin America for malware attacks.
In addition, organised crime groups are increasingly laundering money through cryptocurrency.
Less human trafficking. The tightening of border controls in response to the pandemic’s arrival in Latin America has forced organised crime gangs to scale back their activity in this field. Furthermore, the prices charged by the people smugglers, known as “coyotes”, have increased as crossing the various borders has become more difficult. They’re unlikely to lower these charges in the short-term.
Less illicit drugs, higher Prices. Drugs gangs have had to contend with transportation restrictions and increased patrols to enforce quarantines. As many borders have been closed, and police are monitoring vehicles, traffickers are finding it harder to move their product.
The impact has even been felt in US cities, where drug prices have spiked.