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The 10 Largest Criminal Groups in Latin America

According to a UN study, the Latin American and Caribbean regions account for 30% of the world’s intentional homicides. That means that roughly every third victim of homicide in the world is killed in

According to a UN study, the Latin American and Caribbean regions account for 30% of the world’s intentional homicides. That means that roughly every third victim of homicide in the world is killed in Latin America. It’s a chilling thought that could strike fear into just about anyone foraying into the region whether for business or a quick vacation. This is even more concerning when one considers that Brazil, where the world will be converging for the World Cup and the Summer Olympic games, accounts for 30% of these homicides; meaning every tenth homicide in the world happens in Brazil. Homicides, kidnappings, extortions, thefts, assaults – the list of daily crimes goes on. One of the issues brought to light during the current Venezuelan protests is the surreal level of crime in the country, about a fifth of which is reportedly committed by the national police. Street gangs have left Central American countries such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala in a quagmire of fear and insecurity. Manuel Noriega’s narcokleptocracy has left Panama with a legacy as an international transshipment point for drugs that the country is still struggling to overcome. In Colombia, a veritable swarm of drug lords has stepped up in an attempt to fill the colossal shoes of Pablo Escobar and his Medellín Cartel after the fall of the major cartel in 1993. The recent capture of the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, has led many to speculate on what impact this will have on the illegal drug trade: many believe that as long as there is a market for illegal drugs, one drug lord will merely be replaced by another. The Mexican Drug War has claimed thousands of lives, both belligerent and civilian, with no foreseeable end any time soon. Crime and violence, evidently, are prominent issues in Latin America. These issues can be crippling, seeping into the very fiber of the region’s socio-economic condition. Different leaders have attempted varied approaches to stall the spread and pre-eminence of crime throughout their respective countries. Recent Mexican rhetoric has espoused the possibility of legalizing drugs to curb the strength of the cartels and end the raging drug war that has taken a massive toll on the Mexican population. Regional and indeed international policy-makers are eagerly waiting to see the effect Uruguay’s recent legalization of marijuana will have on national levels of crime and violence. Anti-legalization supporters argue that taking drug revenue away from cartels and criminal organizations will lead to an increase in other organised crime enterprises. Whether a solution can be found or not, the organised crime factions in Latin America and the Caribbean represent a massive danger throughout the region and are a real part of everyday life for millions of people. Below we've listed of some of the largest, most well-established and long-standing criminal organizations contributing to the unusually high levels of violent crime throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. A warning; the descriptions of some of these groups' activities are unavoidably graphic.

10 Los Rastrojos (Established 2004)

9 Los Urabeños (Established 2001)

8 Los Zetas (Established 1999)

7 Primeiro Comando da Capital (Established 1993)

6 Cartel de Sinaloa (Established 1989)

5 Mara Salvatrucha (Established 1980)

4 Comando Vermelho (1979)

3 Cartel de Juarez (Established 1970)

2 Mara-18 (Established 1960)

1 Cartel del Golfo (Established 1930)

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The 10 Largest Criminal Groups in Latin America