Small Wars Journal

Drug Networks and Weak States: Infrastructural Capacity and Transnational Power in Central America’s “Northern Triangle”

Mon, 06/27/2022 - 4:49pm

Drug Networks and Weak States: Infrastructural Capacity and Transnational Power in Central America’s “Northern Triangle”

Frederick M. Shepherd

Within two decades of their deadly struggles with revolution, counterinsurgency, and genocide, the “Northern Triangle” nations of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, have once again become caught up in violence driven by forces well beyond their boundaries. These three nations were, by virtually all measures, among the most violent on earth in the early 2010s. The hope brought on by democratization, the formal end of civil conflicts, and the rise of UN-brokered reconciliation processes, has been replaced by frustration and fear over the region’s status as the primary route for drug trafficking from South America. This article explores how these conditions arose, their impact on these small nations, and how weak national governments have responded in recent years to the challenges posed by transnational drug networks.[1]

What distinguishes this analysis from other accounts of drug trafficking in Central America is a concern with the historical weakness of Central American governments, faced with a powerful and nearly unconstrained transnational actor. But it also examines attempts by the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to counter the power of transnational drug networks. Central to this analysis is the concept of “state infrastructural capacity,” which, according to Michael Mann, “denotes the power of the state to penetrate and centrally coordinate the activities of civil society.”[2] Mann and other scholars who explore this concept analyze areas such as economic management, taxation, social welfare policies, provision of security for citizens, provision of transportation networks, and a functioning legal and justice system.[3] Mann makes a distinction between infrastructural capacity and the more limited “despotic capacity,” which refers to the ability of a state to use coercion to dominate all that is narrowly political in a nation.[4] With some notable regional variations, Central American states have been able to exercise a measure of despotic capacity within their political systems, but states in the region have struggled to exercise even minimal amounts of infrastructural capacity. This article analyzes the failures (and small successes) in Central American anti-drug efforts in the context of this history and these two different versions of state capacity.     

The first part of this article explores the process through which the drug trade was redirected through Central America, and the impact it had on El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, with an emphasis on the way in which, by roughly 2010, it threatened the basic authority of national governing institutions. The second part explores how, with varying levels of success, each nation subsequently confronted this overwhelming threat, in the context of these three Central American states’ capacity to counter challenges from powerful transnational drug networks. The third part explores theoretical lessons from these nations’ experiences with the power of transnational drug networks.

The Rise of Transnational Drug Networks in Central America’s Northern Triangle

Both external and internal factors contributed to the emergence of the Northern Triangle nations as key trafficking areas. The US Drug Enforcement Administration’s success in shutting down routes through the Caribbean and the Florida coast in the 1980s and 1990s led to a gradual and comprehensive shift to the Central American isthmus. The shattering of the large-scale Colombian cartels and the resulting transfer of power to Mexican networks pulled the northern Central American nations more firmly into the drug trafficking process.[5] By the early 2000s, roughly 90% of cocaine reaching the United States was transported through Central America. Furthermore, Mexico’s war against the drug networks beginning in 2007 pushed a great deal of drug-related activity south into Central America.

Internal conditions were also a crucial factor in these developments. Post-war moves toward peace did little to demilitarize societies awash in arms—with over one million unregulated weapons in both Honduras and Guatemala[6]—and the UN-led peace processes in El Salvador and Guatemala granted the military amnesty for behavior during their civil wars. Honduras did virtually nothing to hold political and military leaders accountable for human rights violations in the 1980s. The veterans of these political conflicts proved to be willing (and often heavily armed) recruits to gangs[7] and drug networks.

These specific conditions were accompanied by systematic weakness on the part of states operating within their national boundaries: in other words, a glaring absence of infrastructural capacity.[8] Central American states have historically been among the weakest in the world in raising revenues through taxation, providing them few resources with which to influence their societies.[9] The impunity provided following the conflicts of the 1980s was grafted onto justice systems which were almost non-existent in rural areas and urban slums, and provided a neutral legal arena for only a small proportion of the national population.[10] Police forces, already facing a crisis of legitimacy because of widespread human rights violations during civil conflicts, were in no position to provide equitable society-wide order. Fragmentary transportation infrastructures were a significant barrier to the extension of state power. And the state has failed to provide even rudimentary social welfare services in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

By the early 2010s, the vast resources of the transnational drug networks allowed them to effectively usurp much of the authority of the three Northern Triangle nations[11]—as they had done earlier in nations such as Colombia and Bolivia. El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras became among the most violent nations in the world: for several years, they occupied three of the five top global spots for citizen deaths, ranging from 50 to 71 homicides per 100,000 citizens during the first decade of the 21st century.[12] Transnational drug networks held large-scale camps to train local collaborators in what amounted to illicit police forces.[13] Citizens and people filling positions of power bowed to the drug networks through corruption and violence. Formal government regulation of these illegal economic actors was out of the question. Entire illicit transportation infrastructures, in the form of ports and airstrips, emerged around the drug trade. Extortion schemes represented a violent informal taxation system that Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans were powerless to oppose.[14] At the same time, these “Narco Robin Hoods” launched social welfare and infrastructural initiatives: providing informal financial credit and ad hoc cash handouts, free concerts and performances, and meaningful forms of dispute resolution.[15] It became common for “citizens” of these nations to demonstrate greater loyalty to the drug networks than to their national governments. Douglas Farah’s description of Northern Triangle nations is worth quoting at length:

Vast swaths of national territory, the legal economy and government infrastructure now fall under the control of non-state actors whose budgets often rival or surpass those of the governments. This has enabled the TOC groups to fulfill state roles in ever growing regions where the state cannot or will not act. This is particularly true in more isolated regions where major drug trafficking leaders have acquired massive land holdings and provide employment, occasional medical care, educational services and other economic benefits to those on their land or in adjacent villages.[16]

These general points about Central America’s Northern Triangle should not distract from important variations within each nation. Guatemala was the first Central American nation to become engulfed in the drug trade. The crucial geographical factor was Guatemala’s vast, northern Peten jungle region, which juts out into southern Mexico. When observers describe Guatemala’s “profound lack of integration” as a geographical unit, it is usually in reference to the Peten.[17] Drug traffickers seized areas such as cattle ranches, which gave them access to key border regions and proved useful for money laundering purposes.[18] The drug networks also controlled vast parts of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the northern Peten region.[19] By the early 2010s, Mexican drug networks and their allies controlled 60% of Guatemalan territory.[20] The Guatemalan state’s extremely low tax capacity left it with few resources with which to counter the well-funded drug networks.[21] In a continuation of a long history of the military owning key sectors of the economy, active and retired Guatemalan military came to fill “prominent positions in various Guatemalan cartelitos.”[22] Transnational drug networks like the Zetas targeted particular military organizations, such as the notorious Kaibiles group, for recruitment.[23] And the largely unregulated campaign finance system in Guatemala’s new democracy made it easy for drug networks to corrupt civilian politicians.[24] These trends led observers to label Guatemala as a “mafia state” at this time.[25]

Honduras, located “right in the heart of Central America,” has become an attractive option for transnational drug networks.[26]. Its underpopulated coastal areas, most notably the Islas de la Bahia archipelago and the isolated Mosquitia region, provide ideal conditions for trafficking. Since the banana trade, Honduras has been known for having unusually good deep-water port facilities; Honduras’ status as an “enclave” economy means the government hasn’t always had the capacity to monitor trade in these key areas.[27] Drug networks have brazenly used these ports for maritime trafficking, often alongside legal activities such as fishing and export of palm oil. A central feature of the enclave economy is a marginalized national government; this model applies to the Honduran state and the drug trade as well. Honduras has, by most measures, the smallest police and internal security forces in the Northern Triangle. They are often unable to move quickly enough in response to reports of air-based smuggling. In a similar vein, Honduras’ small navy has been unable to crack down on maritime trafficking.[28] All of these trends were heightened by the 2009 coup against populist Manuel Zelaya, who had pledged to crack down on drug networks.[29] Drug trafficking through Honduras expanded dramatically in the next several years, with between 80 and 90% of cocaine coming through Honduras into Mexico and the US.[30] A 2012 UN report described how drug networks had come to completely control large swaths of Honduran territory, taxing economic activity in these areas, and acting “like a state within a state.”[31]

Gangs El Salvador

Salvadoran Police and Prosecutors Arrest Suspected Gang Members; “More than 700 Members of Transnational Organized Crime Groups Arrested in Central America in US Assisted Operation.” Diálogo Americas. 21 December 2020. Photo: Fiscalía General de la República de El Salvador (Attorney General's Office of the Republic of El Salvador).

Any discussion of transnational drug networks in El Salvador must begin with the emergence of powerful transnational gangs only indirectly related to the drug trade. These criminal gangs, most notably Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), emerged in the aftermath of the Salvadoran civil war during the 1970s and 1980s, massive immigration to the United States, and the punitive US immigration policy of the 1990s and 2000s, which sent roughly 100,000 US-based Salvadorans—most with criminal records—back to their homeland. The outcome was a genuinely transnational criminal network originating in the southwestern United States, with its own dynamic independent from drug networks. El Salvador did resemble its neighboring nations in that illicit criminal organizations with a transnational reach were “operating with virtual impunity in much of El Salvador.”[32] These groups usurped many basic state functions, using extortion to control and distort the Salvadoran political system.

The Salvadoran case prompts a larger assessment of the relationship between gangs and transnational drug networks in Northern Triangle nations. In El Salvador, MS-13’s status as both transnational and distinctly Salvadoran has made it far stronger in relation to transnational drug networks than is the case in Guatemala and Honduras: both a cause and an effect of a much smaller drug flow through the nation. In contrast to El Salvador, the Sinaloa organization came to dominate drug trafficking in Honduras (especially along the Atlantic coast), and the Mexican-based Zetas did the same in Guatemala. There are recent reports of the newly ascendant Jalisco New Generation Cartel establishing a presence on Guatemala’s Pacific coast and border areas with Mexico.[33] This trend did not necessarily represent a defeat for local groups in Guatemala and Honduras. Gangs and local traffickers actually expanded their roles as the drug trade grew and they collaborated with the transnational networks: Douglas Farah contrasts gangs’ initial role as “mere foot soldiers” with their later more extensive function of “increasingly acting as armed groups hired by the cartels as hitmen and muscle.”[34] Local groups were also empowered by the networks’ policy of paying local collaborators with cocaine instead of cash, providing lucrative opportunities in local drug retail.[35]

Ten Years of National Responses

The last ten years have been marked by a variety of efforts to combat the power of the drug traffickers and their allies in the Northern Triangle. The incomplete and halting nature of these efforts should not distract from their larger meaning.

Of the three Northern Triangle nations, Guatemala has made the most sustained effort to combat transnational drug networks and their allies. In 2003, the combination of a serious constitutional crisis and public US criticism of the government led to the creation of CICIG (International Commission Against Corruption in Guatemala). The UN played a central role in its creation, and external funding allowed it genuine independence. CICIG proceeded to work closely with the newly empowered FECI (Special Prosecutor’s Office) in the Guatemalan Attorney General’s office.[36] From 2009 to 2018, it pursued 81 major cases (many with dozens of defendants), successfully convicting numerous high-level Guatemalan drug traffickers. CICIG and FECI were central protagonists in the nationwide protests that led to the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina and his vice president in 2015.[37] These institutions gradually came to enjoy widespread public support in Guatemala, with approval rates for CICIG increasing from 37% to 71% from 2012 to 2017, and from 33% to 54% for the Attorney General’s office.[38] They created a more politically independent and protected Guatemalan judiciary, professionalized the national homicide investigations unit, and instituted new prosecution procedures in the areas of wire-tapping, assets seizure, and plea bargaining. This campaign helped to reduce violence in Guatemala while it was being pursued.[39]

Despite these impressive accomplishments, CICIG was weakened and ultimately disbanded by the administrations of President Jimmy Morales (2016-2020) and his successor, Alejandro Giammattei, partly because they (correctly) perceived that CICIG had set its sights on top officials in their administrations. Morales played to Guatemalans’ nationalism by portraying CICIG as an external group imposing itself on the national justice system, and many of the group’s personnel were forced to leave the country.[40] Shifting US priorities were crucial to this turn of events. The Trump administration and US Senator Marco Rubio withdrew support from CICIG not long after President Morales joined the Trump administration as the first two nations to support the move of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in late 2017.[41] It is also worth noting that the amount of drugs trafficked through Guatemala actually increased in 2016-2017, immediately after the greatest legal successes against corruption.[42]

The last ten years has been a period of regression in Honduras, as efforts in neighboring nations have pushed the drug trade into Honduran territory. This trend began in the wake of the 2009 coup, and culminated in the 8-year administration of President Juan Orlando Hernandez (2014-2022). Hernandez’s rule began with some promise, as the Mission Against Impunity and Corruption in Honduras (MACCIH) was created in collaboration with the OAS in 2015. But it soon became evident that the Hernandez administration was deeply implicated in the drug trade. Hernandez was a “valued and proven partner” in Trump administration immigration policies, and received almost no pressure from US agencies dealing with drug trafficking.[43] But outside of the Trump administration, US prosecutors acting in concert with anti-corruption groups in Honduras were not put off so easily. They pursued Hernandez’s closest associates, including his brother Antonio, who ran a cocaine ring and received large amounts of cash from “El Chapo” Guzman of the Sinaloa network. Immediately after the end of his term in early 2022, former President Hernandez was extradited to the US to stand trial in New York. Yet this campaign was not part of any larger effort to reform the Honduran justice system. Indeed, MACCIH was formally shut down in early 2020 after five years of thwarted efforts to pursue corruption cases.[44] Honduras now has the highest criminal infiltration of political institutions in all of Central America.[45]

The Honduran state has historically been far less closely linked to repressive racial and economic forces than its counterparts in neighboring nations, and there have been notable instances of reformist military regimes. In the midst of Honduras’ abject subordination to the whims of drug trafficking powers during the 2010s, the Honduran government launched an initiative that only makes sense in this larger political context. Beginning in 2012, the government worked with indigenous leaders in the southeast region of Mosquitia to title land and create “macro-territories” under indigenous control, which amounted to 12% of Honduran national land area by 2016. These policies were partly in response to pressure from the indigenous group Unity of Mosquitia (MASTA) and their local and global allies. But the state also used the language of national security to counter the drug network’s growing control of Honduran territory.[46] This initiative has been marked by a worrisome element of “political manipulation and cooptation” by the state.[47] But it does represent an effort to reach down and work with societal groups. Much will depend on larger political trends in Honduras. And in mid-2022 these trends seem more encouraging than usual, given the extradition of former president Hernandez and the recent election of Xiomara Castro, who has made high-profile pledges to fight corruption.[48]  

Leftists and former revolutionaries controlled the Salvadoran presidency from 2009 to 2019, only to be replaced by rightist Nayib Bukele. In 2012, the leftist government agreed to a high-profile, semi-official truce with El Salvador’s gangs. It lasted for roughly two years, and significantly decreased violence. But it included no plans for reform, and allowed the gangs to further entrench themselves in every aspect of Salvadoran life.[49] Following on 10 years of leftist rule, Bukele, as the head of a new rightist coalition, has adopted confrontational “mano dura” tactics, opting for a distinctly despotic approach to solving his nation’s problems.[50] He has targeted not only the gangs and their allies, but also independent judges, opposition members of Congress, and civil society organizations that defy him. Violence levels have gone down during his tenure, he maintains high favorable ratings in polls, and successful mid-term elections have dramatically increased his power in Congress. As a result, his “mano dura” policies have kicked “into overdrive.”[51]

Within months of Bukele’s inauguration, he, in collaboration with the Organization of American States, created the International Commission Against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES). But, unlike CICIG in Guatemala, it was placed under the authority of the executive branch. Despite a pledge of significant support from the Biden administration, the organization was terminated by the Bukele government in June 2021, most likely because its investigations focused on the president’s inner circle.[52] Several months earlier, Bukele appointed Hector Gustavo Villatoro as security minister, despite his ties to Salvadoran drug trafficking organizations.[53] It is generally acknowledged that Salvadoran gangs have “never been particularly good at international drug trafficking,” as they are viewed as “unreliable partners for more experienced and practiced drug trafficking organizations.”[54] Yet a faction of MS-13, known as Hempstead Locos Salvatruchos, has taken over key cocaine smuggling routes, and now has “all the appearance of an international drug trafficking organization.”[55] It is difficult to know if this development represents an enduring move in the direction of direct gang participation in trafficking. It does reveal the shortcomings of a Salvadoran government policy that relies excessively on violence. 


The first theoretical lesson from this account of transnational drug networks in Central America’s Northern Triangle nations is a straightforward one, which is given greater clarity in reference to state infrastructural capacity. The list of state functions which transnational drug networks and their allies have usurped is long: they have imposed extortion-based tax systems; they control extensive transportation infrastructure, including roads, airstrips, and ports; the highly lucrative sectors of the economy which they control function entirely free of state regulation; their fragmentary efforts at social provisions exceed the meager welfare offerings of the state in many regions; their violent and arbitrary systems of “justice” often eclipse state legal efforts; and drug-related groups provide a kind of distorted order that trumps that of local and national police forces. Transnational drug networks and their allies have largely succeeded in usurping the power of national governments in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras. The outcome has been brutal, as these nations became among the most violent and murderous on earth. These three states are not unique in struggling with the power of transnational drug networks, as the far more capable Mexican and US governments can attest. Yet nowhere have these transnational organizations so comprehensively penetrated the societies in which they operate as in Central America’s Northern Triangle.       

The concept of infrastructural capacity can also help to clarify recent responses by the Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran states to the challenges posed by drug networks, most notably in the area of creating a functioning state justice system. The most promising effort took place with the creation of CICIG in Guatemala, and represented effective collaboration between external and internal actors over roughly a decade: far more so than similar efforts in Honduras and El Salvador. Yet CICIG was sidetracked and ultimately disbanded by a nationalist politician, with the tacit support of the Trump administration. The larger lesson is one of caution regarding externally-led attempts to combat the power of the drug networks. In the long run, this lesson would also most likely apply to the practice of extradition more generally. Real change will come with internally based efforts to genuinely increase the state’s infrastructural capacity in key areas. Until this happens, transnational actors with massive resources at their disposal will continue to dominate these nations.

Infrastructurally weak states in Latin America often fall back on violent and despotic approaches to combatting transnational drug networks. There is little question that this is the current approach of El Salvador’s president Bukele, as he uses the occasion to dramatically narrow political space in the nation’s new democracy. His short-term success in reducing violence has had the effect of increasing gang participation in drug trafficking, and encouraging stronger collaboration between these two deadly forces. The great irony is that the failure of the truce with gangs pursued by Bukele’s predecessors may have prepared the political ground for a more violent and punitive approach. Neither approach has strengthened the Salvadoran state’s infrastructural capacity in any long-term way.

More promising has been the Honduran state’s use of national security rationales for land titling projects in indigenous areas to combat transnational drug network control of Honduran territory. If done effectively, this initiative would increase the state’s presence in a remote area, and deliver significant benefits to a marginalized group. The reality is more complicated, as the project has been marked by excessive top-down control. As in the case of the Jimmy Morales administration and CICIG in Guatemala, specific political dynamics within the national government have short-circuited promising experiments in increasing state infrastructural capacity and striking at the power of transnational drug networks. Yet, with the indictment of ex-president Hernandez and the election of Xiomara Castro, Honduran politics may be moving in a more favorable direction.

It is clear that the election of new officials will do little to change the larger political and economic relations that have allowed the rise of transnational drug networks in the Northern Triangle nations of Central America. It will take a transformation of the societies and political structures of these three nations. This article has emphasized the concept of state infrastructural capacity as it has analyzed the power of transnational drug networks. A glaring absence of this type of state capacity created the opportunity for powerful external organizations to move in and usurp state authority. Reclaiming this authority, and dramatically expanding infrastructural capacity, would seem to be the first step in each of these nations reclaiming a measure of collective national respect.       


[1] This term will be used instead of the more common “drug cartels.” “Transnational drug network” more accurately reflects the groups’ ability to transcend national boundaries, and their often loose network-like structure.   

[2] Michael Mann, “The Autonomous Power of the State: Its Origins, Mechanisms and Results,” in John Hall, Ed., States in Society. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986, p. 190.

[3] For example, Miguel Angel Centeno uses this concept in his historical survey of Latin American nation-states: Centeno, Blood and Debt: War and the Nation-State in Latin America. College Park: Penn State University Press, 2003. 

[4] Ibid.

[5] The best sources on Mexican drug networks in all their variety are Nathan Jones, Mexican Drug Networks and the State Reaction. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2017; “Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations. 7 June 2020,” Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service,; and the reporting in the publication Insight Crime.

[6] Julie Bunck and Michael Fowler, Bribes, Bullets and Intimidation: Drug Trafficking and the Law in Central America. University Park: Penn State University Press, 2012, pp. 286, 200.

[7] Analysis in following pages closely examines the often murky relations between gangs and transnational drug networks, and cites numerous scholarly and policy works on both. In the broadest terms, references to “gangs” focus on groups that engage in a series of illegal activities that include protection rackets, human trafficking, prostitution, violent intimidation, and money laundering. The extent to which they engage in drug trafficking is a subject of analysis in following sections, especially those that focus on El Salvador.   

[8] This analysis is based partly on my recent book, which assesses the infrastructural capacity of Latin American states in relation to powerful transnational organizations. Frederick M. Shepherd, The Politics of Transnational Actors in Latin America: Power from Afar. New York: Routledge, 2021, especially Chapter 5.

[9] Ibid, Chapter 2.

[10] Rachel Bowen, “The Weight of the Continuous Past: Transitional (In)justice and Impunity States in Central America.” Latin American Politics and Society. Vol. 61, no. 1. 2021,

[11] Jorge Chabat, “El Estado y el Crimen Organizado Trasnacional,” Istor. Vol. 11, no. 42. Autumn 2010: pp. 3–14,

[12] Douglas Farah, “Central American Gangs: Changing Nature and New Partner,” Journal of International Affair. Vol. 66, no. 1, Fall/Winter, 2012: p. 58,

[13] Ibid, p. 61.

[14] Maria Jose Mendez, “The Violence Work of Transnational Gangs in Central America.” Third World Quarterly, Vol. 40, no. 2. 2019: pp. 373–388,

[15] Laura Ross Blume, “Narco Robin Hoods: Community Support for Illicit Economies and Violence in Rural Central America.” World Development, Vol. 143. July 2021, See also Eric J. Hobsbawm, Bandits. New York: The New Press, 2000; and John P. Sullivan, “Criminal Insurgency: Narcocultura, Social Banditry, and Information Operations.” Small Wars Journal. 12 December 2012,

[16] Douglas Farah, “Central America’s Northern Triangle: A Time for Turmoil and Transitions.” Prism. Vol. 4, no. 3.  2013: p. 91,

[17] Op. cit., Bunck and Fowler at Note 6, p. 193.

[18] Kendra McSweeney, “Cocaine Trafficking and the Transformation of Central American Frontiers,” Journal of Latin American Geography, Vol. 19, no. 3. 2020: p. 160,

[19] Jennifer Devin, Nathan Currit, Yunuen Reygadas, Louise I. Liller, Gabrielle Allen, ”Drug Trafficking, Cattle Ranching, and Land Use in Guatemala’s Biosphere Reserve,” Land Use Policy. Vol. 95.June 2020,

[20] Charles Brockett, “The Drug Kingpin Decapitation Strategy in Guatemala: Successes and Shortcomings.” Latin American Politics and Society. Vol. 61, no. 4. November 2019,

[21] David Gagne, “Death But No Taxes: How Guatemala's Elite Foster Crime, Impunity.” Insight Crime. 27 June 2016,

[22] Op. cit., Bunck and Fowler at Note 6, p. 220.

[23] Op. cit., Farah at Note 16.

[24] Laura Sanz-Levia and Fernando Jimenez-Sanchez, “Breaking Democracy: Illegal Political Finance and Organized Crime in Guatemala.” Crime, Law and Social Change, Vol. 75, no. 1. 2021,     

[25] Steven Dudley, “Public Security in Private Hands: The Case of Guatemala’s Carlos Vielman,” Crime, Law and Social Change, Vol. 69. 2018: pp. 519–531,

[26] Op. cit., Bunck and Fowler at Note 6, p. 256.

[27] For analysis of Honduras as a classic “enclave” economy and political system, see Edelberto Torres Rivas, History and Society in Central America. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014; for more specific application of the concept of the “enclave” to drug networks see John P. Sullivan, “From Drug Wars to Criminal Insurgency: Mexican Cartels, Criminal Enclaves and Criminal Insurgency in Mexico and Central America Implications for Global Security,” Working Paper No. 9, Paris: Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’homme, April 2012,; and Nathan P. Jones, “Organized Crime in Mexico: State Fragility, ‘Criminal Enclaves,’ and Violent Disequilibrium,” in Jonathan D. Rosen, Bruce Bagley, and Jorge Chabat, Eds. The Criminalization of States: The Relationship Between States and Organized Crime, London: Lexington Books, 2019.

[28] Op. cit., Bunck and Fowler at Note 6, pp. 291, 300.

[29] Jon Lee Anderson, “Is the President of Honduras a Drug Trafficker?” The New Yorker, 15 November 2021: p. 12,

[30] Giorleny Altamirano Rayo, “State Building, Ethnic Land Titling, And Transnational Organized Crime: The Case of Honduras,” Latin American Research Review, Vol. 56, No.1. 2021: p. 56,

[31] UN Office on Drugs and Crime, “Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean.” 2012: p. 13,

[32] Op. cit., Farah, at Note 12, p. 58.

[33] Alex Papadovassilakis,“The Jalisco Cartel’s Quiet Expansion in Guatemala,” Insight Crime. 18 May 2022,

[34] Op. cit. Farah, at Note 12, p. 61.

[35] William Marcy, “The End of Civil War, the Rise of Narcotrafficking and the Implementation of the Merida Initiative in Central America,” International Social Science Review. Vol. 89, no. 1. 2014: p. 21,

[36] Op. cit., Rachel Bowen at Note 10, p. 137.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Elizabeth J. Zechmeister,and Dinorah Azpuru, “What Does the Public Report on Corruption, the CICIG, the Public Ministry, and the Constitutional Court in Guatemala?” Topical Brief #29. 2014. Nashville: Vanderbilt University, Latin American Public Opinion Project : p. 4,   

[39] Op. cit., Brockett at Note 20.

[40] Alberto Fuentes, “Learning Targets: Policy Paradigms and State Responses to the Anti-Corruption Transnational Advocacy Network Campaign in Guatemala,” Latin American Politics and Society, Vol. 61, no. 1. 2022: pp. 47–71,

[41] Jonathan Blitzer, “The Exile of Guatemala’s Anti-Corruption Efforts.” The New Yorker. 29 April 2022,

[42] Op. cit., Brackett at Note 20, p. 65.

[43] Op. cit,. Anderson at Note 29, p. 8.

[44] Hector Silva Avalos and Seth Robbins, “A Death Foretold: MACCIH Shuts Down in Honduras. Insight Crime. 22 January 2020,

[45] Insight Crime, “Drugs, Porous Borders, Politics and Crime in Honduras.” Insight Crime. 17 February 2021,

[46] Op. cit,. Altamirano Rayo at Note 30, pp. 51–55.

[47] Ibid, p. 59.

[48] Parker Asmann and Seth Robbins, “3 Security Takeaways from Xiomara Castro’s Historic Win in Honduras.” Insight Crime. 30 November 2021,

[49] José Miguel Cruz, and Angélica Durán-Martínez. "Hiding violence to deal with the state: Criminal Pacts in El Salvador and Medellin," Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 53, no. 2. 2016: pp. 197–210,

[50] Mark Ungar, “The Armed Arena: Arms Trafficking in Central America.” Latin American Research Review,Vol. 55, no. 3. 2020: pp. 445–460,

[51] El Salvador Investigative Unit, “El Salvador Shifts Mano Dura Security Policies into Overdrive,” Insight Crime. 12 April 2022,

[52] “In Leaving Anti-Corruption Accord, Bukele Moves Close to Unchecked Power in El Salvador.” WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America). 14 June 2021,

[53] Alex Papadovassilakis, “In El Salvador, a New Security Minister with a Dubious Past.” Insight Crime. 2 April 2021,

[54] Héctor Silva, Victoria Dittmar, and Alicia Flóres, “How an MS-13 Clique in El Salvador Took a Cocaine Corridor.” Insight Crime. 23 March 2021,

[55] Ibid.

Categories: El Centro

About the Author(s)

Dr. Frederick M. Shepherd is the author of Christianity and Human Rights: Christians and the Struggle for Global Justice (Lexington, 2009), as well as numerous contributions to volumes and journals on Latin America, religion, politics, human rights and genocide. His current work focuses on genocide and human rights, and he has been affiliated with the Lilly Foundation, the Holocaust Education Fund, and the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the US Holocaust Memorial and Museum. He received a B.A. from Amherst College and a PhD from Georgetown University. He is currently at work on studies of comparative genocide with a special focus on Guatemala.



Tue, 07/12/2022 - 4:40am

Payday loan in Edmonton: What should you know?

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