By Sir Ronald Sanders
The saying, coined by the Latin poet, Horace, that “you too are in danger when your
neighbor’s house is on fire” is particularly relevant now in relation to Latin American
countries which are the closest neighbors to the member states of the Caribbean
There has been a marked increase in deadly violent incidents in Latin America, linked to
organized criminal gangs. This includes the assassination of the leading candidate in
Ecuador’s presidential elections and the murder of two other politicians over the last
Fernando Villavicencio was assassinated on 9 August, eleven days before the 2023
Ecuadorian general election on August 20, at which he was polling in second place to
win the presidential contest. He had a fearless and courageous stance against
organized crime and corruption which have increased dramatically over the last three
years. He was shot in broad daylight.
It is generally accepted in Ecuador that Villavicencio was the victim of organized
criminals who feared that he would crack-down upon their activities if he won the
presidency. Ecuadorian police reported 3,568 violent deaths between January and July
this year. There are some neighborhoods that police, who are outgunned, unprepared
and underpaid, dare not enter.
According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), there have also been upsurges in
violence in Argentina, Costa Rica, Panama and Paraguay. The ICG reports that “Even
in Chile and Uruguay, long considered bastions of regional calm, crime is skyrocketing.
In 2022 alone, murders in Chile increased by 32%, reaching a record high. Similarly,
incidents of rape and the illegal use of firearms rose. In Uruguay, a transit nation for
cocaine smuggling, a surge in crime last year saw a 25% increase in murders. Feeding
the region’s epidemic of violence is the unchecked flow and circulation of illegal
In Mexico, the number of criminal groups doubled between 2010 and 2020. In El
Salvador, over the last two years, the government of President Nayib Bukele locked up
more than 70,000 persons with what has been described as “little semblance of due
process”. The purpose was to eliminate criminal gangs that have tormented the country
The governments of the neighboring states of Honduras and Guatemala have praised
the El Salvador model as one “worth emulating”. And, Honduras President, Xiomara
Castro, announced her own crackdown on gangs.
Both the governments of El Salvador and Honduras have been criticized for human
rights abuses in relation to these responses to violence and crime. But analysts say
that the security situation is “pretty dire”. Therefore, although the general population
acknowledges human rights abuses in El Salvador, “people are so sick of crime that
they’re willing to sacrifice democracy or personal freedoms if it means that they can
sleep easy at night”.
These events in Latin America are taking place in the CARICOM neighborhood; it would
be foolhardy to ignore them or to pretend that Latin America is some distant part of the
world that matters little. Latin America envelopes the Caribbean, bound by shared
Crime, particularly involving gangs linked to drug and human trafficking, knows no
borders. Much like communicable diseases, it can spread unchecked across nations.
Scholarly research shows that enterprises of organized crime are far better funded and
organized than the law enforcement agencies of all the CARICOM countries combined.
In this connection, it is time that the Caribbean pays serious attention to Latin America,
not only for occasional forays into trade and tourism opportunities, but to safeguard
against the spread of crime which now terrorizes people and murders politicians and
government officials who stand in their way.
The limited attention given to Latin America is evident in the Caribbean media’s
lackluster reportage and commentary. Such events as are reported in the press, radio
and television are captured from the Internet or international broadcasters such as CNN
and the BBC. Consequently, the Caribbean public receives news of Latin America that
CNN and the BBC deem important or relevant.
In any event, CARICOM countries cannot ignore matters in neighboring states in Latin
America, particularly as connections, through modern day technology, are being freely
used by criminal elements to organize and strengthen their own networks. This begs
the question concerning what structured links are there between law enforcement
agencies in Latin America and CARICOM?
The Organization of American States (OAS), through several of its programs, offers the
opportunity for discussion and formulation of actions by law enforcement bodies
throughout the hemisphere. However, while the OAS forum is beneficial, it should not
be the only means by which the burgeoning problems of crime, gangs and violence are
addressed between Latin American and Caribbean authorities.
Much more is needed; the fire is raging in some Latin American states, and it is also
blazing in Haiti. The Caribbean must try to stop the spread before it happens. This
requires focused national and regional attention by governments and law enforcement
agencies within CARICOM, but it also needs a structured relationship with Latin
American states to learn from their experiences and to exchange information.
Sir Ronald Sanders is currently Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the United States and the Organization of American States.