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Mexico: the world’s crime market par excellence

The country ranks top of a list of 193 where illicit economic activities are classified by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime

Human trafficking and smuggling, financial fraud, drug sales, piracy, and territorial extortion; in a global list of “criminal markets” comprised of 193 countries, Mexico comes out on top, exposing the reach that criminal groups have in Latin America’s second-largest economy. According to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC), the non-profit organization behind the published index, the rising trends in Mexico are extremely concerning.

The index is a biennial study that combines hundreds of indicators to rank the countries that suffer most from criminality. In this index, Myanmar, Colombia and Mexico occupy the top three spots. They are followed by Paraguay and the Republic of Congo.

Table with 1 columns and 10 rows.

Countries ranked by greatest reach of criminal markets

1. Mexico

2. Myanmar

3. Iran

4. Nigeria

5. Colombia

6. United Arab Emirates

7. Afghanistan

8. Brazil

8. Kenya

10. South Africa

Source: Global index of organized crime 2023 by GI-TOC

A sub-index within the report focuses on so-called “criminal markets” and how they are penetrating the mainstream economy. In this category, Mexico takes the crown, driven by the high incidence of illegal protection rackets, human trafficking, and the cocaine and synthetic drug trade. “What is evolving for the worse in terms of violence are two trends: protection money demands through extortion rackets and the criminalization of very strong industries such as agriculture,” says Romain Le Cour Grandmaison, a research specialist and one of the authors of the report. “The trends are very worrying.”

Transport workers, who are now targets of organized crime and whose murders have been on the rise in recent years, have been among those who have complained the most about criminal markets, according to Le Cour Grandmaison. “It is not possible to escape criminal pressure in the transport business; based on protection money, this is partly how it is penetrating the economy to such an extent. In other words, if you don’t do what they say, something will happen to you, so you better pay up.”

Although organized crime has moved into many productive activities in Mexico, the drug trade remains a high incidence indicator, according to the GI-TOC report: “Along with the expansion of the cocaine market in the Americas, there has been a significant increase in the synthetic drug trade,” it reads. “North America is the third most affected region in the world in this regard. Within the continent, Mexico appears to be the most affected by this market.” In 2022, the country stood out as a major player in the synthetic drug trade and witnessed an increase in the popularity and production of ketamine, methamphetamine and fentanyl, according to the authors of the report.

The weapons used in organized crime come mostly from Mexico’s largest trading partner, the U.S., accounting for between 70% and 90% of the guns that turned up at crime scenes in Mexico last year. “Drug cartels obtain guns in Texas and Arizona and smuggle them across the border,” the report says. “This initial flow sets in motion a chain reaction that turns all Central American countries into transit and destination points for the illegal arms trade and fuels violence and insecurity.”

While GI-TOC does not make recommendations specific to each of the major crime countries, it does refer to the problem of transnational organized crime as a global one, and recommends addressing it strategically and prioritizing financial crimes, which facilitate other types of crime. The organization also calls for a focus on the links between crime and corruption.

“Organized crime remains a profound challenge around the world, posing a danger to both developed and developing countries and presenting an obstacle to much-needed international cooperation amid growing political, social and economic inequalities,” the report concludes.


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