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Global Economic Collapse Means Boom Times for Criminal Syndicates

In a world on the brink, we must offer a global stimulus or else face an epidemic of global crime.

In all catastrophes, there are always winners among the host of losers and victims. Bad times, like good ones, generate profits for someone. In the case of the present global economic meltdown, with our world at the brink and up to 50 million people potentially losing their jobs by the end of this year, one winner is likely to be criminal activity and crime syndicates. From Mexico to Africa, Russia to China, the pool of the desperate and the bribable is expanding exponentially, pointing to a sharp upturn in global crime. As illicit profits rise, so will violence in the turf wars among competing crime syndicates and in the desperate efforts by panicked governments to put a clamp on criminal activity.

Take Mexico, just now in the headlines. In late March, during her first trip there as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was repeatedly asked about the burst of narcotics-related violence in that country, the thousands of deaths that have gone with it, the patent inability of the Mexican military to contain, no less repress, the drug trade, and the possibility that the country might be at risk of becoming a "failed state." Mexico itself may not be in danger of collapse, she replied diplomatically, but a very real danger threatens both countries from a rise in violent crime along the U.S.-Mexican border. "The criminals and kingpins spreading violence are trying to corrode the foundations of law, order, friendship, and trust between us," she declared at a press conference in Mexico City. To counter this danger, the secretary of state promised a militarized response that reflected the level of danger she imagined -- a significant increase in U.S. anti-narcotics assistance, including the expedited delivery of Black Hawk helicopters.

The Mexican drug trade itself is nothing new. The illicit export traffic to the United States and the ensuing bloody competition among drug traffickers for access to the U.S. market have long concerned U.S. and Mexican law enforcement authorities. In the last two years, however, the violence associated with this commerce has grown to unprecedented levels as the leading crime syndicates -- the Juárez Cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel, the Gulf Cartel, and Los Zetas -- have successfully resisted a fierce government crackdown, while fighting among themselves for control over key border access points. According to Mexico's Attorney General, Eduardo Medina-Mora, 5,376 Mexicans were killed in drug-related violence in the first 11 months of 2008 compared to 2,477 during the same period in 2007, an increase of 117%. And as times get ever tougher for ordinary Mexicans, recruiting for the trade grows ever easier while the killings only multiply. U.S. law enforcement officials now believe inter-gang warfare is spilling into the United States in a serious way, producing rising murder rates in border states like Arizona, California, and Texas.

The ongoing slaughter in Mexico may be monopolizing overseas crime headlines, but other parts of the world have also seen sharp rises in criminal violence in 2008 and the early months of 2009 as the global economic crisis has deepened. With legal jobs disappearing, growing numbers of unemployed youth are unsurprisingly drawn to what's still available -- illicit professions or jobs in the military and police that, in many countries, are ill-paid but allow access to bribes. Just such a process appears to be under way in impoverished parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Drug Traffickers and Pirates

In fact, it's an irony that, as global trading and other aspects of economic globalization are breaking down, crime may be globalizing. Consider recent developments in Guinea-Bissau and Peru, when it comes to the growing reach and savagery of Latin America's drug traffickers.

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