Testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission: Organized Crime, Gangs, and Human Rights in Latin America

photo of Tamara Taraciuk at Congress Hearing Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission

Transcript of Remarks made before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, on Organized Crime, Gangs, and Human Rights in Latin America on December 14, 2023.

Latin America and the Caribbean face enormous challenges to the rule of law, with weak state institutions, poor governance structures, limited transparency, authoritarian leaders, and high levels of insecurity and crime.

The inability of democratic leaders to deliver on people’s needs creates a breeding ground for leaders across the political spectrum to justify authoritarian policies under the guise of effectiveness, eroding democratic guarantees. Changing the narrative of the savior leader bypassing the rule of law to solve people’s problems is hard. It is essential to find policies that are both effective and democratic. To address insecurity, a balanced approach is needed between punitive measures with due process, and social preventive measures addressing the root causes of violence.

Weak judicial security and unpredictable commercial laws and regulations hinder the business environment in many countries, negatively impacting private investment from both local and foreign sources, hampering economic development. Corruption undermines public trust in government, fuels income inequality, poverty, and violence, and facilitates insidious links between government, business, and organized crime.  

The underground economy from illegal activities such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, smuggling, and money laundering can undermine legitimate businesses and erode trust in public institutions and law enforcement. This diminished confidence in authorities’ ability to maintain order and prosecute criminal activities creates a challenging environment for businesses.

Organized crime groups may infiltrate legal systems, leading to compromised judicial processes and impunity, hindering the ability of businesses to seek legal recourse. This erosion of trust is worse when governments undermine judicial independence, like in Mexico and El Salvador.

Businesses face extortion, violence, or intimidation by criminal actors, affecting their ability to operate ethically and sustainably. They also need to invest significantly in security measures to protect their assets and personnel. This includes hiring security personnel, implementing surveillance systems, and fortifying facilities, which increases operational costs.

Moreover, the reach of criminal organizations extends beyond national borders, taking advantage of jurisdictional gaps and differences in legal systems. No single nation can effectively combat them alone. Transnational criminal organizations often rely on sophisticated money laundering networks and exploit the global financial system to legitimize and conceal the illicit origins of their funds. [...]

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