Mediation with Non-Conventional Armed Groups? Experiences from Latin America


My Policy Brief as a Fellow of the Global South Unit for Mediation GSUM, BRICS Policy Center, is just out.  This Brief addresses mediation initiatives with criminal and non-conventional groups in Latin America, against the background of the theory and practice of international mediation. Exploring case studies in El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia and Mexico, it tries to illuminate the possibilities and challenges of applying traditional conflict resolution strategies to hybrid and non-conventional forms of violence.

The report addresses the following questions: How has mediation with criminal groups been conducted in selected Latin American countries? What combinations of actors have been involved? What factors have affected the outcomes of those processes? What lessons can be drawn regarding mediating criminal and hybrid agendas elsewhere?

The document can be accessed and dowloaded in the website of GSUM, here.

Mi Policy Brief, como Fellow de la Global South Unit for Mediation – GSUM en el BRICS Policy Center, se acaba de publicar (en inglés). «Mediation with Non-Conventional Armed Groups? Experiences from Latin America», aborda iniciativas de mediación con grupos armados criminales y no convencionales (bandas, híbridos, narcotraficantes, vigilantes) teniendo como fondo la teoría y la práctica de la mediación internacional. Los casos de estudio son El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia y México.

El informe aborda algunas cuestiones esenciales: ¿Es posible la mediación con grupos criminales y no-convencionales? ¿Cómo se ha hecho en América Latina? ¿Qué actores han participado? ¿Qué factores han influido en las dinámicas y los resultados de esos procesos de mediación? ¿Cuáles son las lecciones de cara a futuros intentos, en América Latina y en otros lugares?

El documento se puede ver y descargar en la web de GSUM, aquí.


Exporting security? Questioning Colombian Military Engagement in West Africa

With skills and expertise in fighting insurgencies and drug trafficking networks, Colombia’s armed forces are increasingly being sought for engagement in similar security challenges in West Africa. But increasing Colombian engagement gives rise to a number of important questions – not least of which is the goal and expected outcomes of replicating militarised approaches to the war on drugs that have already failed in Latin America.


These approaches are being increasingly questioned in Latin America and continue to lose support even among high Government representatives and Presidents. Replicating them without further evaluation and careful reflection about what has worked – and what has not – is not a promising approach. Instead, approaches to drugs and organised crime in West Africa must be based on lessons learned, to avoid the repetition of past ineffective policies and their harmful effects.

These are excerpts of my first post in the blog Sustainable Security, a project of the Oxford Research Group. Both, highly recomendable for all those interested in the long-term drivers of global insecurity, and in an approach that prioritises the resolution of the interconnected underlying drivers of insecurity and conflict and the emphasis on preventative rather than reactive strategies.

If interested, you can access the whole article here.


New Report: Organized Crime Trends in 2014

The Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime has presented the annual report ‘What to Watch in 2014”. Traditionally considered an internal issue, to be addressed with the tools of law enforcement and criminal justice, organized crime is step by step being included in analysis about global trends in conflict and peace. What we have here is the inverse situation: an analysis of organized crime shows several points of contact and friction with instability, weak governance and conflict.

Given the transnational scope of many networks; the multiple crimes in which they are involved (from drugs to trafficking in persons and human smuggling, counterfeit goods and documents, weapons and wildlife, among other valuable items), and the huge financial profit they attain, it is no surprise that TOC may add to threats to governance, peace and democracy in a number of regions and countries.

And what are the forecasted trends for 2014? Let’s centre in a few of them for their potential significance and impact:

Organized crime has taken advantage of conflicts, instability and social unrest in some North Africa and Middle East countries, particularly Libya and Syria. These territories have been incorporated into criminal routes (and markets) for drugs, arms and other items, and in the way these operations contribute to fund parties in conflict and supply arms. Southern Libya is a case in point, as well as states surrounding the area.  Libya is a gateway to Europe and part of the corridor East-West (and vice-versa). Militia violence in some areas has to do with control over routes and a nascent market for protection services. Syria has become a market for arms and for smuggling of food, medicine and people.

The markets for illicit drugs are soaring in Gulf countries, accounting for over 60% of the world methamphetamine consumption and growing rates for heroin and cocaine. Trafficking finds the way there through the weakest points and routes. This means more vulnerability for North African states such as Lybia and Egypt.

International missions face a breadth of new challenges. One case in point is the double French-UN mission in Mali, where local conflict, organized crime and terrorism are present. Most peacebuilding missions are not designed to understand (not to mention address) the local and regional dynamics of illicit economies and their actors, and often fail to provide communities with alternatives, as well as to address corruption.

Psychoactive Substances, prominently including amphetamines, are booming: they are cheap, easy to manufacture and highly addictive. Consumption is on the rise in East Asia and the Middle East (Gulf countries). But the next hotspot is expected to be Africa, already home of key trafficking routes and increasingly involved in meth production in countries like Nigeria.

Piracy is no longer a Somalia issue, but has increased and expected to do so in the Gulf of Guinea and East Asia. Coastal densely populated areas with availability of weapons, scarce economic opportunities and little if any state control, provide the most likely hubs for maritime crime.

Despite international and national regulation and law enforcement efforts, poaching and traffic in wildlife (particularly those species highly valuable in affluent markets) continues to feed organized crime and put in danger some of the most vulnerable species over the planet (and in the way, feeding corruption and undermining governance).

Last but not least, new approaches are being tested in Latin America after decades of punitive strategies. The first outcomes could be seen this year: 1) Levels of homicide due to gang territorial fights have led Honduras and El Salvador to negotiate and seek a truce with gangs to lessen levels of violence; 2) Uruguay (as well as the US states of Colorado and Washington) have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, among other factors to curb the power of illegal networks and put the issue under state control.

Interested in those trends? Here is the full report by the Global Initiative against Organized Crime.

For a challenging study on the role of illegal criminal networks in current affairs in Mali, and the challenge for international missions, check Illicit Trafficking and Instability in Mali: Past, present and future, January 2014.

For an innovative approach to criminal actors in conflict, check James Cockayne, Strengthening Mediation to Deal with Criminal Agendas, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Oslo Forum, 2013.

The War on Drugs

The phenomenon of illegal drugs, and their different combinations and mixtures with conflict and violence are a source of insecurity in many places. But illegal drugs are a multi-faceted social issue and a business whose main feature is one: it has a global scope.

These maps, elaborated by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), are useful tools in order to visualize the global reach of the illegal drug business:

Global Heroine Routes

Global Cocaine Routes

Just a few elements of this global chain. Small farmers without market alternatives cultivate poppies or coca leaves as a coping and survival strategy, from Asia to the Andean region. Organized crime groups and networks are responsible for transformation and processing, and take responsibility over the routes and logistic operations that allow putting them in the streets of the most lucrative markets. Along their way, some times drugs finance armed groups. And once in the markets, they can become a public security issue and always a matter of education, prevention and public health.

The ‘war on drugs’ has created additional problems. Among their pillars a few can be mentioned: a supply-side militarized approach towards the production and transit countries. This includes forced crop eradication (and voluntary projects, to a lesser extent); police and military deployments to dismantle cartels and close routes. And, in areas like Latin America, extradition of ‘bosses’ to the US.

There have been partial successes, but 40 years of war on drugs have not put an end to their global flow. Among the consequences there have been (and are) human rights violations and grave impacts on security and development.

This is a simulation about the “Emergent Progressive Era” that we have recently conducted in WIKISTRAT. This scenario explores how a process could develop to put an end to the war on drugs.

If you wish to read more, this is a recent article (27th July 2013), published in Spanish by the Institute of Studies in Conflict and Humanitarian Action (IECAH).

This report by Rachel Seifert shows a panoramic view of cocaine and the war agaisnt it. This is the first part of Cocaine: A History Between the Lines (2011):

And here, you can access all the parts of this report. Enjoy!