Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Things Are Different in Italy

Like Mexico, Italy's status as a pathway to a huge market for illegal drugs has helped fuel the growth of substantial criminal groups. Additionally, as with Mexico, Italy has a long tradition of criminal groups dominating life in many parts of the country. The fact that Italy, with its murder rate of less than 2 per 100,000 residents, faces nothing like the security threat from its gangs that Mexico does speaks to the importance of effective institutions, something that is pretty obvious, but, perhaps because that very obviousness, it is often overlooked by policy-makers and Mexico-watchers, in favor of treatises on the nature of Mexican gangs and hardware handouts and calls to Colombianize the fight. (In fairness, Shannon O'Neil wrote about the Mexican security through the lens of institutional improvement in summer 2009.)

According to some estimates, the 'Ndrangheta, which as the AP reports suffered a serious setback yesterday, have revenues of some $50 billion annually, which would give them economic power comparable, if not superior, to any of the Mexican gangs, yet no one from the group is comparable to Chapo Guzmán, and, from what I gather, the group is fundamentally defensive in a way that Mexican gangs are not. This suggests that reducing demand for American drugs and therefore revenue isn't a prerequisite for a safer Mexico. More effective criminal justice institutions are.

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