A key detonating factor in Ecuador‘s January outbreak of violence was “Operation Metastasis,” a December 2023 campaign by the national prosecutor’s office targeting government and judicial officials tied to the country’s organized crime groups. Among 30 people charged, the New York Times reported, “were judges accused of granting gang leaders favorable rulings, police officials who were said to have altered evidence and delivered weapons to prisons, and the former director of the prison authority himself.”

This corruption worsened after a 2018 shakeup and reduction of the central government’s security administration, forced by economic austerity measures, that reduced some agencies and eliminated others.

“The state and law enforcement entities cannot control the situation of criminality and violence,” Felipe Botero of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime told Vox, because “they are involved with organized crime in the country.”

Recent attacks on members of Tijuana‘s municipal police, following an alleged November theft of drugs from a Sinaloa Cartel structure, “arise from the need of drug traffickers to buy police officers in order to remain in power” and this is because “the judiciary is rotten,” said Jesús Alejandro Ruiz Uribe, the Mexican federal government’s delegate for the state of Baja California. “The judicial power is currently a revolving door, the good police put the criminals in jail and the bad judges take them out again.”

To the east of Tijuana, surveillance videos taken on January 12 showed Mexican soldiers allegedly assisting a theft of synthetic drugs from a Sinaloa Cartel-run laboratory on a ranch in Tecate, Baja California, not far from the U.S. border.

SinEmbargo columnist Adela Navarro Bello wrote about this case, concluding, “Although these cases are isolated, they are increasingly frequent. Elements of the Mexican Army, the Armed Forces, and the National Guard collaborate with organized crime and drug trafficking cells in different parts of the country.”

In south-central Chiapas, near Mexico’s border with Guatemala, rural communities are forcibly displacing after confronting Mexican Army soldiers who they say were working with the Jalisco Cartel. Violence has flared up in parts of Chiapas in the past year as Jalisco and Sinaloa have entered into a bitter fight over trafficking routes, aggressively pushing out rural residents.

Hugo Aguilar, the governor of Santander, Colombia‘s fifth-most-populous department, from 2004 to 2007, admitted that he received support from the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary group during his election campaign. Aguilar, a former police colonel who commanded the unit that killed Pablo Escobar in 1993, told the post-conflict transitional justice system (the Special Jurisdiction for Peace or JEP) that he did not receive money from the AUC. “They told the people that they should vote for Colonel Aguilar” in the zones they controlled, he said.

Colombia‘s Supreme Court has opened an investigation of the president of Colombia’s Senate, Green Party Senator Iván Name Vásquez. A former head of Los Rastrojos Costeños, a splinter group of Colombia’s North Valle Cartel active in the 1990s and early 2000s, alleged that Sen. Name was linked to his group.

“Alliances between criminal networks and individuals who hold positions within state institutions have even created hybrid economies, such as scrap metal trafficking or fuel smuggling, where legal and illegal business intersect,” reported InsightCrime’s Venezuela Investigative Unit. “With corrupt state elements continuing to profit from informal mining,” the security forces’ raids on illicit precious-metals mines “may work to guarantee those elements a more favorable share of those profits, rather than stamping out the practice.”

“Organized crime can’t grow without state protection, and Latin American mafias have long made it a mission to capture parts of the state,” wrote the Council on Foreign Relations’ Will Freeman at the Los Angeles Times. “They have had at least as much success amassing political power as any of the region’s political parties.”