THE Central American isthmus is smaller than Texas. But the seven countries crammed onto the bridge between the Americas seize nearly 100 tonnes of cocaine a year, more than all of Europe does. Another 200 tonnes or so make it through undetected, supplying 90% of consumer demand in the United States.
The drug trade, combined with mainly weak states, brings a grim human harvest. In 2009 the isthmus saw nearly 19,000 murders—or 45 per 100,000 people, making it the most violent place in the world.
While the mafias are untroubled by national boundaries, Central America’s governments bicker over them. Last year Nicaragua and Costa Rica almost came to blows over a border incursion by a Nicaraguan river-dredging party. A coup in Honduras in 2009 caused a regional rift that was only patched up last month. Co-operation has been woolly. A first effort to produce a joint-security strategy last year came up with more than 200 “priorities”. In contrast, the drug mobs (who also traffic everything from people to historical artefacts) are experts at regional integration. Last month 27 farmworkers were beheaded in Guatemala’s northern Petén province by a Mexican gang.
Central America’s leaders and their foreign allies are now trying to catch up. Seven Central American presidents, plus those from Mexico and Colombia, as well as Hillary Clinton, the American secretary of state, and other foreign ministers gathered this week (my note: last week of June) for a conference in Guatemala City, replete with promises of more co-operation and more cash. “We haven’t seen this level of interest in Central America since the cold war ended,” says Ennio Rodríguez of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
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