Illegal drug trade can corrupt elections, economies

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Basseterre, St. Kitts – An American journalist who specialises in reporting on criminal activities in the Americas has stated that funds obtained through criminal means can have a serious impact on smaller territories in the region such as St. Kitts and Nevis and can even distort election campaigns and economies.

Steven Dudley, who cofounded Insightnews.com, facilitated a workshop this past week with reporters from St. Kitts and Nevis and indicated criminally obtain funds can seriously corrupt institution in smaller territories.

Dudley explained that local criminal actors in these small countries can lower many parts of these institutions that lead to a general rot or to a disregarding of regulatory agencies or rules.

“If you have a local criminal group generating huge amounts of revenue, think about how they can distort an election campaign if you don’t have strong election agencies that monitor the movement of money into campaigns and how that can distort democracy and governments,” he said.

He further explained that this situation is something smaller nations have to consider due to the amount of money flowing through the criminal networks.

“We have seen entire economies completely uprooted in the sense that you have a criminal actor [who] can come in with so much capital they can undercut everybody else in the market and monopolizes that market,” he said. He stated that the impact of these criminal economies can become incredibly powerful.

Dudley further spoke to the efforts of the United States government to try to fight drug trafficking in the region, but it faces an uphill task because the priority of the local economies is focused on fighting violent crimes.

“The priority of the U.S. government and international donors is very often in the capture of large drug traffickers who are having an influence on the movement of drugs into their own country, but they want to focus on the criminals who are impacting their own citizens,” Dudley said. “But the challenge of local governments is to also be able to put an agenda in very forceful way their own priorities.”

He added that the local government’s priorities are going to be related to homicides before they can make sure that there is assistance dealing with the drug issues.

“It is a bit of a trade off when you are taking about relationships with international donors,” he said. “We understand that your priority is capturing these drug traffickers, while their priority is lowering levels of violence. How can we meet in the middle somewhere? How can we both satisfy our needs? That is the challenge as it relates to international partners and donors.”

Dudley was asked if he feels the U.S. government wouldn’t be better off trying to stop the illegal drug trade from its roots in South America.

“I think that the fact that the USA has put most of it resources in the region toward Columbia is a reflection they agree with you,” he said.

However, he opined that going after the root of the issue can also prove to be difficult.

“They are trying to stem it at the roots,” he said. “I think that the difficulty they run into there … is that the easiest target is the most vulnerable of the people who are part of this distribution chain, and if you want to go all the way to the root, that is easy because there are poor farmers growing coco leaves and doing the first part of the process and then that is transformed into cocaine. Going after the root doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to resolve that issue. It may cause severe blowback and make the problem worst.”

Dudley stated that the U.S. government has to be choosey in targeting its resources.

The journalist also spoke to the issue of microtrafficking, a growing trend in Latin America.

“The challenge of low-level drug trafficking is related to international drug trafficking in a sense that, in a way, it is a spillover or result of an increased movement of drugs and competition amongst criminal actors.”