HomeNewsAnalysisDefining Organized Crime: A Primer (and a Friendly Kerfuffle)
ANALYSIS

Defining Organized Crime: A Primer (and a Friendly Kerfuffle)

DRUG POLICY / 15 NOV 2018 BY PARKER ASMANN EN

Leading academics, researchers, and journalists dedicated to the study of organized crime around the world convened November 15 in Bogotá, Colombia, to share the latest findings and major trends, and squabble about how best to define organized crime.

"The Evolution of Transnational Organized Crime in the Americas," a joint InSight Crime and Universidad del Rosario production, covered topics ranging from the expansion of the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), Brazil's premier criminal organization, to high-level corruption that threatens to derail efforts to combat organized crime. 

SEE ALSO: The Evolution of Transnational Organized Crime in the Americas

But it took University of Oxford professor Federico Varese to center the conference when he set out to present a framework for how organized crime can be defined.

For years, Varese has argued that there has been an “unusual amount of confusion” in trying to create a workable definition of organized crime. He noted that the 2003 United Nations definition was simply insufficient for describing today’s criminal groups. 

Instead, Varese proposed focusing on what he identified as the “PTG Framework,” or production, trade, and governance framework. Organized crime groups in Colombia and Peru, he said, cultivate coca to produce cocaine, traffic this product to international markets and effectively govern the territories that are essential for their criminal activities.

SEE ALSO: Colombian Organized Crime Observatory

To Varese, this idea of governance is critical. Organized crime groups in Latin America and throughout the world have a state-like function, Varese argued, and are in the “same intellectual space as the state.” In other words, like a government, they need to control this space in order to financially benefit from it. (See Varese's work here)

According to Varese, this is the apex of organized crime. The production and transit of drugs depend directly on, and thrives, where there is criminal governance, he said. Other panelists agreed, most notably Bruce Bagley from the University of Miami, who said that criminals thrive when organized crime and the state have a symbiotic relationship. (See some of Bagley's work here)

But others felt Varese fell short in some respects. Phil Williams of the University of Pittsburgh noted that organized crime is involved in more than just production and transport of goods. He cited the illicit trade of antiquities, human trafficking and theft of natural resources such as oil. (See a list of some of Williams' publications here)

Unbowed by the friendly challenge, Varese plowed ahead, emphasizing the need to insert "governance" more thoroughly into our definition of organized crime.

share icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

EXTORTION / 19 FEB 2014

Measures taken by Honduran authorities to combat crime are being credited for a declining trend in the homicide rate and…

BOLIVIA / 10 MAY 2013

Coffee producers in Bolivia are abandoning coffee to cultivate coca, says the head of the country's coffee federation, illustrating the…

COLOMBIA / 16 MAY 2011

Drug trafficking has made only a minor contribution to Colombia's economy, according to one Bogota academic, who says…