This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas.
“There is a strange dichotomy in today’s world, one in which we have access to vast amounts of information and yet have very little of the information we need to make decisions and strategies on how to combat the paramount problems of our day,” we wrote in our very first proposal in 2010.
“Among these problems is the issue of organized crime. In Latin America and the Caribbean, as in most of the world, organized crime destabilizes governments, plagues neighborhoods, undermines institutions and greatly affects how the regional powers interact on trade, economic and military matters. Yet, we seem to have few answers to it and repeat mistakes learned in battles past.”
To fill that hole, we created InSight Crime, an organization that we have always thought of as part media, part think tank and part academic research institution. From the start, it was as ambitious as it sounds.
“The objective of this project is to increase the level of research, analysis and reporting on organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean,” our first mission statement read.
And with the backing of our then-parent organization, Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP), and funding from the Open Society Foundations (OSF), we did, writing and publishing between three and five stories every weekday on our fledgling website.
The work was based on a combination of news aggregation and original reporting. We wrote short briefs about captures and seizures, and longer analyses about criminal operations and evolution.
We wrote investigations, ranging from an exploration of the criminal economy of the region’s oldest insurgency, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), to the brutal expansion of one of the region’s newest criminal organization, the Zetas.
Some of them presented us with wildly different criminal dynamics. There was, for instance, Honduras — a country with high crime and equally high homicide rates. And there was Paraguay — a country with high crime and very low homicide rates.
The site soon became, as we’d hoped, a one-stop shop of organized crime in the Americas. Still, we realized that we needed to expand our coverage. It wasn’t just the criminals that we needed to unearth, it was the corrupt state and elite allies of these criminal groups — some of whom had created their own, powerful mafia-style networks.
What’s more, government policies to deal with organized crime needed greater scrutiny, so we turned more attention to analyzing issues such as police reform, judicial reform and prisons. The shift came with a slightly more ambitious mission statement.
“InSight Crime’s mission is to inform and provoke debate on organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean in the hopes of facilitating more effective, long-term policy initiatives around citizen security issues,” we wrote in 2013.
We soon began giving workshops on best practices and ways to mitigate risk to media and non-governmental organizations around the region. With time, our network expanded. We learned from each other and shared stories across our platforms, illustrating cross-border patterns and the need to tackle this issue on a regional scale.
Throughout, we presented our findings in public forums and closed-door meetings with officials. And soon we began researching what works in citizen security, prompting another small adjustment to our mission.
“We seek to deepen and inform the debate about organized crime in the region by providing the general public with regular reporting, analysis and investigation on the subject and on state efforts to combat it,” we wrote in 2018, the last iteration of our mission statement.
That is where we find ourselves now, 10 years on: still chronicling the exploits of criminal groups but now searching for solutions to them, with neither task abating.