For example, says Edgardo Buscaglia, an organized-crime expert and professor at Mexico’s Autonomous Institute of Technology, Colombia has gone after the drug lords – and their assets. “Regardless of how many thousands of organized crime members you detain, the end result will always be determined by how much of the economic structure of organized crime you destroy,” he says. “This is exactly what you’ve seen in Colombia in the past five years.… In Mexico, nothing like that has even started.”
Colombia revamped its anticorruption office in 2003, and President Álvaro Uribe named an anticorruption czar. This czar oversees bidding processes for government contracts and organizes workshops for officials at local levels on how to fight corruption. Perhaps most important, the country has gone after crime lords’ assets through a 2002 law that places the burden of proof on those suspected of illegal enrichment, letting authorities confiscate assets while investigations are carried out.
Mr. Buscaglia says that in the past four years, $11 billion in assets has been confiscated in Colombia. That dwarfs efforts in Mexico, he says, where a similar but weaker law was recently passed.
Of the three Latin American countries (Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia) where drug traffickers have taken over parts of the state, Colombia is generally considered the most infiltrated, according to Jorge Luis Garay, a Colombian economist who conducted a study comparing organized crime in the three nations.