How Organized Crime Is Evolving in Mexico and Central America

Experts discussed how regional governments, and a new U.S. administration, can work to halt the sprawling influence of organized crime in pandemic times.


  • Luis Guillermo Solís, Interim Director at the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University and former President of Costa Rica
  • Andrew Selee, President of the Migration Policy Institute
  • Sonja Wolf, Cátedra CONACYT Assistant Professor with the Drug Policy Program at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE) in Mexico
  • Cecilia Tornaghi, Managing Editor, Americas Quarterly (moderator)

“Crime groups have adapted, just like the virus. They find new partners and spaces,” remarked former President of Costa Rica Luis Guillermo Solís in an AS/COA event launching Americas Quarterly’s special report on transnational organized crime during COVID-19. Solís was joined by CIDE Assistant Professor Sonja Wolf and Migration Policy Institute President Andrew Selee to discuss how criminal gangs have taken advantage of the pandemic, in some instances to care for local populations. Wolf remarked that this is a way for these groups to “position themselves and gain legitimacy—it allows them to operate with a certain freedom.”

The discussion also revolved around corruption and the importance of state institutions for maintaining rule of law. Solís explained that the real problem with corruption is impunity, which affects policy making. Selee urged other countries to look to Costa Rica, where very little outmigration takes place, noting that “institutions work in Costa Rica in a way they don’t in the rest of the region.” 

When asked about the United States’ role in fighting crime and combating corruption, Wolf explained that the U.S. must coordinate with Mexico and Central America to make real change. Selee noted that although the Biden administration cannot bypass central governments, there are productive ways to work with local governments, such as strengthening community policing.

Download a pdf of the new AQ issue or read the articles online.