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8 Proceedings Fall 2014 www.uscg.mil/proceedings Significant TOC organizations — principally drug traffcking groups — have posed serious challenges for U.S. security since the rise of the Medellín cartel in the early 1980s, and the growth of the Mexican drug trafficking organizations in the 1990s. There has also been, for the past two decades, an overlap and interaction of Latin American TOC groups across multiple continents, mostly on a relat ively small scale and largely confned to the exchange of goods (cocaine for heroin) and ser- vices (money laundering, weapons, and safe havens). In recent years, these many emergent relationships have grown to include the support of terrorist organiza- tions as well. For example, in the particular cases of Latin America and West Africa, there have been documented cases of illicit weapons purchases and transfers to non-state armed actors. 8 Other cases, such as ties of the Colombian drug traffcking organizations to Australian weapons traf- fckers have been identifed, but not fully examined, and presumably many others have yet to come to the attention of authorities. Moreover, governments have become more aware of the increased fow of South American cocaine through Venezu- ela to West Africa — particularly through Mali, Guinea Bis- sau, and other fragile states. This is possibly beneftting not only the traditional regional transnational organized crime structures and their Colombian and Mexican allies, but several terrorist entities, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Hezbollah, 9 and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. 10 In addition to shifting routes, several other states that tradi- tionally have had little interest or infuence in Latin America have emerged during the past decade, primarily at the invi- tation of and with support from the Bolivarian bloc. Iran, identified by successive U.S. administrations as a state sponsor of terrorism, has expanded its political alli- ances, diplomatic presence, trade initiatives, and military and intelligence programs in the Bolivarian axis. The U.S. intelligence community has recently assessed that Iranian leadership is now more willing to launch a terrorist attack inside our homeland in response to perceived threats from the United States. 11 The Rise of TOC Networks Instead of operating on the periphery of the state, elements of the new convergence are operating ever closer to the centers of power, acquiring fnancial resources that rival or outstrip those of the state, and are becoming institutional- ized across the region. These groups control private secu- rity forces that often out-gun the national law enforcement forces, control intelligence structures that are far superior to those of the state, control vast amounts of territory where the TOC groups effectively are the state, and have political power through almost every institution and political party in the region. Rather than the acts themselves being new, it is the volume, sophistication, power, and impunity of the illicit activities and actors that is fundamentally reshaping much of Latin America. This is due to the signifcant and growing crimi- nalization (varying from country to country) of the Central American nations. 7 This has led to the collapse of the state as a guarantor of an impartial and functioning judicial system, the rule of law, border control, and to a political process that represents little other than the investments of different TOC groups in securing their interests. Most of the goods and services that generate this wealth pass through geographic regions often described as "state- less" or "lawless." However, these regions are far from ungoverned; in fact, they represent a powerful component of the threat from transnational organized crime networks, terrorist groups, and other non-state actors, which control them, either at the expense of weak host states and their neighbors, or in alliance with stronger ones that host them, tolerate them, or use them as statecraft instruments. U.S. Coast Guard crewmembers examine a self-propelled semi-submersible, captured off the coast of Central America. U.S. Coast Guard photo.