by Bela Urbina
FIU’s Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy researchers Leland Lazarus and Alexander Gocso recently published a paper called “Triads, Snakeheads, and Flying Money: The Underworld of Chinese Criminal Networks in Latin America and the Caribbean.” The publication aims to inform everyday citizens and policymakers on the activities of Chinese transnational criminal organizations operating in the region and their impact on the United States.
The research hones in on four main areas of concern: Chinese fentanyl/drug trafficking, money laundering, wildlife trafficking and human smuggling. The authors also suggest policy solutions for combatting these issues.
Lazarus and Gocso write that, since 1999, approximately one million Americans have lost their lives due to drug overdoses from synthetic opioids. In 2022 alone, drug overdose fatalities were estimated at nearly 110,000. The authors make clear that Mexico and China are the primary sources of fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances trafficked directly into the U.S.
“I think it’s necessary for the Miami community to know what Chinese actors are doing in Latin America and the Caribbean because what our neighbor does absolutely impacts what happens to our own home,” Lazarus says.
Recently, the Gordon Institute hosted an event - part of the Americas Roundtable series, made possible by sponsors AT&T and BMW Group - at FIU’s center in Washington, D.C., to present the authors’ findings to representatives of Congress, the U.S. Agency for International Development and foreign embassies as well as students. The event featured experts such as Evan Ellis from the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, Vanda Felbab-Brown from the Brookings Institution and Andrea Crosta from Earth League International.
Lazarus and Gocso shared research on the illegal wildlife trade and money laundering operations that support the activity of Mexican cartels and other criminal groups.They also demonstrated the JGI’s security research hub. One of its dashboards brings together data and research around China’s activities in Latin America, both legal and illegal, in areas such as public diplomacy, trade and direct investment as well as suspected incidents of fentanyl trafficking and unlawful timber trafficking.
The Gordon Institute continues to take the lead on research involving Latin America and the Caribbean, creating partnerships within the national security realm, among them the U.S. Southern Command and the MITRE Corporation.
“We have been fortunate to bring together different partners who have on-the-ground experience about some of these illegal activities that these Chinese actors are doing within the region,” Lazarus says. “We need those kinds of stories in order to actually create change and give that information to law enforcement, to the State Department, and to the Department of Defense.”
FIU in Washington, D.C., showcases the impact of FIU research; provides students with engaged academic experiences and internships; and convenes national partners for meaningful conversations across a broad range of issues as it brings the energy of Miami to the nation’s capital.