Responses to Information Requests

​​Responses to Information Requests (RIR) are research reports on country conditions. They are requested by IRB decision makers.

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10 May 2021

CHL200551.E

Chile: Gangs, cartels and organized criminal groups, including their areas of influence and alliances within and outside the country; presence of Colombian drug cartels in the country, including whether they may pose a threat to an individual; state protection available to persons threatened by these groups (2019–April 2021)

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

1. Gangs, Cartels and Organized Criminal Groups

Sources indicate that when compared with other Latin American countries (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021; InSight Crime 3 June 2020; US 10 Mar. 2020), Chile has "lower rates of criminality" (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021) or has "one of the lowest homicide rates" (Insight Crime 3 June 2020) or is "moderately safe, with comparatively less violent crime" (US 10 Mar. 2020). According to statistics provided by Chile's Carabineros [1] and Investigative Police (Policía de Investigaciones, PDI) [2] and presented by the Centre for the Study and Analysis of Crime (Centro de Estudios y Análisis del Delito, CEAD), there were 4.6 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2020, compared to 3.6 in 2019, and 3.5 in both 2018 and 2017 (Chile 2020).

According to a 2020 report by the Observatory of Drug Trafficking (Observatorio del Narcotráfico), which is a part of the Specialized Unit for Illicit Trafficking in Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances (Unidad Especializada en Tráfico Ilícito de Estupefacientes y Sustancias Sicotrópicas) of Chile's National Public Prosecutor's Office (Fiscalía de Chile or Ministerio Público), there is [translation] "an upward trend" in criminal complaints and seizures of drugs, money and vehicles (Chile May 2020, 71). In an interview with the Research Directorate, a full professor at the University of Santiago de Chile (Universidad de Santiago de Chile) who has conducted research on crime in Chile, indicated that, "in general," Chile has seen a decrease in criminal activity in the past five years, with a reduction in crimes such as burglary and theft; however, there is a "more evident presence of groups with links to drug trafficking," which is tied to a rising "percentage of people with problematic consumption of drugs" and increased demand for drugs (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021).

The Full Professor noted that

when compared with Colombia, Mexico or Central America, the Chilean criminal situation is completely different. There is no national drug trafficking cartel, nor a war between cartels and police. What [Chile] do[es] have is an increasing presence of highly localized gangs who have specific territorial control in some neighbourhoods, especially in poor neighbourhoods, who are linked to drug trafficking. (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021)

In a telephone interview with the Research Directorate, the Executive Director of Fundación Chile 21 (Chile 21), a Chile-based think tank whose focus areas include security issues (Chile 21 n.d.), similarly stated that no criminal groups control large territories in Chile (Executive Director 20 Apr. 2021). The same source explained that there are "micro-organizations" operating in "smaller territories" and that there are more gangs (bandas) than cartels (Executive Director 20 Apr. 2021).

1.1 Areas of Influence

The Executive Director of Chile 21 indicated that criminal organizations are located "especially" in the Santiago Metropolitan Region and in northern Chile, including in the Arica, Antofagasta and Tarapacá regions (Executive Director 20 Apr. 2021). The 2020 Observatory of Drug Trafficking report indicates that the northern regions of Antofagasta and Tarapacá have high levels of drug seizures, while the Santiago Metropolitan and Valparaíso regions have the [translation] "most" money and vehicle seizures, as well as arrests and convictions; criminal groups are also "concentrated" in the Santiago Metropolitan and Valparaíso regions (Chile May 2020, 71-72). According to the Full Professor, the government designated "30 or 33" neighbourhoods with "evident" drug trafficking activities as "high risk"; these neighbourhoods are "mostly" located in the southern parts of Santiago de Chile, which are the "poorer" areas of the capital, and around the southern cities of Valparaíso and Concepción (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021). The same source added that there is "increasing evidence" of drug trafficking activities in northern Chile, as these areas link to drug transit routes (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021).

According to a report on drug trafficking in the Santiago Metropolitan Region published in April 2021 by the Centre for Investigative Journalism (Centro de Investigación Periodística, CIPER) [3] and the Centre for Journalistic Projects and Research (Centro de Investigación y Proyectos Periodísticos, CIP) [4], within 31 [translation] "communes" (comunas) in the Santiago Metropolitan Region, there were 174 "occupied zones" (zonas ocupadas), defined as areas where residents live "almost on the margins of state action, without police protection, in an environment with a high level of violence and overcrowding" and limited access to emergency and essential services (CIPER and CIP 20 Apr. 2021). According to the same source, this number has [translation] "doubled" since 2009, when CIPER identified 80 occupied zones (CIPER and CIP 20 Apr. 2021). The report indicates that there were 1,012,000 residents living in those areas out of a total population of 6.5 million in the Metropolitan Region based on the 2017 census (CIPER and CIP 20 Apr. 2021). The CIPER and CIP report notes that in 2012 there were three [translation] "macro-zones," defined as occupied zones that have expanded into neighbouring villages or towns and that in some cases cover "an entire neighbourhood," located in Bajos de Mena in the commune of Puente Alto, San Luis in the commune of Quilicura and Santo Tomás in the commune of La Pintana (CIPER and CIP 20 Apr. 2021). The same source reports that as of April 2021, the macro-zones have extended into seven other communes: San Joaquín, Maipú, Cerro Navia, Pudahuel, La Florida, Recoleta and El Bosque (CIPER and CIP 20 Apr. 2021). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

According to the Full Professor, gangs are "highly localized" and "not capable of moving" to another area; none of the organizations "have regional or national capacity," nor do they have "influence outside of [their] neighbourhood" (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021). The Executive Director of Chile 21 stated that "in general" gangs have influence over "smaller" territories, but there are regions where drug trafficking has a "fairly big" influence (Executive Director 20 Apr. 2021).

1.2 Levels of Violence from Gangs, Cartels and Organized Crime Groups by Region

The Executive Director of Chile 21 stated that most towns and cities are "pretty safe" and further noted that, while there are unsafe neighbourhoods, there are also safe areas in most cities (Executive Director 20 Apr. 2021). The Full Professor indicated that violent activities are "generally territorially concentrated" in high-risk neighbourhoods (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021).

The 2020 Observatory of Drug Trafficking report provides the following data on the number of drug-related offence cases involving five or more accused from 2015 to 2019 as an indicator of the regional presence of criminal groups:

Region 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 Total
Arica-Parinacota 22 21 18 11 16 88
Tarapacá 19 19 17 25 10 90
Antofagasta 18 15 29 15 14 91
Atacama 11 9 15 18 14 67
Coquimbo 16 14 15 14 15 74
Valparaíso 39 43 37 35 32 186
[Bernardo] O’Higgins 18 17 22 18 27 102
Maule 18 14 11 17 13 73
Ñuble 1 2 6 3 12 24
Bío Bío 10 21 25 27 17 100
Araucanía 8 3 5 5 5 28
De Los Ríos 4 5 6 4 7 26
De Los Lagos 4 9 5 8 9 35
Aysén 0 3 2 3 1 9
Magallanes 3 0 1 1 2 7
Metropolitan Regional Prosecutor's Office (Fiscalía Regional Metropolitana, FRM) Centro-Norte [in the Santiago Metropolitan Region] 13 37 43 44 33 170
FRM Oriente [in the Santiago Metropolitan Region] 15 21 23 20 7 86
FRM Occidente [in the Santiago Metropolitan Region] 33 24 50 22 24 153
FRM Sur [in the Santiago Metropolitan Region] 28 33 33 41 40 175
Total 280 310 363 331 300 1,584

(Chile May 2020, 68-70)

1.3 Alliances

Sources indicate that criminal groups have alliances with international [or regional (InSight Crime 3 June 2020)] groups to facilitate the transit of drugs (InSight Crime 3 June 2020; Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021; Executive Director 20 Apr. 2021). The Executive Director of Chile 21 noted that while there is increasing local capacity to produce drugs, criminal groups have relationships with cartels from cocaine-producing countries, such as Colombia, Mexico and Peru, as well as criminal groups from marijuana-producing countries, such as Paraguay (Executive Director 20 Apr. 2021). In an interview with InSight Crime, a non-profit think tank and media organization that focuses on organized crime in Latin American and the Caribbean (InSight Crime n.d.), the Executive Director of the Chilean policy think tank AthenaLab stated that connections with international groups are formed for "very specific operations" and further indicated that they are "not permanent" (InSight Crime 3 June 2020). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

The Executive Director of Chile 21 indicated that there are alliances between local groups since drug cartel activities are "mainly divided," leading to "small-scale" cartels and organizations working with each other (Executive Director 20 Apr. 2021). Further and corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

1.4 Presence of Colombian Drug Cartels

The Full Professor indicated that there is "no real evidence" in police or judicial reports or "official evidence" that points to the presence of Colombian drug cartels in Chile, only "anecdotal" evidence (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021). The Executive Director of Chile 21 stated that there are international cartels, such as Colombian and Paraguayan cartels, operating in Chile (Executive Director 20 Apr. 2021). The same source further indicated that while there are connections between Chilean and foreign nationals, these are not expressed through a large cartel or organization (Executive Director 20 Apr. 2021). InSight Crime's profile on Chile indicates that criminal organizations based in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and "other nearby countries" have been involved in illegal activities in Chile (InSight Crime [2018]). A September 2019 InSight Crime article reports that a leader of the Colombian La Terraza gang was arrested for operating a loansharking network in Chile (InSight Crime 2 Sept. 2019). A 6 December 2019 InSight Crime article notes that the Chilean navy arrested six Colombian nationals on a boat containing 4.2 tons of marijuana off the coast of O'Higgins in the south of Chile and further observes that Chile is a "destination of choice for Colombia's marijuana smugglers" (InSight Crime 6 Dec. 2019).

The Full Professor noted that there were two court cases last year that involved Colombian hit men who were hired to kill in Chile, but it was a "specific" and not a "generalized" situation (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021). Further and corroborating information on whether Colombian cartels operating in Chile could pose a threat to individuals could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

1.5 COVID-19

In an interview for a 4 December 2020 InSight Crime article, the Executive Director of AthenaLab stated that criminal groups used COVID-19 as an opportunity to expand drug trafficking activities and further noted that this expansion has brought "greater levels of micro-trafficking and violence" (InSight Crime 4 Dec. 2020). An article by Agencia EFE (EFE), a Spain-based news agency, notes that drug trafficking in Chile has expanded into areas where "the state does not reach or has been slow in reaching," and that in the face of COVID-19 and an economic crisis, "'buying loyalties'" has become "much more common" in those areas (EFE 2 Feb. 2021). The same article cites the Director of the Specialized Unit for Illicit Trafficking in Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances as stating that criminal groups have bought food and other goods for vulnerable individuals during the pandemic (EFE 2 Feb. 2021). The Executive Director of Chile 21 indicated that while "some" criminal activities, such as homicide, have increased, "most" crime has decreased; however, this is not an indication that there is "less criminal activity," but that there are more restrictions, such as curfews and that people "might be less likely" to report crime (Executive Director 20 Apr. 2021). The EFE article notes that there were "more than 700" homicides in 2020 across Chile, an increase of 33.6 percent from 2019; in southern Santiago, the homicide rate rose by 80 percent, which authorities attribute "directly" to local drug trafficking (EFE 2 Feb. 2021).

2. State Protection
2.1 Police

As cited in the June 2020 InSight Crime article, the Executive Director of AthenaLab stated that the reason local criminal groups have not "grown significantly" is "due to the strength of the Chilean institutions, especially the police" (InSight Crime 3 June 2020). The 2020 Crime and Safety Report of the US Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) indicates that the Carabineros are "one of the most professional and well-trained, and least corrupt, police forces in Latin America" (US 10 Mar. 2020). The Full Professor indicated that individuals in Chile will not be ignored by the police if they report being targeted by an organization; however, there is no witness protection program or other government organization that can offer long-term protection (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

According to the Executive Director of Chile 21, there have been high-profile cases of police corruption, as well as human rights violations and police brutality, and the public perception of police and police action related to drug activities in the last year has been "very negative," increasingly so over time; consequently, people are losing trust in the police, including the trust to file a police report if they have been victimized (Executive Director 20 Apr. 2021). An annual report covering the events of 2020 by Human Rights Watch (HRW) indicates that the Carabineros used "excessive force" during protests in 2019 and "thousands" were injured or "reported serious abuses in detention" (HRW 13 Jan. 2021). The same source indicates that as of January 2021, a unit of the Ministry of Interior has been assigned to implement recommendations to reform the Carabineros issued by a Senate commission (HRW 13 Jan. 2021).

The Full Professor stated that the effectiveness of police protection depends on the individual in need of protection; members of "more vulnerable groups," such as residents of "poor neighbourhoods," irregular migrants and young men, are "basically harassed by police due to suspicion of criminal involvement" (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021). The same source added that there are some neighbourhoods where there is a "clear lack of police activity" (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021). The CIPER and CIP report notes that [translation] "drug violence and police neglect" have become the norm for the residents of occupied zones (CIPER and CIP 20 Apr. 2021). The same report further states that the Carabineros stationed in occupied zones are criticized for being [translation] "incompeten[t], indifferen[t] and, in some cases, corrup[t]" (CIPER and CIP 20 Apr. 2021).

2.1.1 Connections Between Police and Drug Cartels

According to the Full Professor, there has been no police investigation into police ties with international criminal organizations (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021). Further and corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

The Full Professor indicated that there is increasing evidence of interaction between police officers and local criminal organizations and stated that this interaction "opens the window for impunity" at the local level; however, there is no "institutional corruption scheme" (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021). The same source further observes that the "main threat" is not that police officers are working for criminal organizations but rather that police presence or activity is "absent" from some neighbourhoods (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021). The Executive Director stated that there have been "a lot of cases" of drug-related corruption; however, Chile 21 has been unable to obtain information about corruption cases from the police (Executive Director 20 Apr. 2021). A March 2021 report on drug-related police corruption by CIPER indicates that, nationwide, according to a review of media sources in the absence of available official information, there were 21 cases of drug-related corruption and 66 police officers investigated between 2010 and 2020, with the [translation] "most" cases in 2018, 2019 and 2020 (CIPER 3 Mar. 2021). Based on public records and internal government documents, the same report states that the police stations with the [translation] "highest number of officials involved in criminal acts" were the 41st precinct in La Pintana, the 49th precinct in Quilicura, the 50th precinct in San Joaquín and the 58th precinct in Estación Central, all located in the Santiago Metropolitan Region (CIPER 3 Mar. 2021).

2.2 Judiciary

According to the Executive Director of Chile 21, the judiciary has a "better reputation" than the police, but there is a "general" lack of trust in state institutions (Executive Director 20 Apr. 2021). The Full Professor stated that judicial corruption is "the exception, not the norm" (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021). The same source indicated that the effectiveness of the judiciary "depends on who [you] are"; criminal prosecution is focused on individual drug traffickers, rather than the whole organization, which is "not effective when only the low-level traffickers are taken out" (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021). The Full Professor further observed that the authorities do not have a "smart" money laundering investigative process (Full Professor 14 Apr. 2021). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Notes

[1] According to the InSight Crime profile on Chile, the Carabineros are the "national militarized police force" (InSight Crime [2018]).

[2] According to the InSight Crime profile on Chile, the Chilean Investigative Police (Policía de Investigaciones, PDI) is the "civilian police force responsible for investigating crimes, including drug trafficking and organized crime" (InSight Crime [2018]).

[3] According to the website of the Global Investigative Journalism Network, the Center for Investigative Journalism (Centro de Investigación Periodística, CIPER) is a Chile-based non-profit foundation committed to investigative journalism and transparency (Global Investigative Journalism Network n.d.).

[4] According to its website, the Centre for Journalistic Projects and Research (Centro de Investigación y Proyectos Periodísticos, CIP), which is based at the Faculty of Communications and Literature (Facultad de Comunicación y Letras) at the Diego Portales University (Universidad Diego Portales) in Chile, examines political, economic, social and cultural events to produce investigative journalism (CIP n.d.).

References

Agencia EFE (EFE). 2 February 2021. Sebastian Silva. "Drug Traffickers Gaining Clout in Chilean Capital." (Factiva) [Accessed 31 Mar. 2021]

Centro de Investigación Periodística (CIPER). 3 March 2021. Benjamín Miranda and Graciela Pérez Campbell. "Documentos policiales reservados: Al menos 40 Carabineros fueron investigados por nexos con narcos y asaltantes entre 2014 y 2016." [Accessed 22 Apr. 2021]

Centro de Investigación Periodística (CIPER) and Centro de Investigación y Proyectos Periodísticos (CIP), Facultad de Comunicación y Letras, Universidad Diego Portales. 20 April 2021. Gabriela Pizarro and Pablo Arriagada. "'Zonas ocupadas' se duplicaron en una década: Territorios dominados por el narco en la región metropolitana pasaron de 80 a 174." [Accessed 20 Apr. 2021]

Centro de Investigación y Proyectos Periodísticos (CIP), Facultad de Comunicación y Letras, Universidad Diego Portales. N.d. "Centro de Investigación y Proyectos Periodísticos (CIP)." [Accessed 20 Apr. 2021]

Chile. May 2020. Unidad Especializada en Tráfico Ilícito de Estupefacientes y Sustancias Sicotrópicas, Fiscalía Nacional. Observatorio del Narcotráfico: Informe 2020. [Accessed 31 Mar. 2021]

Chile. 2020. Subsecretaría de Prevención del Delito, Centro de Estudios y Análisis Delictual (CEAD). "Estadísticas delictuales: Estadísticas por delito." Database Search with Medida: "Tasa cada 100.000 habitantes," Tipo de datos: "Casos policiales," Unidad territorial: "Total país," Delito: "Homicidios," Año: "2020, 2019, 2018, 2017." [Accessed 15 Apr. 2021]

Executive Director, Fundación Chile 21 (Chile 21). 20 April 2021. Telephone interview with the Research Directorate.

Full Professor, Universidad de Santiago de Chile. 14 April 2021. Interview with the Research Directorate.

Fundación Chile 21 (Chile 21). N.d. "Áreas de Trabajo: Seguridad." [Accessed 20 Apr. 2021]

Global Investigative Journalism Network. N.d. "Centro de Investigación Periodistica (CIPER), Chile." [Accessed 20 Apr. 2021]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). 13 January 2021. "Chile." World Report 2021: Events of 2020. [Accessed 22 Apr. 2021]

InSight Crime. 4 December 2020. Alejandra Rodríguez. "Record Drug Seizure Caps Off Difficult Year for Chile." [Accessed 22 Apr. 2021]

InSight Crime. 3 June 2020. Chris Dalby. "Chile Sees Drug Trafficking as Most Severe National Security Threat: Survey." [Accessed 31 Mar. 2021]

InSight Crime. 6 December 2019. Katrine Thompson. "Chile's Status as Marijuana Destination of Choice Confirmed by Record Bust." [Accessed 21 Apr. 2021]

InSight Crime. 2 September 2019. Javier Villalba. "Colombia's 'Gota a Gota' Loan Sharks Exploit Chile Market." [Accessed 21 Apr. 2021]

InSight Crime. [2018]. "Chile Profile." [Accessed 21 Apr. 2021]

InSight Crime. N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 21 Apr. 2021]

United States (US). 10 March 2020. Department of State, Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC). Chile 2020 Crime and Safety Report. [Accessed 15 Apr. 2021]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Chile – embassy in Ottawa, Fiscalía Nacional, Policía de Investigaciones; Fundación Paz Ciudadana; lecturer at a UK-based university who has conducted research on organized crime in Chile; professor of criminal law and criminology at a university in Chile who has conducted research on organized crime.

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International; AthenaLab; Chile – Ministerio del Interior y Seguridad Pública; ecoi.net; Freedom House; The Guardian; International Security Sector Advisory Team; INTERPOL; La Tercera; The New Yorker; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; teleSUR; UN – Office on Drugs and Crime, Refworld; Wilson Center.