One of the defining characteristics of international politics and public diplomacy in the 21st century is the rapid growth of non-state actors. These non-state entities transcend borders and range from multinational corporations to non-governmental organizations and beyond. Transnational criminal organizations - a threatening breed of non- state actors - are increasingly common in today's international landscape. Their presence is especially forceful and troublesome within and among the small states of Central America. These organizations are interested in the pursuit of wealth and violence as a means to achieve rather than an end in itself. This paper seeks to explore transnational organized crime in Central America and the United States' efforts to combat the staggering rates of violence in the countries. Violent crime, mostly at the hands of powerful street and prison gangs, threatens to undermine already tenuous democratic stability in the countries of Central America. U.S. public diplomacy efforts in the region should focus their attention on these threats.

This essay proceeds in seven main sections. First, it provides a brief overview of the security challenges facing Central America's Northern Triangle today in the form of organized criminal gangs and drug cartels. Second, it explores the origins and growth of violent crime throughout the region. Next, it examines the current U.S. strategy to confront these threats. In this regard, close attention is paid to multilateral agreements such as the Mérida Initiative and the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). Fourth, it articulates the reasons to use a new approach and offers specific alternative policy proposals. Fifth, it addresses potential obstacles to the policy recommendations proposed in this paper, and the ways around those obstacles. Sixth, it explains why other proposals fail to provide viable solutions. Last, it concludes with a summation of the findings and thoughts on the future prospects for peace and security in the countries.





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