Mexico's drug gangs are increasingly developing ties to mafias around the world, from Japan to India, Russia, and Western Europe.
Contralinea's map of Mexican drug gang connections abroad
Written by Patrick Corcoran
Mexico's drug gangs have exploded into a frenzy of violence in recent years. Less visible, but just as significant, is their increased power in the international drug market, and connections to foreign criminal organizations. As Contralinea reports, while Mexican groups like the Sinaloa Cartel have long had close links with Colombian cocaine suppliers and U.S. drug wholesalers, they are now establishing their presence across the world. In the process, they are carving out links with some of the most established groups in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Indian subcontinent.
While reports of Mexican groups being mixed up in drug rings in places as far afield as Malaysia and West Africa is nothing new, recent evidence points to a more substantial, enduring presence in strategically important foreign nations. Not only are they buying and selling large shipments of cocaine, they are setting up shop in local retail markets and carving out toeholds in newly important regions like West Africa and India.
The “Mexicanization” of the international drug trade has an impact on Mexico. For the governmental agencies charged with combating these gangs it is bad news. Increased profits and new sanctuaries abroad can reduce the gangs’ vulnerability to local prosecutions, while also increasing their financial capacity to corrupt. Indeed, one source contacted by Contralinea speculated that the expansion of Mexican drug gangs is being orchestrated by legitimate government office-holders, though he offered zero evidence to support such a charge.
The following is InSight's translation of extracts from the report.
Their bilateral investigations [by Italian and American authorities] have revealed that the Gulf Cartel maintains links with the ‘Ndrangheta, the criminal organization that controls the region of Calabria and, in the international scene, traffics drugs to New York and Europe.
The binational operation Reckoning was the first antecedent for American and Italian authorities regarding the drug-trafficking links between [Italy] and Mexico. The operation showed that the Mexican traffickers exported cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana in large quantities to Italy.
With information from Japanese authorities, the report [from the State Department] indicates that "methamphetamine is illegally smuggled in principally from Iran, Mexico, and Africa. The exporters of marijuana are Canada and the United States, while the domestic cultivation of marijuana is rising, though it is of small scale."
The report adds that more than 80 percent of the arrests for drug trafficking are related to methamphetamine, a market that continues to be the greatest threat for the anti-drug efforts of the Japanese government.
Researcher Daniel Marquez points out that international drug trafficking “is a business of $400 billion annually.” With the phenomenon of the globalization of crime, he offers two hypotheses linked to the role of the intelligence agencies in the traffic of drugs and the role that illicit substances play in corrupting officials:
“If all that money is moved, someone necessarily must control it and maybe they aren't the big cartels or those big criminal groups -- the Zetas, the Beltran Leyvas, the Familia Michoacana, the Valencia Valencias, the Gulf -- but maybe there is a higher level of decision making.”
American authorities point to Peru as the second largest producer of cocaine in the world and a big importer of precursor chemicals used for the production of that drug. It is estimated that, across the country, some 40,000 hectares are dedicated to the cultivation of coca.
At the same time, they identify Mexican traffickers as some of their principal clients. According to American investigations, the links detected thus far involve the Peruvian mafia and the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas.
Furthermore, the Council of the European Union says that the erstwhile hegemony of the Colombian cartels in the drug business in Colombia is presently shared with the Tijuana, Sinaloa, Juarez, and Guadalajara Cartels.
Along with the Russian mafia and the Chinese triads, the Mexicans are one of the three principal mafias of transnational organized crime, PRI Deputy Maria de Jesus Aguirre Maldonado said on March 6, while presenting a bill to consider organized crime a threat to national security.
According to Europol, the presence of Mexican cartels in European markets is growing. “The growth of the cocaine traffic from Mexico to Spain and Portugal is striking. This could indicate a new trend in the importance that the European Union, along with the predominance of the Mexican cartels in the illegal drug markets in the United States and the levels of violence linked to their activities.
In the assessment mid-term review and regional indicative programme 2011-2013 for Latin America, the European Union warns that the Mexican cartels have begun to replace the Colombians in drug trafficking, principally in the world cocaine market, "seemingly as a result of successful actions against the Colombian mafia."
According to Annex 6 of the report, "Central America and the Caribbean are two of the principal regions for cocaine transit. In 2008 alone they represented 15 percent of all world seizures."
It adds that in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, cocaine production has increased. "This reflects the growing importance of these countries in traffic of that drug, to satisfy internal demand and to export drugs to Europe (principally through West Africa), Africa, and the Pacific region."