Thursday, July 16, 2020

Most of Colombia's Northbound Cocaine Isn't Headed for America

 'Yogi Bear'  Borderland Beat     The Maritime Executive

The U.S. is no longer cocaine’s true north


The Amazon Prime Video series “ZeroZeroZero” shows U.S. viewers an accurate picture of the modern cocaine trade that’s rarely seen on screen. I study cocaine trafficking and U.S. drug policy, and the show reveals three truths that challenge the U.S. government’s justification for its war against cocaine trafficking in Central America and Mexico.

1. Most cocaine isn’t destined for US markets

A fundamental government assumption is that any cocaine smuggled north out of South America, where it is produced, is inevitably bound for American streets.

That is why the U.S. spends billions of dollars every year attempting to intercept the boats and planes that shuttle cocaine from South America to Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean – an area known to anti-drug forces as the “transit zone.”

In 2018, for instance, the U.S. military trumpeted its role in drug seizures in the region by claiming that American forces had “helped keep the equivalent of 600 minivans full of cocaine off U.S. streets.” By the same logic, the federal government considers anyone caught moving cocaine anywhere in the transit zone to be threatening the U.S.

That assumption is behind the March 2020 federal indictment of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro for, among other things, exporting cocaine to Honduras – which prosecutors claimed was “expressly intended to flood the United States with cocaine.”


And it’s behind the recent federal complaint against Honduras’ former chief of police, who had allegedly conspired to “transport the drugs westward in Honduras towards the border with Guatemala and eventually the United States.”

Neither case offers proof that the cocaine involved actually entered U.S. territory. U.S. law requires only that the intent be there, and it is assumed that traffickers must intend for the cocaine to reach the U.S. After all, where else would it go?


“ZeroZeroZero” offers the inconvenient answer. Episode 1 takes viewers to northern Mexico as 5.5 tons (5,000 kilograms) of cocaine in sealed pucks are being hidden in the bottom of cans of chilis. Even though the cocaine has made it as far north as Monterrey – less than three hours’ drive from Laredo, Texas – viewers learn by Episode 2 that the drugs are not going to the Mexico-U.S. border. Instead, they take a sharp turn southeast and are loaded onto a container ship at the port of Tampico, headed for Italy.

This is why the show shines. It depicts a little-known reality: Far more cocaine is transshipped through Central America and Mexico to markets worldwide than finds its way up American nostrils.

How do I know? Illicit commodities are notoriously hard to track. But as I explain in a recent article, an obscure U.S. government data set has for years been compiling reliable intelligence on cocaine traffic through the transit zone. When compared alongside analysts’ best estimates of cocaine consumption in the U.S., the data tell an intriguing story.

Between 2012 and 2016 – years for which there are comparable data – an average of at least 1,400 tons of high-purity cocaine was annually exported north out of South America and into the transit zone. Of that, law enforcement removed about 335 tons yearly, whether in the transit zone, at the border or within  the U.S. In the same period, U.S. cocaine users consumed on average barely 200 tons per year. That means they used less than one-fifth of the available cocaine flow.

So where did the majority of the remaining cocaine go – almost 900 tons a year? There are no comparable sources for the amount consumed in transit zone countries or in Canada. There is, however, strong evidence to suggest that hundreds of tons annually are being trafficked through Mexico and Central America and out to Europe, and across the Pacific to Asia and Australia. Traffickers target those overseas markets for good reason: That’s where the money is, and they have a cheap way to get cocaine there.

2. The big money is in growing overseas markets

The U.S. government’s assumption wasn’t always wrong. A generation ago, the Western Hemisphere cocaine trade did function like a pipeline that started in South America, wound through Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean, and discharged cocaine almost exclusively into American neighborhoods.

In 1990, the U.S. had an estimated 4.3 million cocaine users. Meanwhile, Western Europe’s cocaine markets were still in what a United Nations report called “a developmental stage.”

Now, the picture is dramatically different. U.S. cocaine consumption has been in a prolonged “nosedive,” according to a report from the London School of Economics. In 2018, there were fewer than 2.5 million users, with lower rates of adult use than in many European countries. Experts continue to debate why U.S. demand has plummeted. Even the recent and unprecedented surge in cocaine production in Colombia, which has increased purity and dropped prices in the U.S., has only just curtailed that long slide.

Meanwhile, cocaine consumption in cities across 20 European countries rose 70% from 2015 to 2019. Demand in Australia is high and growing, as it is in Eastern Europe and Russia.

Overseas cocaine markets aren’t just expanding. They’re also potentially far more lucrative than North American ones. In 2017, a kilo of cocaine that sold wholesale for US$28,000 in the U.S. went for twice that in Northern Europe. Traffickers stand to make immense profits if they can move large volumes cheaply over long distances.

This is where the containers come in.

3. Bulk cocaine is exported from Mexico and Central America in shipping containers

Mexico and Central America boast three of Latin America’s five busiest maritime ports. The busiest of all is Colón, the Caribbean terminus of the Panama Canal, which after the canal’s recent expansion can handle 4.3 million shipping containers per year. In fact, maritime port facilities across the region have been upgraded in recent years, with new capacities and efficiencies that have lowered costs and enhanced the region’s competitiveness as a transoceanic trade hub.

Cocaine traffickers are taking full advantage. The port of Colón has become a major hub for Europe-bound cocaine. Similarly, Costa Rica’s recently enhanced Limón-Moín port facilities have been a boon for trans-Atlantic cocaine shipping. In February 2020, inspectors there found 5 tons of cocaine in a shipment of ornamental plants destined for the Netherlands.

The same month, a container of mashed bananas out of Limón was stopped in Italy with 3.3 tons of cocaine inside. In May 2020, a container full of coffee left Honduras’ newly expanded port of Cortés. Upon arrival at Le Havre, France, 1.5 tons of cocaine were found among the coffee beans.

These are just some of the cocaine seizures that made headlines in the last several months. At best, 1 in 10 containers circumnavigating the globe is searched by authorities; the rate is even lower for containers holding perishable commodities like plants and fruit. So these seizures, while large, likely represent just a fraction of the cocaine transshipped via container out of Central America and Mexico.
As “ZeroZeroZero” shows, cocaine traffickers operating in Mexico and Central America may be working in the United States’ proverbial back yard, but their distribution networks reach much more widely than they used to. The U.S. is no longer cocaine’s true north.

Kendra McSweeney is a Professor of Geography at Ohio State University. This article appears courtesy of The Conversation and may be found in its original form here.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.

32 comments:

  1. More than likely Ndrangheta coke. You have to think about how these REAL mafia families from Italy (who have been around for decades) have had long standing relationships with the Latin traffickers.

    That and they pretty much have to significantly dilute the product in order to make real profits.

    The Europeans pay better, so they get the better stuff.

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    1. Yup. Calabrian N'drangheta running the show in Europe...and in Australia, and Canada...

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  2. The south america to USA is just one route for coke. In western europe a kilo is more expensive than in usa eastern europe even more then theres the east.

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    1. But the USA has a bigger market.

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  3. Great article. The vast majority of cocaine that enters the US via Mexico is crossed in lots of small loads (1-30 kilos) rather than the several-ton loads seen in Italy, Spain, France, and the Netherlands. The only exceptions are the two huge cocaine busts in New Jersey and Philadelphia last year—which I still believe was the work of Cartel de los Soles (due to the sheer audacity of sending 5-ton-plus loads directly to US ports) and part of the basis for Maduro’s arrest warrant.

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    1. The one in Philly was going to Rotterdam , Holland . The sailors were from Montenegro , and most if not all was going to Europe. Somebody told on them to US customs and they caught them .

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    2. There was also a big bust in Charleston South Carolina a year or 2 ago

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  4. Everybody in Europe is doing coke , and 99% are snifing , so no harm done . Even in the much poorer central and east Europe . South Italian organized crime groups , Albanians ,Ex Yugoslavia groups and Russians . Ex YU are taking it directly from South America since most of the fugative big criminals fleed there in the 90's and made connections . You can get a kilo in there for 2-3k $ , you pay one third of the load for transport , and you get it in one of the big ports of Europe . 3 years ago you could get 1 kilo in Belgium or Holland for about 25-30 k Euro. On the streets one gram of pure not cut was 100€, but for the weekend warriors you cut it 50% with dry baby milk and sell it for 70 since they don't know shit. And if you can take it to Istanbul , Turkey , you can trade it for very good heroin - 4 kilos of h for 1 kilo of coke . Of that 4 kilos you make at least 20 kilos for the street , and not for shooting but for sniffing and smoking on foil . One gram is from 20-25 euros. Big money , got out at the right time , now all my friends are dead or in jail , and i am living life a retired man at 40 ;-). Thanks to God for not making me greedy !

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    1. Everybody in Europe is a pendejo then! I have plenty access to them if I so need however I don't touch that shit.
      That shit is for weak minded fools! Some are more fools than others and you can see the consecuenses of it in addicts.

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    2. @1:54 You are getting close to right. Since 90% of the World's heroin comes from Afghanistan the Colombian Cartels have been trading cocaine for heroin to feed the opiate demand the U.S. Govt created. The main entry points for cocaine going to Europe is actually ports in Africa where shipments of heroin can be shipped back to ports in South & Central America. Since the U.S. started the war in Afghanistan opium poppy production increased by over 400% and even the CIA was caught allowing Hezbollah to sell tons of heroin to the Cartels to be shipped back to the America's. Yes Cocaine use is dropping in the U.S., but Meth & Heroin use has skyrocketed. People that are really rich do not get that way by mistakes and all of the captured loads are just a cost of doing business.

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    3. lol @ 1:54 - Fan of Gomorrah season 3, eh?

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    4. beleive what you want , serves me right to post shit for kids to read . Look up gangs who sell in Switzerland , there are two who distribute in allmost all of the cantons , and they are from the Balkans

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    5. beleive what you want , serves me right to post shit for kids to read . Look up gangs who sell in Switzerland , there are two who distribute in allmost all of the cantons , and they are from the Balkans

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    6. Interesting life you lived it sounds like- you should write a book- id read it

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    7. 8:19 it is life full of stress , and my life was never in danger really , just possibility for long time prison when i was in management . I got lucky ( sounds bad but i did )that my direct boss who knew all about me got killed and i just sold what was left , and walked away. Nobody really knows what i did since i was gone from my home town for 15 years , and worked more than 1500 km away , wich is big distance in Europe . I would never write a book since then everybody would know who i was . I like being unknown , never worked a day in my life, and never will. If you saw me you would never guess what i did , i don't look like that , thay's how i survived . Invested my money in apartments in a tourist place and living more than good off of it . Nobody ever asked me where and how did i earned it , the beauty of my country !

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    8. Lol and now your talking to people about it on borderlandbeat? Ahaha
      Trust me anyone who made a real living n retired good, would not be on here spewing the bs like u are right now.

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  5. Meh - Cocaine is overrated... Europe can have it.

    Phelpso

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    1. 😀😃😁🙂😊😜🥰🤪😳😬😎😔😣😞😟😠😦🥴😵💀
      Someone tell the Europeans these are the faces of all coke heads after the first line for about thirty minutes....

      GC

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    2. Hahaha GC, that's way too funny 😂🤣😂

      Phelpso

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  6. And so, to begin a fair and honest discussion..a discussion where insults are left aside and debate is encouraged... This is no longer just an American problem...It is throughout the world and even sold to the Mexican people...It is everyone's problem..God bless everyone..




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    1. Amen. Excellent response.

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    2. Siempre es algo bueno cuando alguien de la bendición. Pueda que si Dios nos dé la sabiduría y el entendimiento para poder combatir y neutralizar esas maldades en las cuales nuestras sociedades se encuentran hoy en día.

      - Sol Prendido

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  7. that show zero zero zero on amazon prime is lit, like how they based the mexico part of the story on the greatest cartel in history, the ZETAS

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    1. I prefer Gomorrah, Zerozerozero was good but not that good.

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    2. The only Mexican to ever reach the very top was Amado Carrillo,Chapo came close same with the brothers in TJ and El Botas blancas and his brothers they were on their way but at the very top of everybody it was always Amado,the lord of the skies.Lazcano and his group were good at violence and terrorizing but as an actual cartel yeah no the last letter wasn’t even on top but if we’re talking violence yeah they we’re definitely one of the most brutal.

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  8. Wait, you mean to tell me America isn't the root of all drug problems?

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    1. It is , your CIA created the drug market in the USA , and your dumb police let it spread , making the Colombians billions upon billions . After that it went global

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    2. @8:16, you're right. We should all be more like Mexico. Hahaha! 😂😂😂

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  9. Also, LEOs in the EU are lagging behind to connect the dots. Italians, Turks, Kurds, North Africans, Albanians, Serbs and God knows whom are part of the scheme.

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  10. Hey hey hey boo boo a picnic basket(sorry had too) Thanks Yogi interesting read.

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  11. Yes. Economics is driving this. Demand for coke in the US is down while it has become a wildly popular club drug in Europe and Aus/NZ. It fetches much higher wholesale and retail prices in those places than it does the US. Those economic forces are what is driving this dynamic.

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  12. The global drug trade profits come back to Mexico, to Venezuela, to Colombia. That, for me, is always the point. Consequences to MX,VZ,and Colombia are growing and not good. The U.S. for some time is only 1/3 consumer of drugs worldwide (but gets the blame for stoking the drug trade). To eradicate dangerous drugs, go to the source countries, not the consumer countries, that is, if you believe drugs are evil. If not, the future grows darker by the year, and the cartels grow stronger by the year, and national security is challenged (MX, Colombia), and Maduro survives. Personally, I believe squeezing the points of embarcation and the shipping lanes of the Caribbean is resulting in high success. 120 tonnes coke seized in less than four months. VZ to Puerto Rico and Antilles put in a chokehold. We shall see where this all goes. MX wants its sovereignty untouched by foreign help.

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