Skip to comments.Mexican cartels dominate the Americas
Posted on 10/28/2008 3:24:57 PM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
Assassinations related to drug trafficking in Mexico are on pace to pass 4,000 this year. By any count, violence in Mexico is at historical highs, and it is bad for business. Since the end of 2007, when Mexican President Felipe Calderon increased government pressure on organized crime, both the Sinaloa and the Gulf cartels have reached beyond Mexican boundaries to source supplies, secure trafficking routes and kill rivals.
Heavy pressure on Colombian drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) opened the door for Mexicans to control a greater share of the cocaine supply chain. They now control cocaine routes out of Colombia from Andean ports to wholesale points well inside the United States. But pressure on supply routes and other areas of operation inside Mexico has forced these DTOs abroad. Guatemala, Peru and Argentina are a natural fit - corruption thrives and there is little to no government presence on borders and in many pockets of the country.
As Mexican criminals reach beyond their country to expand control over various drug-trafficking routes in the Americas, they bring a decades old violent brand of business - money or a bullet. Honor and pride push them further to kill anyone who cheats or betrays. Beyond the blood is a trail of dirty money that further corrupts, where Mexican DTOs have been linked to the electoral campaign of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina.
"Mexican drug traffickers go into locations where there are no laws or regulations," Michael Sanders, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington DC, told ISN Security Watch.
With billions of dollars to spend, little serious competition and a de facto presence in a number of countries, it is not a far stretch to consider that Central and South America have already become their domain.
The release valve
Pressure in Mexico has forced DTOs there into Guatemala, a neighboring Central American country that serves as a release valve, where they operate alternative supply routes with little trouble from the local government.
Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom publicly claimed on 5 September that his office and residential space was bugged by at least seven listening devices. Days later, few were surprised to learn one of his top intelligence officers, Gustavo Solano, was behind the espionage. Colom blamed the breech in security on the powerful influence of organized crime. Analysts believe the information gathered from the listening devices was sold to members of Los Zetas operating in Guatemala.
At least 300 members of Los Zetas operate in eight of Guatemala's 22 departments, according to Guatemalan news reports and a 17 October article in Mexican daily El Universal. The Guatemalan National Police believe there is a concentration of Mexican organized crime along the Guatemalan-Mexico border in the Peten department, on the country's stunted Caribbean coast, and placed in strategic locations on the borders with Honduras and El Salvador.
A 25 March shoot-out in the Guatemalan department of Zacapa left 11 dead, most of them Guatemalan criminals. Authorities believe the Zetas, formerly the military arm of the Gulf Cartel, consolidated power in the Central American country on that day, taking control over an old Gulf Cartel supply route that since at least 2004 has taken advantage of low altitude air space between two mountain ranges with no radar coverage to bring in planes. Most of this activity today is concentrated in the Sayaxche municipality of Peten, conveniently located on the border with Mexico and just miles away from a well-paved Mexican highway that leads north into the Mexican state of Chiapas, another area closely controlled by Los Zetas.
The other focus of Calderon's government offensive, the Sinaloa Cartel, has taken heavy losses due to the presence of thousands of soldiers in the states of Michoacan, Sinaloa and Sonora, the DTO's primary areas of operation.
Members of this cartel - once considered run solely by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman - in the past few years have branched into the methamphetamine business. The Sinaloa Cartel and other, smaller Mexican DTOs, now supply at least 80 percent of all methamphetamines consumed in the US according to the DEA's Sanders.
To launder proceeds from the sale of cocaine and meth (also known as "crystal" or "ice"), members of the Sinaloa Cartel have worked through front companies in Panama to move money back into Colombia where they are constantly pushing for more control up the supply chain.
"The Mexicans are in Colombia to purchase cocaine directly from coca labs to lower their costs," Roman Ortiz, director of Security and Post-Conflict Studies with Bogota-based Ideas for Peace Foundation (FIP), told ISN Security Watch in a recent phone interview.
Mexican DTOs, likely members of the Sinaloa Cartel, are active in Peru for the same reason, as recent violence in Peru suggests Mexican organized crime has joined with what the Peruvian government calls the Shining Path to spur coca leaf and poppy production in the country's highlands.
Backup in the Andes
By 15 October, a number of alleged Shining Path attacks left 17 people dead, 15 of them soldiers. Analysts in Peru believe these attacks may be related to the presence of Mexican DTOs who have hired back country militants to protect their supply routes out of the mountains, especially in the Ayacucho, Cusco, Huancavelica and Junin provinces of Peru - provinces where the Shining Path has caused trouble in the past.
Peru is considered South America's number two source for cocaine and poppy, the raw material source for heroin. Poppy fields, grown at high altitudes in Peru for opium collection, have been considered an illicit cash crop since 2005, when the Peruvian National Police announced the presence of some 5,000 acres of poppy flowers cultivated at over 15,000 feet in the country's southern highlands.
Between January and October 2008 the National Police registered seizures of 103 kilograms of opium paste, indicating the continued presence of poppy cultivation. Over roughly the same period, Peruvian police seized some 20 tonnes of cocaine, worth over US$2 billion according to Reuters and local reports.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime concluded in its 2007 Andean coca survey that production in Peru is up by four percent in Peru, compared to five percent in Bolivia and 27 percent in Colombia.
In early September, Peruvian police seized three tonnes of cocaine hidden in 200 separate bumpers used by boats to prevent damage when docking. At the time of the seizure, a concurrent operation in eight separate points in Lima netted 30 men (some of them Mexican) and Peruvian police believe were working directly for the Sinaloa Cartel, according to a 6 September article in Peruvian daily El Comercio.
South American ephedrine supply
When the Mexican government passed a law on 2 July making all cold medicines that use ephedrine and pseudoephedrine illegal, methamphetamine traffickers, in need of the same precursor chemicals to cook their drugs, were forced to look south.
Not weeks after the Mexican law came into effect, Argentine police arrested on 18 July nine Mexicans and one Argentine who had rented a luxury residence in the Buenos Aires suburbs to cook methamphetamines. A month later, authorities discovered a warehouse where tanks of ephedrine were stored. The meth lab and ephedrine storage tanks were directly linked to the Sinaloa Cartel.
At the top of the Argentine methamphetamine racket was Jesus Martinez Espinoza, an operator with the Sinaloa Cartel who traveled to Argentina to secure a source of ephedrine for methamphetamine production locally in Argentina and abroad in Mexico. He relied on three Argentine men, including Sebastian Forza, who had deep connections in the pharmaceutical industry, as his principal suppliers of ephedrine.
"Argentina can legally import 37 tonnes of ephedrine," the DEA's Sanders told ISN Security Watch, adding, "in 2006 Argentina imported 5 tonnes of ephedrine, and in 2007 Argentina imported 26 tonnes." Still 11 tonnes under the legal limit.
When Martinez's scheme began to unravel in mid July, his local connections had to go. All three Argentine businessmen disappeared on 7 August. Their bodies were found six days later in a ditch outside of Buenos Aires. Forza and the other two were handcuffed and sprayed with bullets. The triple homicide shocked Argentines, who are not accustomed to such assassination-style murders. The news catalyzed a massive investigation that led to Martinez's arrest in Asuncion, Paraguay, just hours before he was to board a flight to Mexico.
Investigations into Forza's past found a long line of bounced checks and deep debt. One of his former associates killed himself. And along with one of the other men allegedly killed by Martinez's men, Forza contributed as much as US$118,000 to the electoral campaign of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Over the course of 2008, Mexican organized crime has been tied not only to the triple-homicide in Buenos Aires and the bugging of the office and bedroom of the Guatemalan president, but also to the deaths of five Mexican men, found with their throats slit in Birmingham, Alabama; the kidnapping of a six-year-old boy in Las Vegas, Nevada; and possibly violence in the Peruvian high country.
Between the Sinaloa and Gulf Cartels, Mexican organized crime has proven ties with local operators in a list of countries from the US south through Central and South America, including Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Paraguay and Argentina.
"When considering methamphetamines, Mexican organized crime is the strongest in the region," Sanders said, pointing out that the countries in Latin America with relaxed chemical import regulations will likely become targets for Mexican DTOs in the future.
"South America has become increasingly part of [Mexico's] hunting grounds, and Guatemala is already deeply involved," Bruce Bagley, chairman of the Department of International Studies at the University of Miami, told ISN Security Watch adding, "these guys are not deterred by borders."
The only other criminal organization that has had this breadth of reach and disregard for national sovereignty was the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Billions more in profits, and potentially thousands more operatives with no political ideology, poise Mexican drug traffickers to become the region's next major security challenge.
Today these criminal groups represent the number one threat to national security in Mexico. Tomorrow, other countries such as Guatemala, Peru and Argentina may make the same claim.
Ping for later
This is why we should legalize drugs. Not only does prohibition not work, and not only do people have the right to be stupid... but organized crime develops to supply a black market just like when we had prohibition of alchohol.
We need a surge in the war on drugs. We need to fight the narcoterrorists over there so we won’t have to fight them here.
Amen to that brother.
Or we could pull the rug out from under them by passing a “Right to be Stupid” act, letting people be stupid if they want and end prohibition of drugs. We should stand for liberty, and that means letting people do things that aren’t in their best interests because it’s their right to live their lives. And then all those narcoterrorists you talk about won’t have anybody to sell to.
Wrong. If we do that then we will be allowing foreign terrorists to turn us into stupid drug addicts and then our stupid drug addict population will vote stupid crackhead commie rats like Obama into office. Legalizing drugs is a great way to destroy America.
Yeah, just like we solved alcoholism during prohibition of alcohol? Prohibition of drugs is just an example of the nanny state that is for some reason acceptable to conservatives. Cigarettes are legal and usage is declining. Marijuana is illegal and usage going up. The legality or illegality of a substance doesn’t affect usage. What we should do is take the money we’re spending on the failing war on drugs and use that to warn on the dangers of drugs and treat it for what it is... a medical (and not criminal) issue.
If legality or illegality doesn’t affect usage, then what makes you think the narcoterrorists won’t have anyone to sell to? In fact, they will, and the government will tax the drugs so the government will then be in the drug-pusher business. You are so afraid of a conservative “nanny state” that you are going to end up with a communist drug-pusher state. We are failing in the are on drugs because we are playing defense. The best defense is a good offense. If we destroy the cartels and the drugs at their source then we won’t have to spend our hard-earned tax dollars giving free medical treatment to drug addicts. If they want free medical care they should go to the island paradise of Cuba. If we legalize drugs we are basically declaring war on allies like Colombia and would be helping narcoterrorists take those countries over. Legalizing drugs would only empower and legitimize narcoterrorists who would continue to use drugs as a weapon to enslave the minds and destroy the health of the American people.
Why would they have anyone to sell to? People will be able to buy their drugs from legitiment operations as opposed to the drug dealer scum. I’m not sure how this is communist. I simply don’t thing the government should be in the business of pointing fingers and telling someone what they should or shouldn’t do with their life.
As far as offense or defense... it’s bogus. There won’t need to be an offense or defense if we legalize drugs. The drug cartels won’t have a customer base anymore because their former customers will be buying from legitiment operations or, more likely, getting help now that they won’t be afraid of prosecution.
So your arguments of fear are moot really, the black market will disappear overnight... therfore, no bad guy narcoterrorists to worry about.
Of course there won’t be any need for defense if we just admit defeat and surrender. I prefer victory. If we legalize drugs they would still be illegal in countries where they come from, like Colombia and Peru. The “legitimate operations” you predict will go into business with the people in those countries who run the cartels, ruthless murdering gangsters and communist terrorists. They will be helping fund communist insurgencies. Legalizing drugs won’t make cartels go away it will just make them richer and more powerful than ever.
Also, since the government would raise the price of the drugs by taxing them, then people would still sell drugs on the black market to avoid the taxes, not to mention to avoid having to have their dope up to FDA standards.
Drug prices are higher than what the market price would be if it wasn’t a black market... just like alcohol prices were higher during prohibition of that substance. It’s non-sensical to say that the black market would thrive on that. Why? Do we see any large black market for cigarettes? I suppose if it were taxed high enough at some point that could be possible, but that would have to be quite an oppresive tax.
It’s not surrender to legalize drugs... surrender to whom? The drug cartels certainly don’t want us to legalize drugs... they’d lose our entire market. If it’s surrendering to anything, it’s surrendering to the concept of liberty. We have the right to be stupid.
Drugs would be a legitiment operation with legal production and manufacturing, therefore no need for production in countries where it’s illegal. Marijuana grows just fine domestically as do other ingridents for various narcotics. They’re just currently illegal to farm.
By the way, it would be easier to plant hemp which is a great plant for making things from paper to rope. It’s also probably one of the best plants to produce bio-fuels with also if only we’d get over our paranoia with this plant because some people might use it for stupid purposes.
To hell with the nanny state!
To hell with junk dealers and the junkocracy they would foist off on the American people. People who want legal dope should move to Holland. You can get all the legal prostitutes legal gay marriage you want there. There are no nasty conservatives there taking away your liberty to be a drug-addled fag whore. As long as conservatives still breathe we will fight to keep America from turning into that kind of nightmare.
Well, that’s too bad that some “conservatives” feel the need to regulate the lives of people and not let them live their own lives. I for one believe in real conservatism, with Jeffersonian roots, that embraces personal liberty. I might not agree with what my neighbor does but I don’t impose my will on him. He can be stupid if he wants... it’s his life. If one gives the government an inch it will take a mile. Today government takes away the right to do something “conservatives” might ditest but tomorrow it may be guns, free speech, or religion. With Obama on the cusp of winning... that unfortunately seems more and more a potential reality.
But I agree, to hell with junk dealers... that’s why I think we should pull the carpet out from other them. Legalize drugs and you will accomplish that and the conservative movement will return to a consistent philosophy of limited government with regards to every personal liberty: whether we agree with it or not being irrelavent.
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