Anti-Drug Fight in Mexico Leads Cartels to Operate in Other Countries

By Dialogo
April 08, 2011

The intensification of operations against drug trafficking in Mexico is motivating the cartels to transfer their activities to other regions, especially in Central America but also in Africa, experts said at the International Drug Enforcement Conference.

“The most affected region is Central America, particularly the Northern Triangle, made up of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Its governability has been affected by violence derived from drug trafficking,” Mexican Security Secretary Genaro García Luna said.

However, the cartels are also finding a new niche in the countries of the west coast of Africa in which to consolidate their routes to Europe, which is playing an increasing strong role as a consumer, according to a UN International Narcotics Control Board document cited at the meeting.

“Europe is the world’s second largest market for cocaine, with significant concentrations in the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Germany, and France,” the document indicates.

García Luna indicated that “besides the enormous attraction exercised by the world’s largest market, the United States, the growth of the European market has led to diversification in the routes of that drug (cocaine), principally by way of the Caribbean and West Africa.”

The subject of the cartels’ expansion dominated part of the debates on the second day of the Twenty-Eighth International Drug Enforcement Conference, which is being held amid heavy security in the Mexican beach resort of Cancún.

Gen. Oscar Naranjo, commander of the Colombian police, agreed in indicating that trafficking by way of Africa is increasingly important.

“A good portion of the large-scale drug traffickers are trying to convert West Africa into an entry point for drugs; no cartel has given up this possibility,” Naranjo indicated.

“The most worrisome emerging drug-trafficking route is the route from West Africa to Europe. Drug traffickers don’t want to run risks by confronting the pressure and conflict in Mexico” and are looking for new markets, he added.

The Colombian general gave Sierra Leone as an example, where cartel liaisons have been discovered in the capital, Freetown, he said.

“In Sierra Leone, we’ve arrested Mexicans and Colombians who were receiving drugs in Africa, the new emerging market; the aim is to convert that city into a warehouse,” he indicated.

On 5 April, during the inaugural session of the event, in which delegates from more than a hundred countries are participating, the director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Michele Leonhart, warned about an expansion of operations to new fronts.

Leonhart also mentioned the case of Liberia, an African country where “seven leaders of Colombian cartels were arrested last summer.”

She indicated that this group “was trying to establish a new transit route for cocaine shipments from Venezuela to Europe, via Liberia.”

The DEA director also expressed her concern about the way that Mexican cartels are moving into Central America and mentioned the specific case of Los Zetas.

This group, created by military deserters recruited by the Gulf cartel, began to operate independently two years ago and maintains a fierce struggle with its former bosses for control of the routes along Mexico’s east coast.

The Zetas draw support from local gangs, such as the Salvadoran and Honduran ‘maras,’ which they convert into subordinates. In this regard, García Luna issued a reminder that the cartels are becoming increasingly dependent on these gangs.

“A phenomenon that has been increasing is the use of common criminals and youth gangs by organized crime for territorial disputes over drug distribution,” he indicated.