Dirty Connections

By Dialogo
July 01, 2011

Heroin from Afghanistan to Mexico? it may seem unlikely, but in an effort to
expand their illicit trade, Mexican narcotraffickers are smuggling Afghan heroin in
a lengthy and risky voyage some 14,000 kilometers long. in the process, these
traffickers are forging alliances worldwide that maintain their existing drug trade
and find new routes and sources for heroin, cocaine and chemical precursors.
“The Mexican [drug trafficking] organizations have reached out to the turkish
market with established contacts, mainly through businesses or companies where they
hold minor positions,” organized crime analyst Edgardo Buscaglia, a professor in
Mexico’s Autonomous technological institute, told the Mexican newspaper, El
Universal. “We see them trying to operate out of the Mexican market, not only the
drugs that pass through Mexico, but they are taking positions of power as major
players in the narcotics world market,” Buscaglia added.
These new alliances come at a moment when Mexican cartels are battling,
within Mexico and central America, to control narcotrafficking territories and the
drug routes into the United States. Even though Mexico is the third largest heroin
producer in the world, demand in the Western hemisphere is still greater than
supply. Because Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world’s opium supply, part of
its 307 tons of heroin is trafficked to the north American market.
Profits as motivation
Mexican drug cartels are expanding their participation in the global opiates
market, including heroin and opium trade, to tap into more supply and a lucrative
drug market. There are 15 million opiate consumers worldwide generating profits of
$55 billion in the heroin trade and $7 billion to $10 billion in the trade of opium,
according to the 2010 U.n. World Drug report.
The expansion of the Mexican cartels in the international underground is not
new. They have been involved in drug trafficking to Europe, the Middle East and
Africa for several years, according to the U.n.’s international narcotics control
Board. Mexican cartels have also recruited central American and caribbean gang
members to help run their businesses in Europe.
The Sinaloa cartel is one of the most dangerous narcotrafficking groups in
Mexico, according to inSight, a Bogotaand Washington-based organization dedicated to
examining organized crime in the Americas. The cartel’s leader, the fugitive drug
kingpin Joaquín “El chapo” Guzmán loera, has an estimated wealth of $1 billion
according to Forbes magazine. he was captured in Guatemala in June 1993, but escaped
from a Mexican maximum security prison in January 2001. in addition to profiting
from an expansive network of drug dealers, the cartel has developed a large network
of assassins. The U.S. State Department is offering a reward of up to $5 million for
information leading to the capture of Guzmán.
According to the U.S. newspaper The Wall Street Journal, “[The cartel]
smuggles a big part of the marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines that end
up on American streets, and it has links to organized crime in 23 countries.” The
Sinaloa cartel’s modus operandi in foreign countries is achieved through ghost
companies and emissaries, said Buscaglia, who is also the director of the
international center of legal and Economic Development. “it is not that ‘El chapo’
Guzmán travels to turkey, but it is on behalf of companies that he has already
established relationships, whether through export or import, or purchase of
packages,” said Buscaglia.
The Sinaloa cartel operations and relationships in the Middle East allow it
to move heroin and money without detection by authorities. The connection between
turkish mafias and the Sinaloa cartel goes beyond just a drug-producing market,
explained Buscaglia. The Mexican cartel is gaining influence in other illicit
activities. “They exchange drugs for weapons or human beings. They trade containers
with illegal articles. All the imaginable variations,” Buscaglia stated.
Where the alliance ends
Mexican cartels are not the only transnational criminal organizations seeking
to expand operations. international criminal organizations, including turkish
mafias, are keeping their eyes on Afghanistan’s booming heroin industry. As Afghan
heroin is smuggled through neighboring countries, turkey has become one of the most
popular Afghan trafficking routes into the European market, said italian journalist
Matteo tacconi, who specializes in international affairs in Europe and the former
Soviet Union. According to tacconi, the turkish borders are difficult to control due
to a rugged and, in some places, inaccessible terrain that borders eight countries
in Eurasia. These challenges make it easier for traffickers to smuggle drugs into
turkey via iran and exit through the Balkans.
“The turkish mafia is no newcomer in the heroin market. it has been playing a
most enviable role for decades,” tacconi said. currently, “turkey still remains a
must-[pass-]through country for Afghan heroin headed to Europe.” When it comes to
the drug business, turkish drug lords are known to link up with other criminal
organizations in the Balkan region, including Bulgarian and Albanian mafias.
The Serious organized crime Agency, the United Kingdom’s leading government
agency for drugs, counterterrorism, crime and immigration, reported in their
2009-2010 United Kingdom Threat Assessment that “turkish traffickers continue to
dominate the European and U.K. heroin markets.” countering the growing connections
of Mexican cartels with their turkish counterparts poses a security and stability
challenge to authorities. As Buscaglia notes, “they are entrepreneurs,” and any
business becomes more vulnerable when breaking into new markets and changing their
course of operations.

Cost of heroin per kilogram

Heroin is the most widely consumed illicit opiate in the world. The price per
kilogram increases as it crosses international borders.
country - kilogram

Afghanistan - Less than $3,000
Colombia - $10,000
Mexico - $35,000
Turkey - $10,300 to $11,800
West and Central Europe - $44,300
United States - $45,000 to $70,000
Canada - $119,000

Source: U.N. World Drug Report 2010