Growing demand for cocaine in Europe is driving changes in global drug production networks, and European criminals are now producing cocaine and methamphetamines on their home turf, with the help of their Latin American counterparts.
According to a May 6 report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and the European Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol), collaboration between European and Latin American gangs, specifically from Mexico and Colombia, results in the production, consumption, and transit of high-quality cocaine and methamphetamines in Europe.
“The overproduction of cocaine in Colombia […] drives criminal organizations to look much more to Europe, where the price of cocaine is also higher than in the United States,” Martin Verrier, an adjunct professor at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, a U.S. Department of Defense regional center in Germany, told Diálogo.
Most cocaine manufacturing takes place in Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru; however, the new analysis describes how cocaine is now being processed in Europe, primarily in Belgium, Spain, and the Netherlands, EMCDDA indicates.
“This growing influx in Europe is reflected in EMCDDA statistics, which show an increase in the purity of cocaine seized and demonstrating an increase in the supply on the streets,” Verrier said.
For his part, Alexis Goosdeel, director of the EMCDDA, said on the organization’s website that Europe is facing a growing threat from a more diverse and dynamic drug market, driven by closer collaboration between European and international criminal organizations.
Laurente Laniel, senior scientific analyst at EMCDDA told InSight Crime, an organization that studies organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, that “cocaine base that is used in Europe is imported into carrier materials, chemically concealed within the structure of materials such as plastics, charcoal, and cocoa pulp. This makes the cocaine harder to detect by law enforcement.”
While the demand in the European market exists, the continent also serves as a gateway to the Middle East and Asia, where the price per kilogram of cocaine is much higher than in the United States, Carolina Sampó, coordinator of Argentina’s Center for Studies on Transnational Organized Crime, told Diálogo. As such, Sampó described illegal narcotics operations between Latin America and Europe as “cooperation.”
“Distribution in Europe is handled by organizations such as the Albanian or Italian mafia. However, the Colombian and Mexican cartels have their specific influences […]. The Colombians participate in this exchange because the largest cocaine production is in their country. The Mexicans have a lot of experience in trafficking from Colombia to the United States, Africa, and Europe,” Sampó said. “In fact, it was discovered that Mexican criminal organizations were in charge of triangulating cocaine through Africa to [smuggle it] to the United States, because it reduced the possibility of their shipments being seized.”
As an example of that cooperation, Laniel said, Dutch narcotraffickers ensure that labs are set up with all the necessary equipment and chemicals and take care of waste disposal, while Mexicans provide the “cooks” who have the expertise needed to manufacture high quality crystal methamphetamine.
“This results in record levels of drug availability, increased violence, corruption, and increased health problems. We must […] invest in more coordinated actions not only in Europe, but also with our international partners in producer and transit countries,” Goosdeel said.