The FARC smuggles drugs to Europe through West Africa
By Dialogo October 14, 2013
Atlantic Ocean drug routes leading to West Africa and Europe have become increasingly important for Colombian and Mexican transnational criminal organizations, according to authorities.
The organized crime groups are transporting greater amounts of drugs to ports of entry in West Africa. Once the organized crime groups have smuggled the drugs are into West Africa, they transport them, often in vehicles or small airplanes, to markets in Europe. T
he criminal groups which are sending greater amounts of drugs to Europe through West Africa include which the FARC and the Norte del Valle Cartel, from Colombia; and the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas, which are both Mexican transnational criminal organizations.
Latin American drug traffickers are using two basic methods to transport drugs to Africa and Europe, authorities said.
• By sea, transnational criminal organizations hide drugs in large ships which travel from Latin America to Africa and Europe. Drug traffickers set up fake export operations and hide their drugs in the cargo of the phony export businesses, authorities said. Once the large ships have reached their ports, organized crime operatives often use smaller “fast boats” to transport the drugs from the ship to land.
• By air, organized crime groups hire travelers, who are known as “drug mules,” to hide drugs in their luggage, in their clothes, or even inside their bodies.
Once the drugs have reached West Africa, by sea or air, drug traffickers often load the drugs into land vehicles, such as SUVs, and drive them to their distribution points in Europe.
Security forces in Latin America and in the United States have succeeded in recent years in slowing the amount of drugs smuggled north to Mexico and the U.S. by transnational criminal organizations.
This success has made the Atlantic drug routes to Africa and Europe more important to drug traffickers, said security analyst Alfredo Rangel Suárez, director of the Democracy and Security Center at the Sergio Arboleda University in Colombia.
“The fight against crime and the closing of border crossings by authorities in countries where cocaine is directly introduced have forced the FARC, Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel to look for new routes to satisfy demand in the European drug market, that means ports in Western Africa,” said Alfredo Rangel Suárez, Director of the Democracy and Security Center at the Sergio Arboleda University in Colombia.
For Colombian drug traffickers, “the Atlantic route is becoming more important than the Pacific one,” according to the World Drug Report 2013 of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Many Brazilian drug traffickers ultimately transport their drugs to Portugal in part because they speak Portuguese, making communication easier, according to the UNODOC report.
Sixteen African countries comprise the main points of entry for Latin American drug traffickers, according to a report by the American Police Community (AMERIPOL), a continental police organization of 18 countries in the Americas, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, and the United States.
The African countries which are commonly used as entry ports are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mail, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Sierra Leone, and the Ivory Coast.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is responsible for many of the drugs which are transported to West Africa and then to Europe, Rangel Suárez said.
“The FARC is the biggest cocaine smuggler in the world,” according to the security analyst. “In Colombia, more than half of the drugs produced and exported to other countries are marketed by the FARC.”
Three other Colombian organized crime groups also transport drugs to West Africa and on to Europe. They are the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Subversive Army of Colombia (ERPAC), Los Urabeños, and Los Rastrojos.
Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel
Two Mexican transnational criminal organizations, Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel, smuggle cocaine from Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil into Sierra Leone and then to Europe, according to Rangel Suárez. Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel, which is led by fugitive kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, often collaborate with other Latin American organized crime groups.
For example, El Chapo has formed alliances with Colombian organized crime groups, such as the Oliver Solarte Cartel. El Chapo also has partnerships with criminal organizations in such several European countries, including Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Poland, and the Czech Republic, according to the European Police Office (EUROPOL), the European police agency which handles intelligence.
Los Zetas also has partnerships with organized crime groups in Central American and the Caribbean. The drug cartel has also established an alliance with Ndrangheta, a Mafia organization in Italy, according to the report “Mexico: The Invisible War,” by Libera, an Italian human rights organization.
“This alliance is beneficial for both criminal groups. Los Zetas transports the drugs to and within Europe while Ndrangheta guarantees secure distribution points and a number of profitable plazas,” according to the report.
Transnational cooperation among security forces is crucial in the battle against drug traffickers, according to Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón.
Countries need to share information, experience, and technology to fight transnational criminal organizations, the defense minister said.
The AMERIPOL report also emphasizes the importance of transnational cooperation in the fight against international drug traffickers.
“What we do know for a fact is that international police cooperation is a key element to undertake joint actions and respond in an adequate and firm manner to this criminal phenomenon,” the report stated.