Drug Cartels and other Latin American drug trafficking groups use logos to identify shipments

The use of logos to identify cocaine shipments has become so widespread that law enforcement agencies are keeping track of the insignias to track the drug trafficking activity of organized crime groups.
Julieta Pelcastre | 24 June 2014

Transnational Threats

Drug logo: Many drug trafficking organizations label their packages of cocaine with logos, such as a picture of a scorpion. Authorities are compiling catalogs of the logos to fight drug trafficking . [Photo: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

Los Urabeños, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), La Familia Michoacana and other transnational drug trafficking organizations use distinctive logos to identify their cocaine shipments to El Salvador, Bolivia, and Argentina.

The use of logos to identify cocaine shipments has become so widespread that law enforcement agencies are keeping track of the insignias to track the drug trafficking activity of organized crime groups.

The Latin American and Caribbean Community of Police Intelligence (CLACIP), comprised of 25 law enforcement agencies in Latin America and the Caribbean, is cataloging the use of logos by drug trafficking organizations.

Colombia, El Salvador, Bolivia, and Argentina are among the countries which are using logos to identify which organized crime groups are responsible for specific drug shipments. Latin American police forces have recorded thousands of logos used by transnational criminal organizations and local gangs. The logos include shields for soccer teams to cartoon caricatures which identify drug trafficking routes.

Drug traffickers use logos with greater frequency

Drug trafficking groups which operate in Latin America and in the Caribbean region are using logos to mark their cocaine shipments with increasing frequency, said Erubiel Tirado, program director of the National Security Studies at Iberoamericana University (UIA) in Mexico City.

Cartels use logos to differentiate themselves and their “product” from other drug traffickers, Tirado said. The logos are used by drug traffickers to show they produced and intend to distribute specific loads of drugs.

“Seals or logos have become a certification mark or fingerprint of drug cartels,” Tirado said. “Before, they were referred to as a signature.”

Typically, large cocaine shipments have two identification logos: The cocaine producer places the first directly over the cocaine before it is packed. This seal represents the origin of the drug, and is meant to guarantee its quality and purity. There are labs involved in producing or storing drugs for different cartels, so these locations have different seals, logos, or decals to identify who the cocaine belongs to before shipping it to countries like Colombia, El Salvador, Bolivia, and Argentina.

The second logo is the supplier’s brand, according to a blog written by Norberto López Camelo from Argentina, the former commander of an Argentinian provincial police unit which investigates drug trafficking.

Large drug shipments usually belong to more than one drug cartel, Semana reported. Drug kingpins sometimes work together to coordinate large shipments to reduce transportation costs. When they cooperate on the same drug shipment, different drug cartels mark their cargo with their logos.

Drug kingpins know that authorities are keeping track of the logos they use to identify their shipments, and are trying to adjust, Tirado said. “Drug bosses know that this type of labeling can be a useful tool for authorities to use as evidence in prosecuting them,” Tirado said. “For this reason, the bosses have diversified and expanded their selection of markings on drugs in order to evade justice.”

Colombians started the practice of using logos

The first drug trafficking organizations to use logos to mark cocaine were Colombian, and later Mexican. In the 1980s, the Cali and Medellin cartels marked shipments with seals or symbols to prevent theft of their shipments.

The logo used on the drugs depends on the ingenuity of the producer or criminal organization. Transnational criminal organizations have used caricatures, combinations of letters and signs, soccer shields, cartoon images, Roman numerals, car brands and media logos.

In April 2014, agents of the Colombian National Police seized seven tons of cocaine in Cartagena, a port city 1,200 kilometers north of Bogota. Police agents seized the cocaine at the port. The drugs were hidden inside a container that was about to be shipped to the Netherlands. Drug traffickers marked the cocaine packages inside the container with the number 800, the multinational car logo KIA, and the brand Yamaha.

Authorities believe the cocaine packages marked with the number 800 belonged to Los Urabeños, and the other packages belonged to a Mexican drug trafficking group. Authorities declined to provide further details because the investigation is ongoing.

In February 2014, troops from Ecuador’s Anti-Narcotics Directorate seized 949 kilograms of cocaine from a fishing boat during “Operation Sunrise.” The drugs were hidden inside a fishing boat 10 miles from Puna Island in the province of Guayas. The packages of cocaine were labeled with logos from car brands, such as BMW, Toyota, and Volvo. Authorities suspect the cocaine belonged to La Familia Michoacana (LFM), a transnational criminal organization based in Mexico. The cartel transports cocaine shipments through Ecuador to Mexico.

In June 2009, Colombian security agents seized 342 kilograms of cocaine in the municipality of Tumaco. Authorities reported that the drug belonged to a faction of the FARC. The packages had a logo of a panda bear and the letters KTM.

In October 2011, agents with the Colombian National Police seized 400 kilograms of cocaine in Cali and Córdoba. Those drug packages were marked with the log of TV network CNN. Authorities suspect this drug shipment belonged to the Calle Serna Brothers, who are also known as Los Comba. They are the leaders of Los Rastrojos, a Colombia-based drug trafficking group which supplies cocaine to Mexican drug cartels.

Security forces in El Salvador have identified approximately 21 drug shipments with logos drawn on each of the packages. The logos included cartoon images such as Tweety Bird, Hello Kitty, Popeye, and caricatures of Batman and from the Mexican TV sitcom ‘El Chavo del Ocho’.

Catalogs of drug trafficking logos

CLACIP has compiled a catalog of about 500 logos used by drug trafficking organizations.

The European Union (EU) is compiling a catalog of logos used by drug trafficking groups. Those logos include images used by FIFA, Coca-Cola, the Vatican, the shield of a soccer team from Argentina called the Boca Juniors Athletic Club, and others. EU authorities hope the catalog will help law enforcement officials establish links between the drugs seized in different countries to identify drug trafficking routes.

“Whenever there is a drug seizure and anti-narcotics (agents) find some kind of logo at the scene, they begin look for it in the international catalog. If they don’t find it, they report it to the CLACIP so that the organization can add it to the catalog and alert other members,” the chief of the Anti-Narcotics Division (DAN) of the El Salvador police, Marco Tulio Lima, told El Mundo.

Cataloging the logos used by drug traffickers is a way for law enforcement officials to monitor the activities of organized crime groups and the drug routes they use, Tirado said.

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