Mexican drug cartels expand to Africa

By Terrapinzflyer · Sep 16, 2009 · ·
  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Mexican drug cartels expand to Africa

    The Mexican drug cartels have established themselves in western Africa to send drugs to Europe and Russia. The lieutenants cohabitate with terrorists in bars and brothels and have changed the use of the dollar to the euro, obtaining greater income, making them more powerful and turning them into a threat to those countries and the U.S.

    High-ranking representatives from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and their European counterparts spoke of the expansion of the Mexican and Colombian cartels in Africa and the risk of their increasing relations with Islamist groups. There are Mexican and Colombian narco cartels establishing their presence in western Africa because they need logistical support from African organized crime to send tons of Mexican and Colombian cocaine to Europe, Russia and other places.

    The reason for the increase in narco traffic of cocaine from Mexico and Latin America to western Africa is the increase in demand in many parts of Europe. It is projected that the Mexican and Latin American cartels will ship between 400 and 500 tons of cocaine to Europe this year.

    Frontera – Tijuana, B.C. – 09/14/09“narcosafari”-of-mexican-cartels/

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  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Latin American drug cartels find home in West Africa

    (CNN) -- Colombian and Mexican drug cartels have jumped the Atlantic Ocean and expanded into West Africa, working closely with local criminal gangs to carve out a staging area for an assault on the lucrative European market.

    The situation has gotten so out of hand that tiny Guinea-Bissau, the fifth-poorest nation in the world, is being called Africa's first narco-state. Others talk about how Africa's Gold Coast has become the Coke Coast. In all, officials say, at least nine top-tier Latin American drug cartels have established bases in 11 West African nations.

    "The same organizations that we investigate in Central and South America that are involved in drug activity toward the United States are engaged in this trafficking in Western Africa," said Russell Benson, the Drug Enforcement Agency regional director for Europe and Africa. "There's not one country that hasn't been touched to some extent."

    The calculus is simple: bigger profits in Europe than in the United States, less law enforcement in West Africa than in Europe.

    The driving force is the booming European market for cocaine.

    "The exponential rise in the number of consumers has made Europe the fastest-growing and most-profitable market in the world," said Bruce Bagley, dean of the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Miami.

    While the European market has been expanding, use in the United States has declined from its peak in the 1980s, the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime said in its 2009 annual report, issued in July.

    "Cocaine use prevalence in the USA is 50 percent lower than it was two decades ago, while Spain, Italy, Portugal, France and the United Kingdom have all seen cocaine use double or triple in recent years," the U.N. report said.

    About 1,000 tons of pure cocaine are produced each year, nearly 60 percent of which evades law enforcement interception and makes it to market, the report said. That's a wholesale global market of about $70 billion.

    Criminals traffic about 250 tons to Europe each year, though not all of it makes it there, the U.N. said. The European market totals about $11 billion. About 27 percent of the cocaine that entered Europe in 2006 came from Africa, the United Nations said.

    Huge profits make Europe particularly attractive. Two pounds of uncut cocaine can sell for $22,000 in the United States but for $45,000 in Europe, analyst Ashley-Louise Bybee wrote in a policy journal this year. The Justice Department said the price in Europe can be three times more than in the United States.

    "It's a significant market for them to exploit," Benson said.

    A strong euro and weaker dollar also make Europe attractive to traffickers because of favorable exchange rates. There's also the fact that the European Union recently issued a 500 euro note, currently equivalent to about $700. The largest U.S. denomination in circulation is the $100 bill. Traffickers prefer the large euro notes because they are easier to carry in large quantities.

    For example, Benson said that $1 million in $100 bills weighs 22 pounds, while $1 million in 500 euro notes weighs 3.5 pounds.

    "It's a huge difference," he said.

    Though Europe is highly attractive to traffickers, it can have tight, Western-style security. So the Colombian and Mexican cartels have discovered that it's much easier to smuggle large loads into West Africa and then break that up into smaller shipments to the continent -- mostly Spain, the United Kingdom and France.

    West Africa is a smuggler's dream, suffering from a combination of factors that make the area particularly vulnerable. It is among the poorest and least stable regions in the world. Governments are weak and ineffective and, as a top DEA chief testified to the U.S. Senate this summer, officials are often corrupt.

    Law enforcement also is largely riddled with corruption. Criminal gangs are rampant. Foot soldiers can be recruited from a large pool of poor and desperate youth.

    "It's a point of least resistance," Benson said.

    West Africa refers to Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

    "This area of the world is ripe," Bagley said. "There has been very little attention paid to it. The United States is loath to give aid to these countries because they are corrupt."

    U.S. authorities find themselves at a great disadvantage fighting cartels that have much more money and guns. The DEA has four offices -- in Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa -- to cover a continent that spans 11.7 million square miles and has nearly 1 billion people.

    "It's a big place," Benson acknowledges, noting that there are 54 countries on the continent.

    Local police also are vastly outgunned. Guinea-Bissau offers an alarming example.

    "The Judicial Police ... have 60 agents, one vehicle and often no fuel," analyst Bybee wrote in a journal called New Voices in Public Policy, published by the George Mason University School of Public Policy. "As a result, when culprits are apprehended, they are driven in a taxi to the police station. They just recently received six sets of handcuffs from the U.K., which were badly needed. In the military, one rusty ship patrols the 350-kilometer (217-mile) coastline and 88 islands."

    Even when criminals are caught, Bybee said, "the near absence of a judicial system allows traffickers to operate unimpeded." For example, she said, "because the police are so impotent, the culprits are often held for just a few hours before senior military personnel suddenly attain extraordinary judicial powers to demand their release."

    The few officials who stand up to the traffickers receive death threats or are killed.

    West Africa also is particularly attractive to traffickers because it is near "the soft underbelly of Europe," said retired four-star Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who was drug policy director for President Clinton.

    Geography plays another role because West Africa is fairly close to the three South American nations that produce nearly all of the world's cocaine -- Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Many of the shipments depart from Venezuela, which shares a 1,273-mile (2,050-kilometer) porous border with Colombia and is even closer to Africa.

    "They go right dead-ass across the shortest route," McCaffrey said.

    Most of the cocaine shipments cross the Atlantic in large "mother ships" and then are off-loaded to small vessels near the coastline, the United Nations said. Small planes modified for overseas flight that can carry a 1-ton cargo also have been used. Most of those come from Venezuela, the United Nations reported.

    A report issued in July by the Government Accountability Office said traffickers use go-fast boats, fishing vessels and commercial shipping containers as the primary means of smuggling cocaine out of Venezuela. McCaffrey also noted the use of go-fast boats and special planes.

    DEA Assistant Administrator Thomas Harrigan testified before the Senate in June that authorities in Sierra Leone seized a cocaine shipment last year from a twin-engine aircraft marked with a Red Cross insignia. The flight originated in Venezuela, he said.

    The GAO report noted that "U.S. government officials have observed an increase in suspicious air traffic originating in Venezuela." In 2004, the report said, authorities tracked 109 suspect flights out of Venezuela. In 2007, officials tracked 178 suspicious flights.

    Then there's the crime connection in West Africa.

    "Colombian and Venezuelan traffickers are entrenched in West Africa and have cultivated long-standing relationships with African criminal networks to facilitate their activities in the region," Harrigan told a Senate subcommittee on African affairs.

    "These organizations don't operate in a vacuum," Benson said. "They have to align themselves with West African criminal groups."

    The cartels also have aligned themselves with terrorists, Harrigan said.

    "The threat of narco-terrorism in Africa is a real concern, including the presence of international terrorist organizations operating or based in Africa, such as the regional threat presented by al Qaeda in the Lands of Maghreb," he said, referring to al Qaeda activists in North Africa. "In addition, DEA investigations have identified elements of Colombia's Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia [FARC] as being involved in cocaine trafficking in West Africa."

    Benson said the groups operating in Africa are "primarily narcotics organizations" but acknowledged that the Marxist FARC guerrillas in Colombia are a force to be dealt with. The rebels have waged war on the Colombian government for more than 40 years.

    "The profit potential is such that the FARC is one of the largest cocaine-trafficking operations globally and is also a terrorist organization," he said.

    Bagley and McCaffrey see less evidence of terrorist connections with the traffickers in Africa, both using nearly identical language.

    "I'd be really skeptical of those kinds of assertions," McCaffrey said.

    "I'm quite skeptical about linkages between cartels and terrorists," Bagley said. "The criminal groups seek profits. They're not interested in taking over governments."

    Still, Bagley said, traffickers and terrorists may use some of the same criminal networks.

    Analysts note that the surge of cartel activity in West Africa is a fairly recent development. The U.N. report said it started around 2005. Bybee places it around 2006.

    McCaffrey, who was in the Clinton White House in the 1990s, said he saw the problem coming a long time ago.

    "I've been warning people in Europe and Latin America starting 10 years ago where this issue was going to move," he said. "The Europeans absolutely blew me off."

    The U.N. report offers some hope, saying that cocaine seizures in Europe peaked in 2006 and topped out in West Africa in 2007. Overall seizures have declined since 2006, the report said.

    "This trend appears to be continuing in 2009 and includes declines in the number and volume of seizures made in the region and in the number of air couriers coming from the region in Europe," the report concluded.

    For example, authorities seized 11 large shipments in Africa in 2007, four in 2008 and none so far this year.

    The report does not specify whether there are fewer shipments or smarter criminals avoiding detection.

    But if there is a decline, the DEA's Benson said he has not seen it.

    "In the last three or four years, it's increased quite dramatically," he said. "The Colombian organizations have been active there longer than that. In the last two years, we've also seen Mexican involvement in the area as well."
  2. Terrapinzflyer
    Nation at a crossroads

    TANZANIA is now formally regarded a major transit point for global trafficking of heroin, cocaine and methaqualone drugs, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has said.

    According to an open CIA report for this month (September 2009), the country currently plays a growing role in transshipment of Southwest and Southeast Asian heroin and South American cocaine destined for the South Africa, Europe, and US markets.

    The same is true for the shipping of South Asian methaqualone bound for southern Africa, the CIA report says.

    The report also cites money laundering as another serious problem in Tanzania.

    The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has also noted this particular problem in Tanzania.

    Tanzania has extremely weak controls at all seaports and in particular, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, a recent UNODC report says. It also notes that flows of heroin in sizable quantities have also been discovered at major airports like Kilimanjaro, Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar.

    According to the report: One consequence of the movement of drugs through the country is that more drugs are becoming available for the local market.

    THISDAY’s own investigations indicate that the problem is partly attributable to weaknesses in official anti-narcotics measures within the country.

    It has been established that the police’s own anti-narcotics unit operates from a run-down building in Dar es Salaam furnished with worn-out tables inside, lacks enough technical staff, and is also in dire need of new vehicles as those now in use are becoming decrepit.

    When interviewed, various officials at the unit who preferred anonymity admitted that extra help often has to be sought from other police units and government agencies during operations.

    A senior police officer, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Samson Kassala, also conceded in a separate interview that there is a serious money laundering problem in the country, with some local businessmen tending to open cover businesses with the primary purpose of justifying ill-gotten dirty money.

    But he added that although the police are well aware of the problem, no major cases of money laundering have been confirmed to satisfactory level for prosecution.

    The Minister for Labour and Youth Development, Prof. Juma Kapuya, has meanwhile admitted that the drug trafficking problem in the country is real and growing.

    Published records quote the minister as saying the rising wave of illicit drugs trade and consumption puts up to 33 per cent of the national population at risk, mainly those in the adult but economically unemancipated class.

    Our youthful population, aged between 15 and 35 years, accounts for 68 per cent of the national workforce. But the swelling illicit drugs trafficking and consumption may be their death knell, Kapuya told participants of a recent workshop on drug law enforcement for policy-makers.

    According to the UNODC report, drug trafficking syndicates based in Dar es Salaam appear to be linked to associates in countries like Kenya, Zambia and South Africa.

    It is said that in response to increased law enforcement at Nairobi’s international airport, heroin traffickers are wont to fly into Uganda and Tanzania, and bring the heroin into Kenya by road or smaller air carrier.

    The heroin is then trafficked to Europe and the US.

    Drug consignments often originate in Pakistan or Afghanistan, and are sent by various means to Dar-es-Salaam, Mombasa, Durban and other ports, where they are repackaged in different containers in order to disguise their original source.

    Some of the drugs also enter the Dar port for transit to countries in the African hinterland, but more so for transshipment to Europe and North America, the report said.

    In all, several multi-tonne seizures of hashish have been detected in Europe, where it is believed the consignments arrived in Dar es Salaam from Pakistan and were re-exported after being repackaged outside the port area, it stated, adding:

    The major concern of drug control authorities is that traffickers will, similarly, ship large quantities of heroin in this manner.

    It is also noted that herbal cannabis abuse has been on the increase throughout the country, while heroin abuse, including intravenous use, is becoming common in both Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar.

    Said the UNODC report: Cocaine is available, but its high cost restricts its abuse to the affluent sections of the community. Khat is in use, particularly by the Somali and coastal communities. There is little evidence of methaqualone (mandrax) or cannabis resin (hashish) abuse locally despite the fact that Tanzania is a major transit country for both substances.
  3. ped
    I don't understand how the UNODC believes it can control this situation with it's current policies. Africa is very poverty stricken. How easy is it going to be for Cartels and the rebel guerilla groups there to buy soldiers, drug workers, smugglers etc...

    I also imagine that corruption will take over on a huge scale due to the amount of money involved with drugs. For europe to try and contain this is going to cost alot more than it already does. With the recession crawling away, can the UK really afford to do that?
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