Mexican drug war cuts off B.C. dealers
Well before the Mexican government advertised its war on drugs, there were signs in British Columbia that things were going awry in the lucrative narcotics trade.
Supply lines were drying up, recalled B.C.-based RCMP Superintendent Pat Fogarty, because the cartels were too busy fighting the Mexican military.
It was translating into rip offs, or people who could not pay back what they owed -- a dicey situation among gangsters that often results in bloodshed.
"This is where the tentacles of the disruption in Mexico bled over into Canada, in terms of violence," said Supt. Fogarty, in charge of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit in B.C. He has more than 20 years' experience battling organized crime.
Police in British Columbia say the Lower Mainland has seen a spike in gang-related violence this year over last, and most of it is gun warfare.
Described as a region with "powerful" organized crime units, but no dominant group, more than 120 gangs operate in the area, all of them capitalizing on the drug trade.
"Everybody is looking at supplying what little cocaine is coming into the country and that breeds violence," said Sergeant Shinder Kirk, with B.C.'s Integrated Gang Task Force.
"When you cut their money supply off you cut their mojo," Supt. Fogarty said of local distributors. These are the guys who are more apt to pull the trigger, he said.
The level of gun play by drug gangsters in Canada, however, pales in comparison to what is unfolding in Mexico.
As the Mexican government cracks down on the cartels, dispatching 45,000 military troops to the streets, violence has reached unheard of proportions. There were more than 5,000 drug-related homicides last year, and the death toll is rising at an equally chilling pace this year. The Mexico-U.S. border city of Juarez, across from El Paso, has reportedly recorded more than 1,000 murders this year. It is a violent shake down between
the authorities in Mexico, who are notoriously corrupted by cartels, and the drug lords who have amassed incredible fortunes.
Drug trafficking, like any business, operates on the principles of supply and demand, and Mexican officials are quick to point out that cocaine consuming countries -- the United States primarily, although Canada is also a recipient -- bear some responsibility in the cartel problem. The United States has pledged tens of millions of dollars to help combat Mexico's drug war. This summer, while on a tri-lateral visit to Guadalajara, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada would be investing up to $15-million to fight international crime, some of that going specifically to train Mexican police fighting the cartels. In addition to teaching new recruits, Canada and an international contingent will provide training to more than 300 mid level officers and 32 commanders.
The Mexican cartels are said to make anywhere from $8-billion to $30-billion a year, although officials can only guess at the profits since the industry is illegal.
Jay Albanese, a leading organized crime expert, said Mexico's pivotal position in the illicit drug trade today comes, in part, after a successful U.S. campaign to push back Colombian cartels and block their passage over Caribbean waters. That transformed Mexico into the central brokerage for South American drugs.
Drugs get trucked in secret compartments, or in luggage that is checked onto commercial flights. In 2007, 160 kilograms were found in a shipping container that originated in Mexico, transited through the Bahamas, and arrived in the port of Montreal, concealed inside pureed frozen mango. "They're only limited by their imagination," said RCMP Superintendent Bill Malone, director of the organized crime branch.
In the midst of the Mexican crack down, the price of cocaine has increased in Canada -- from about $30,000 to as high as $55,000, said Supt. Fogarty.
"As you raise the price for the drugs, every delivery and every debt becomes more important," said Mr. Albanese, which police say can partly explain why the streets of Surrey, Burnaby and other parts of the Lower Mainland have been more tense this year.
Supt. Fogarty said B.C. has some Mexican gangs, but they're lower level, and do not pose the kind of threat of Asian or multicultural gangs.
"Being tied to a cartel really is not dependent on you being a Mexican. In fact, they probably trust them less, their own types. The level of trust will be determined by who you are, the longevity, your credibility, your cash flow."
BY NATALIE ALCOBA, NATIONAL POSTSEPTEMBER 14, 2009