Firepower, Dope and Bloodshed: Mexico Drug Cartels Branch Out to Foreign Continents. What's the Real Story Behind This Unbelievable Invasion?
By Clarence Walker, Crime Journalist, Houston Texas.
Editor's Note: Walker previously wrote feature stories about the international drug trade published by Gangsters Inc. To view Walker's previous stories about Mexico Drug Cartels, click on his profile on this website.
The Following Story is Part-1 of An Occasional Investigative Series Involving International Drug Trafficking Across the Globe By Organized Gangs And the Mafia.
Philosopher Roy Baumstein once wrote in a popular book called "Evil" : "In simple terms...violence is a tool for taking power; violent people gain power over the other."
This ominous scenario can best describe the awesome violence of Mexican drug cartels that has rapidly spilled over into Central America, threatening to overpower fragile countries already bursting at the seams with vicious crimes, brutalities, murders and corruption, according to the United Nations, the U.S. government and foreign law enforcement agencies.
Since 2006, over 30,000 murders have been reported in Mexico during the upheaval stemming from the government crackdown on the major drug cartels and their associates.
Located in the Northern Triangle of Central America, countries like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras has been a major smuggling route for drugs and illegal products transported to the U.S. for years. These countries are ripe for takeover by the Mexican cartels armed with more sophisticated technology and manpower.
As Mexico President Felipe Calderon (right) put the deadly grip on drug trafficking with assistance from the U.S., the Mexican drug lords and their allies, to keep the dope flowing, and to avoid capture or death by Calderon's relentless army, they are spreading narco-violence to Central America and other foreign countries weakened by strife, internal wars and poverty.
Experts have argued that when Mexican drug dealers began invading onto foreign soil from Mexico it is another indicator the drug war that Washington and Mexico government have waged against the cartels have suffered perverse effects.
Antonio Acosta, head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes, said that Central American and Caribbean countries "are trapped in the cross fire of drugs and arms." Acosta points out that one-half of the world's cocaine is consumed in the United States and the entire annual production is located in South America.
In a strategic move to corner the drug market in South America the Mexican Cartels defected from their primary Colombian partners including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)--to deliver tons of drugs into the U.S.
The end results of this technique paved the way for importation of the illicit drugs passing through certain regions in Central America now jammed in the middle.
"The more pressure there is in Mexico, the more the drug cartels will come to Central America looking for a safe haven," says General David Munguia Payes, a defense minister based in El Salvador.
A U.N. report discovered that the highest murder rates in the countries where the cartels invaded were not particularly in the largest cities but in provinces with strategic value to drug traffickers like the borders, coastlines and jungles.
"Central America face a very real challenge in confronting these organizations," said David Gaddis, chief of operations of the U.S. DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration).
In this first installment for Gangsters Inc, this documentary explores the deep underworld of Mexico's Drug Cartels as they venture into neighboring countries (map below) to carry out a systematic operation of firepower, drugs and bloodshed to conquer territories and rule the land.
El Salvador Invasion: Case Study Number# 1
Plastered on an expansive colorful billboard overlooking the Salvadorean capital, a brutish man with a defiant attitude points to a slogan on his muscle t-shirt that speak volumes: "No one can intimidate El Salvador."
This unique advertisement promote a government-funded anti-violence campaign as many Salvadoreans worry that an overflow of Mexico's drug violence has finally struck this Central American nation.
President Mauricio Funes sounded the alarm over the growing threat in April 2010. "We have information the Mexico cartels has entered El Salvador with exploratory purposes," Funes told BBC news.
Funes is convinced the massive, effective crackdown against Mexican drug gangs by President Calderon forced them to scout for fresh territory. National police investigator Douglas Garcia said intelligence suggests that drug gangsters are already in action, "being used by operatives to transport drugs and money towards the United States which goes through Mexico."
"We are certainly worried and that's why we want to act in a preventive manner," Hugo Martinez, El Salvador's foreign minister also told BBC news.
Police in El Salvador explains that Mexican traffickers are using their connection with street gangs such as the MS-13 and MS-18th Street to stoke their drug trade into international syndicates. Although U.S. authorities has focused most of their attention on the thousands of drug-related murders in Mexico but the homicide rate in El Salvador---14 for every 100,000 residents---is dwarfed by the murder statistics in the Northern Triangle, where per-capita murders are four times higher and rising.
El Salvador, the region's most violent country, the homicide rate increased to 40 percent between 2009 and 2010, which adds up to 71 murders per 100,000 residents, as street gangs vied for territory and trafficking routes. Investigators and military officials in El Salvador reported that Mexican cartels are increasingly paying local smugglers with narcotics instead of cash thereby driving up cocaine use and the violence stemming from drug dealing and turf battles.
"Organized crime has penetrated the government," said Jeannette Aguilar, a crime expert at San Salvador's University of Central America, citing recent arrests of police commanders and prominent politicians. "We've made strides towards democracy, but this threatens to reverse that progress."
Guatemala Invasion: Case Study Number# 2
When Guatemala's President Alvaro Colom declared war against the invasion of the Los Zetas, Mexico's notorious drug cartels, the group struck back with a chilling message by leaving decapitated human heads on the steps of parliament.
The Zetas are in a ferocious war against their Mexico rivals known as the Gulf Cartels over lucrative drug trafficking routes into the U.S.
Turf wars and execution of drug traffickers by Calderon's army has pushed the Zetas to operate in Guatemala.
"The Guatemalan government is weak; the drug cartels provides services the state does not," such as health clinics, soccer fields and schools, said Fernando Giron Soto, a researcher at the Myrna Mack Foundation, a human rights organization in Guatemala City.
Murder rate in Guatemala is even higher than Mexico, whereby more than 10,000 drug-related murders occured there last year. American and foreign investigators have said Guatemala still remain one of the primary transit points for cocaine into the U.S.
The drugs arrive by sea from Colombia and Ecuador and eventually transferred by land through Mexico into America. In 2009, according to DEA, between 250 and 350 metric tons of cocaine transited Guatemala. No figures are available yet for 2010-2011.
"Just about all of the drugs going through Mexico into the U.S. go through Guatemala," U.S. Ambassador Stephen Mcfarland told Fox news at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala city.
Before Guatemalan gun laws changed in 2009, a person could legally buy up to 500 rounds of ammunition a day. Weapons left over from the Cold War allow the cartels to arm themselves heavily to fight off the military and law enforcement.
Utilizing fear tactics used in Mexico the Zetas intimidated Guatemalan drug dealers. One drug family was forced to leave the country. "When you have drug traffickers afraid of other drug traffickers, you know its getting pretty bad," Mcfarland added.
With tactical precison the Zetas used the same techinques in Mexico to set up cells in Guatemala, recruiting local former military agents to train for warfare in secretive designed camps, terrorizing undocumented migrants and luring poor farmers and teenagers to work as hired hands, according to experts monitoring the events.
In a brazen takeover, the Zetas overpowered armed guards at Guatamaela's prison and freed a cartel leader awaiting trial for killing a prominent soccer star. Police finally arrested 11 Zetas for the crime.
Another example of the cartel's stronghold in the country, this past December after President Colom declared a siege operation against the Zetas, top-level leaders forced radio stations in a Guatemalan province to broadcast a 'threat of war' against civilians, the government and law enforcement's burgeoning aggressiveness of carrying out warrantless arrests and numerous searches of their members who worked the dope trade along the Northern Alta Verapaz province. The Alta Verapaz is a prestigious smuggling route where the Zetas dominate.
The first radio message accused Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom of being a corrupt politician who took $11 million in drug money from the cartel. A second message threaten violence at malls, schools, police stations and other important public places.
"Many people will die at meeting centers in coming days," the message blared in spanish.
A special U.N. prosecutor's office has operated in Guatemala since 2007 to break the culture of impunity. Such efforts will hardly prevail. Overall, the government face enormous obstacles. Example, of 6,548 murders last year in Guatemala, 423 suspects were arrested. With only 423 suspects arrested out of the 6,548 murders, that's a remarkable improvement from 2009, when only 128 homicide arrests were made stemming from over 5,000 murders.
The U.S. is planning to spend at least $7million to assist Guatemalan government to implement security to secure the entry area of eight official crossing points and 1,200 blind crossings. These areas share 577-miles of a long porous border with Mexico thus providing easier access for Mexican drug traffickers to relocate into Guatemala.
Colombian Invasion: Case Study Number#3
Drug kingpins like Pablo Escobar, Griselda "Black Widow" Blanco, Carlos Ledher, Diego Montoya, and Juan Carlos Abadia including the FARC rebels once ruled the dope trade in Colombia. Recently, though, there's been a major shake up, a shift of power is on the horizon.
Since 2007, Colombian authorities extradited over 14 warlords and numerous cartel leaders to the United States on drug charges. Several other kingpins were killed or arrested which opened up a power grab for leadership to dominate the dope trade. With Calderon's continuing assault on the narco business in Mexico; Colombia, the heart and soul of the drug trade in Latin America was soon invaded by Mexican drug cartels.
Associated Press reported in 2009 that the Mexican traffickers usually bought narcotics from the cocaine-producing Andes and some operatives traveled to Argentina to buy raw material to make Methamphines.
The press story further disclosed how Mexican drug dealers were arrested on cocaine and meth charges in faraway countries like Malaysia.
"There are more Mexican drug traffickers in South America today than at any time ever, period," says Jay Bergman, the Andean regional director for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
"The belief is that the Mexicans are trying to get closer to the source of supply and take over the transport," said Jere Miles, Chief of the unit that tracks trade-based money laundering for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Colombian Police Director General Oscar Naranjo told Associated Press that intelligence provided by foreign and U.S. investigators have also showed that Mexican traffickers migrating into Colombian cities bribed peasant workers to boost coca productions.
"We have evidence of Mexicans in Medellin, Cali, Pereira and Barranquilla."
United States has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to help Colombian government to dismantle their own cartels but the results may have given the Mexican drug dealers a upper-hand in the process.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said his country was ready and well-trained with U.S. military assistance to stem the Mexican cartel drug violence in his country and as well providing assistance to Mexico, Guatemala, EL Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica, but Santos cautioned that, "much more has to be done." Weak spots within a country's economic and political infrastructure is how the cartels exploit the system.
Behind Colombia, Peru is the world's number# 2 cocaine-producing country. Mexican cartels have muscled in on the action, bribing Custom officials at airports, seaports, and laundering illicit profits by investing in real estate. "Four major Mexican cartels now buy cocaine directly in Peru," says Sonia Medino, a Chief Public Prosecutor who deals with drugs and money laundering.
In the drug world where money flows like a gushing oil well, the brutal violence, like clock work follows. When Mexican cartels gradually invaded Colombia and Peru the murder rate increased between those vying for lucrative profits. Police zeroed in on the Mexicans as the prime suspects in numerous drug-related murders.
"When Peru's Mafia dealt exclusively with Colombians, you didn't see that," Eduardo Castaneda, a Peru prosecutor told foreign and U.S. news agencies.
Methamphetamine Trade Flourish in Central America.
Mexico supplies between 80 and 90 percent of the Methamphetamine sold in the United States, according to the DEA. Methamphetamine is made from PSE(pseudoephedrine) and ephedrine, a substance usually found in cold and flu medicines. These products are purchased in bulk from India and China.
When Mexico banned the import and domestic use of the PSE in 2007, the Meth problem spread like wildfire. In 2008, the United Nations identified for the first time the manufacture of meth and other illicit synthetic stimulant in 10 nations including Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Guatemala and Honduras. That same year drug agents busted a meth lab in Buenos Aires linked to the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel. Over 1.2 tons of ephedrine that is used to make the meth was seized including 23 people arrested identified as members of the Sinaloan Cartel.
Following this signficant bust three young men who owned drug pharmacies was found shot to death in a ditch, hands bound with plastic. Investigation showed that Sebastian Forza and Damian Ferron were murdered by Mexican Cartel members as result of a drug deal gone bad.
"They adulterated the ephedrine thinking they could take advantage of the Mexicans stupidity," said Tony Greco. Greco recently retired from the DEA after working six years in Argentina. Three Mexican traffickers were arrested in Malaysia in 2008 and charged with possession of 29 kilos of meth. If found guilty, they face the death penalty.
Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla cries out for help. She is hoping the United States will offer an anti-drug aid program specifically for Central America. Although countries in this region is included in the 2007 multi-billion dollar Merida Initiatives provided by former U.S. President George W. Bush, a primary complaint from government officials is the fact the majority of the Merida aid went to Mexico, not Central America.
"We don't want to be seen as an appendix of the Merida Initiative," Chinchilla stated. "We want a plan for Central America."
Many say this is the figmentation of a shattered dream because where there's corruption and poverty there's crime and it has always been that way.
Meanwhile people live one day at a time, one heartbeat at a time. If someone visit town square in Juarez, Mexico, they might notice a statue of a woman dressed as an angel holding a sign, and referring to the notorious cartels it says, "Hitman, Christ Loves you, repent."
How can drug assassins truly repent when billions of dollars are at stake in the dope world because as the bible says,"money is the root of all sorts of evil."
Title photo credit: DEA
Any comments? Contact Journalist Clarence Walker at:firstname.lastname@example.org or reply in the comments below.
P.S. Next installment on Mexico drug cartels will be published in two weeks or less.