The European cocaine market now “more competitive and more violent”

Agents of the Technical Criminal Investigation Agency (ATIC) carry packages containing cocaine seized during a drug operation in Roatan, Honduras, August 28, 2021. / Reuters / Fredy Rodriguez

Agents of the Technical Criminal Investigation Agency (ATIC) carry packages containing cocaine seized during a drug operation in Roatan, Honduras, August 28, 2021. / Reuters / Fredy Rodriguez

The trafficking of cocaine from Latin America to Europe was once a matter of the few. Today, the market appears to be a “free for all”, which has made it more dangerous, according to a new report from Europol.

Global cocaine trafficking has exploded over the past decade. In 2018, overall cocaine production in Colombia, Bolivia and Peru – the top three drug producers – was more than double that of 2013, according to the Global Organized Crime Initiative.

Trade has particularly increased to Europe, where traffickers find a market with more growth potential compared to the United States

“Many groups, especially Colombian groups, have decided that it makes much more sense to export drugs, not to the main market, which is the United States, but to other markets, especially the United States. ‘Europe, where there are more profits and less risk, “explains Jeremy McDermott, co-founder and co-director of InSight Crime, a non-profit organization that investigates and analyzes organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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With 91 tonnes of cocaine consumed each year in Europe, the drug is the second drug on the continent after cannabis.

It is a market of 5.7 billion euros (6.7 billion dollars), according to estimates by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

“Cocaine production is at record levels and that, of course, means that there is more on the market and that many Latin American groups, mainly Colombians, have decided to diversify their markets,” McDermott explains.

“Normally, of course, when you have a change in the supply, the prices drop. But if you create new demand by diversifying your market and delivering your cocaine to different parts of the world where there was not necessarily markets before, then of course there is no price drop. And you can continue to maximize your income even when there is an oversupply situation. “

Cocaine in Europe has become more pure and since 2012 has rivaled US imports in terms of quality, according to the Europol report. / Reuters / José Cabezas

Cocaine in Europe has become more pure and since 2012 has rivaled US imports in terms of quality, according to the Europol report. / Reuters / José Cabezas

Go out with the old one

The criminal structures behind cocaine trafficking, say Europol and Global Initiative, are no longer linear drug cartels.

As global technology has evolved to make our planet more interconnected and globalized, criminal groups around the world “continue to evolve, diversify and become more effective”.

As the criminal landscape of source countries like Colombia – Europe’s largest supplier of cocaine – fragmented after the disbandment of groups that traditionally controlled cocaine production, the rise of new trafficking actors has encouraged the formation of new alliances with criminal groups in Europe.

In particular, according to Europol experts, the Albanian-speaking and Western Balkan criminal networks have taken advantage of this new situation and are now able to obtain large quantities of cocaine directly at the source, eliminating any intermediary.

Members of the Attorney General’s Office attend a bonfire to burn drug packages in a seizure of 1.4 tonnes of cocaine on the high seas by the Salvadoran naval force in Ilopango, El Salvador, on August 10, 2021. / Reuters / Jose Cabezas

Members of the Attorney General’s Office attend a bonfire to burn drug packages in a seizure of 1.4 tonnes of cocaine on the high seas by the Salvadoran naval force in Ilopango, El Salvador, on August 10, 2021. / Reuters / Jose Cabezas

The lack of centralized control of the cocaine supply chain in Latin America means that a market once dominated by a few is now open to smaller international groups eager to seize the opportunity.

On the one hand, this means that organized criminal groups such as the Italian ‘Ndrangheta, which had enjoyed a virtual monopoly on cocaine trafficking from the Atlantic in previous decades, have lost their competitive edge. on the market.

On the other hand, these groups have not gone bankrupt either, but continue their trafficking activities in parallel with the new groups, contributing to the wave of cocaine supplies sweeping through Europe.

Criminal networks currently rely on a large number of diverse actors, from contract killers and transport specialists, to money launderers, accountants and lawyers – often of different nationalities.

“Colombians are the pioneers,” says McDermott. “Mexicans still have what we would call ‘cartel structures’.

“Colombia has entered a fairly sophisticated criminal network structure based on subcontracting, in the sense that no single group controls all the different links in the cocaine trade. On the contrary, they subcontract and work with other partners specializing in different links in the chain, ”he explains.

“And it may be that a structure has access to the coca crops. Another structure specializes in sophisticated laboratories to extract the alkaloid and crystallize cocaine. Another structure can control the port and can guarantee the contamination of containers bound for Europe, etc.

This means that there is no longer a single structure for the authorities to target, making it extremely difficult for security and law enforcement to stop illegal trafficking.

Police in Montenegro released this photo in late August after seizing more than a ton of cocaine hidden in a shipment of bananas. / Police of Montenegro via AP

Police in Montenegro released this photo in late August after seizing more than a ton of cocaine hidden in a shipment of bananas. / Police of Montenegro via AP

To the north new traffic routes

The diversity of criminal actors required for these sophisticated operations meant that new, more direct routes to Europe also developed as new parties became involved.

The majority of cocaine is shipped from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia through ports in Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela.

The two main transit regions were once the Caribbean and West Africa, but experts have observed that large amounts of cocaine are now arriving directly in North Africa, with Morocco reporting the largest increase in trafficking.

The traditional ports of entry to Europe are in Spain and Portugal to the south and Belgium and the Netherlands to the north.

Recently, experts have noticed an increase in traffic in Belgium, especially in Antwerp and Rotterdam for the Netherlands, which suggests that trade is moving north.

According to Cocaine Information Europol and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report, Europe’s North Sea coast has overtaken the Iberian Peninsula as the main entry point for cocaine reaching Europe.

Europe’s “gravest threat”

As the cocaine market has become more competitive, the number of drug-related conflicts in Europe has also increased.

“We are seeing an increase in European organized crime linked to cocaine and we are also seeing an increase in violence – the kinds of things that are not normal on European streets, but which are perhaps much more common here in Latin America, ”McDermott said. .

“We have seen assassinations of lawyers, witnesses linked to cocaine cases.”

In recent years, European authorities have reported public shootings, bombings, kidnappings, torture and intimidation linked to the drug market.

In July 2020, a Franco-Dutch operation supported by Europol discovered that seven sea containers detected in the Netherlands had been turned into cells intended for use as torture chambers, featuring dentist chairs with straps and handcuffs.

Europol also warned that the pandemic could create the ideal conditions for organized crime in the region to expand its reach and take hold on the continent, calling it the “most serious threat to the internal security of the EU. “

Almost 40 percent of criminal networks in Europe are active in drug trafficking.

McDermott believes the flow of cocaine from Latin America to Europe will only increase in the future.

“As Eastern Europe opens more and more and the Russian and Balkan mafias with Eastern European connections and networks intensify, we can see the European market as a whole develop, ”he said.

“Second, Europe has some of the largest and most efficient ports in the world and millions of containers pass through these ports every week. And this infrastructure is what organized crime will continue to use because it is like a needle in a haystack. And they play the numbers game.

Europol recommends that EU member states strengthen cooperation between law enforcement agencies and focus on money laundering investigations capable of tracking illegal profits made by cocaine traffickers.

Source (s): AFP


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