Friday, January 29, 2010

the Mexican cartels' global reach

Ahead of the release of the annual US National Drug Threat Assessment, it's a good time to look at the global reach of the Mexican drug cartels.

Because so much BS is often thrown out there, I'm going to go through it piece by piece.

Fact # 1 Mexico's cartels have a presence in Asia, Europe, North and South America, Africa and Australia. They are on every major continent. (Penguins have yet to report their presence in Antarctica).

The real question is, what exactly does "have a presence" mean?

I've done the best I can to interpret that, through interviews with DEA, academics, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reps (UNODC), regional law enforcement and newspaper articles. Here goes:

First, Asia: what are the Mexican cartels doing there?

In the 19th century, the Chinese introduced opium poppy to Mexico. The connection goes that far back. Chinese businessmen, too, have long had legitimate links to Sinaloa.

Once US heroin consumption took off after WWII, these connections became useful for smuggling more opium to Mexico to feed the growing demand. In the 1990s, as meth became popular in the US, Sinaloan narcos reached out to their Chinese, Thai, Indian and Burmese counterparts. The Asians were ahead on the meth craze, and could supply both the chemicals and the final product. They effectively helped Mexicans like Chapo and the Amezcua brothers (from Michoacan) get started. Then the Mexicans started producing meth on their own.

Mexicans do not have cartel operatives – as in killers, distributors etc – on the ground in Asia. Don't start imagining a bunch of pistol-wielding, sombrero-wearing narcos running around the streets of Shanghai. (Not that they really do that in Sinaloa either, but you know what I mean.)

The Mexican cartels have business representatives in Asia. These reps are allegedly normal businesspeople, who work for pharmaceutical companies and other multinational organizations. Since a Mexican ban on ephedrine and other substances used to make methamphetamine, the Asia reps have become even more important. They have global business connections with whom the Mexicans allegedly link up to bring the chemicals into Mexico through safer routes.

In the past, Mexican narcos like Chapo have also sought out Asian partners to smuggler heroin, according to U.S. authorities. Apparently, this has occurred when production in Mexico has failed to meet demand in the US. (This needs more investigation: I find it amazing that Mexico, combined with Colombia and of course Afghanistan etc way over there, could fail to meet US demand!)

These are the basics of the Mexican-Asian connection. I can't name names that I've heard because the evidence against said companies/individuals is scant. But check out New York Times/Wash Post/Proceso articles on Zhenli Ye Gon to get a nice specific case story.

Questions, anyone? Anyone? (sorry, i feel like a bad substitute teacher, am flashing back to Ferris Bueller)

Tomorrow: Latin America

P.S. - El Universal has a report out today on the global reach of Mexico's cartels, citing a new US Drug Intelligence Center Report. As far as I can tell, they're using last year's report.


  1. I enjoy reading your blog and like the new photo. Where is it?

  2. glad to hear you like the blog; the photo is of the Jardines del Humaya cemetery in Sinaloa, where many drug traffickers are buried.