In 2008, a Mexican woman was arrested at London's Heathrow airport for smuggling drugs into Britain. She had taped 15kg of cocaine to the legs of her two children.
As astounding as the case was, the publicity it got was testament to the fact that Mexican cartel presence is not all that pervasive in Europe.
The Colombians still largely run the show there, transporting their cocaine directly to consumers in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Holland and Britain, among other affluent European nations. Mexican operatives do smuggle drugs to Europe, but in smaller quantities than the Colombians.
But according to experts here in Mexico and with the UNODC (UN Office on Drugs and Crime), the Mexicans are increasingly using Europe as a money-laundering base. Post-Communist nations like Bulgaria, Romania, and the Czech Republic offer countless options through which to clean up illicitly earned dollars. Buying property is easy even without proper documentation, and setting up a fake business that is accountable to no authority is also easy.
Tourism developments, too, are said to be favorite of the Mexican cartels.
So, next time you go skiing in Bulgaria or take in the sun and sea on the Croatian coast, think of who you might be giving money to.
They may not run the European show now, but experts and officials warn that the Mexicans are likely to increase their presence in Europe in the near future. One DEA official told me that he expects a Mexican passport to soon carry more of a stigma than a Colombian one. (Carrying a Colombian passport upon entry into many nations can instantly pigeon-hole you as a narco in the eyes of the authorities.)
No surprise, really, given that people are strapping cocaine to their children and the like just to feed European demand.