Apologies, i said I would address Mexican cartels in Latin America "tomorrow" when in fact I intended to take a weekend break and also got distracted by the case of the haitian kids.
So here goes: Mexico's drug cartels operate from Guatemala to Argentina. They have a "presence" in every single major Latin American nation.
But they're there in a variety of ways:
Central American nations like Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador are hubs for the Sinaloa and Gulf cartels (now also known as Los Zetas – the former paramilitaries now run the show). Cocaine is delivered from Colombia to Central American shores, as are meth precursors from Asia and other parts of South America. Marijuana is even grown by Los Zetas and allegedly, Chapo's people, in Guatemalan fields. Los Zetas have seized properties down there, and infiltrated the human trafficking business. Shootouts have taken place between Zetas and Sinaloans in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, to my knowledge. The cartels have reputedly taken to pilfering weapons from Central America, where caches of weapons have been left behind since the civil wars. (I'm hesitant to take this as fact; the weapons available from the US side are both more advanced and less rusty; buying guns and ammo in Central America would be like buying a vintage Apple IIC when you could get your hands on a MacBook just as easily.)
Further down south in South America itself, the Mexican cartels operate in various ways. In Colombia, for instance, the Mexicans are now top dogs. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Mexicans were mere mules – they carried drugs on behalf of the Colombians. Then the Colombians began offering a 50-50 deal (it served the Colombians not to have to track every shipment all the way to the US; and if the Mexicans bought the product in Mexico and took responsibility, they could reap more reward) The Mexicans now call the shots on shipments, according to the DEA. They own properties throughout Colombia (just last summer, 70 properties of Chapo's, valued at about $50 million, were seized throughout the South American country). Colombian authorities say that the Mexicans are everywhere in their country, just sitting there. (ie, they're not just there doing a quick deal and getting out; they're established.)
In nearby Peru, the Mexicans are believed to be fighting for control of drug production with remnants of the Shining Path rebels.
Some authorities believe the Mexicans have made serious inroads into controlling drug production in Bolivia and Ecuador, too. Mexican operatives have been caught in Venezuela, but only passing through, really. In Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, which also borders Argentina and Brazil (and is a notorious smuggling hub) I was told by a former anti-smuggling official that the Sinaloa cartel was being investigated for using the city to smuggle in meth precursors, as well as a transit stop for cocaine deliveries throughout Latin America and eventually to Europe.
Uruguay is thought to be a money-laundering hub. Authorities say there are indications that the Mexicans are making their way into Brazil, where cocaine use is on the rise and gang wars are devastating certain neighborhoods.
Argentina, meanwhile, has become a major shipment point, both for meth precursors coming in all the way from Asia and for cocaine heading to Europe – primarily, Spain. The meth precursors, apparently, come in from southeast Asia via Chile (where authorities are investigating Sinaloa cartel presence) and from India via Africa; the cocaine, well that's obvious. I wish I could track this supposed route from India to Argentina – it seems like a hell of a way to go just to send some chemicals. Then again, the global meth market (according to the UN) is valued at $65 billion a year, so maybe it's worth it.
And there you have Latin America. Tune in tomorrow for Europe.
(The Mexican headlines about the Americans who took the Haitian kids across the border are quite interesting. One read: "Alleged traffickers fall" which reminded me of the presumed guilt factor in both Mexican courts and media. These people haven't been accused of trafficking yet by any authority.)