The late 1980′s saw a logistical shift in the international drugs trafficking corridor between the US and Colombia. The traditional entry point for cocaine being shipped into the United States slid west from Florida under increased enforcement State side. Colombian cartels utilized Mexican gangs and their pre-existing marijuana and heroin trafficking routes and suddenly the gates to the drug consuming promise land went from a narrow, increasingly well policed maritime effort to a sparsely policed border thousands of miles long. In effect Colombia, the cocaine trade’s distribution center, outsourced it’s trucking to Mexican gangs.
It wasn’t long before enterprising Mexican traffickers wanted in on the financial windfall their Colombian clientel enjoyed. A deal was reached where compensation for Mexican traffickers shifted from cash payment to a percentage of the product being shipped. From this point on, Mexico would serve not only the largest trafficking corridor into the US but also a growing distribution center. The Mexican gangs coalesced into incredibly well financed uber-cartels and have taken the south to north distribution of their Colombian peers to global heights, networking with the Italian mafia and building distribution hubs to Europe and Russia in western Africa.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s 2006 transformation of how Mexico would deal with it’s increasingly violent cartel’s (i.e. stop turning a blind eye and meet them head on) set into motion a frenzy of violence that has some likening it to a civil war. It didn’t take long for that violence to spill north into American border towns and it hasn’t taken much longer for that violence and the influence of cartels to spread south into Central American states.
John P. Sullivan (who has previously teamed up with Adam Elkus to cover the Mexican drug war well beyond that of traditional media) and Samuel Logan have a piece up at ISN detailing the southbound trajectory of Mexico’s drug war. I’d encourage readers to give the piece a full read but here’s a slice that captures it’s essence:
<blockquote>Colombia and Costa Rica reaffirmed counternarcotics cooperation on 16 September, underscoring the reality of a new threat to security facing Costa Rica, a country known as the Switzerland of Central America.
While most analysts consider Central America’s northern triangle countries – Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – to be the most affected by the regional drug trade, Costa Rica and Panama have in 2009 become de facto passageways, warehouses and money laundering fronts for both Mexican and Colombian organized crime.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that seizures of cocaine have increased dramatically in Panama and Costa Rica over the last few years.
In 2000, seizures of cocaine in Panama and Costa Rica amounted to 7,400 and 5,871 kilograms, respectively. By 2007, this quantity had risen to 60,000 and 32,435 kilos for both states, respectively.</blockquote>
Neither Costa Rica nor Panama have a standing military, the former having been abolished sixty years ago, the latter a decade and a half ago. Even given Mexico’s degree of abject corruption, it’s not hard to surmise that neither country is equipped to easily (perhaps even possibly) deal with a narco-insurgency the likes of which Mexico is currently facing. Given the shift in narco entrepreneurship from Colombia to Mexico in the early 1990′s it’s stands to reason that as Mexico’s military increases it’s pressure domestically not only will Mexico’s cartels shift south to greener and less effectively policed pastures, but the indigenous, fragmented criminal networks there will mature along the same line of Mexico’s gangs of the 1980′s.
Time for the US to divide drug policy from the lofty, idealist heights it’s currently based upon and focus on a more pragmatic approach.