Latin America / Organized crime

Organised crime is not contaminated, it is contaminating

12 March 2021

Proof of this are the two record seizures in the ports of Hamburg and Antwerp on 24 February. In Hamburg, 16 tons of cocaine were seized and 7 more in Antwerp. In both cases, the ships came from Paraguay. Beyond the exceptional nature of these two simultaneous operations, there are a number of lessons to be learned.

  • In the first place: it shows that, despite the situation, the lockdowns, the mobility restrictions and the additional controls that they entail, organised crime groups have not given up doing business and moving gigantic quantities of drugs from one place to another.
  • It seems that Europe is becoming a prime destination for South American cocaine. Probably because of the market that it represents and the possible economic gains generated, which exceed those of North America.
  • It confirms that the cocaine routes are evolving and that Paraguay is becoming a platform for cocaine trafficking. Why? Because of its proximity to Bolivia and Brazil and the ever increasing establishment of international criminal groups in the country – as is the case with the Brazilian Primeiro Comando da Capital. Also due to the use of ports and waterways less controlled than other infrastructures and routes on the Latin American continent.
  • Finally, these simultaneous seizures of such a significant quantity of drugs indicate that both intelligence and police cooperation are working between Latin America and the European Union with a decisive role played by EUROPOL in matters of cooperation and coordination of the security forces at the European Union level.

Seizure and identification of criminal organisations

Although this successful operation is to be welcomed and while there is no doubt that the economic cost of these seizures to the criminal organisation that sent the drugs is very high, seizing drugs is not the same as dismantling the organisation(s) behind the trafficking.

Without questioning the exceptional work carried out by the security forces, we might also ask: for every ton seized, how get through the radar and reach their intended destination? In the same way, the evolution of the cocaine routes , which increasingly go through the countries of the Southern Cone of South America, shows that, although anti-drug trafficking policies have had some success, it is also clear that, by focusing on seizures, they have basically just displaced the problem.

This is not a criticism or a judgement – we have great respect for the security forces in charge of the fight against drug trafficking and we know very well what the fight against this scourge has cost and what it continues to cost, even in human lives – but rather a call to systematically complement the intelligence and cooperation work aimed at seizing drugs with other work aimed at identifying and dismantling criminal organisations, confiscating their assets and arresting their members. Undoubtedly, it is a complex task, which requires time and significant resources and will not yield immediately visible results, but it is essential if we really want to bring an end to these criminal activities.

The school of crime in prisons

While Germany, Belgium and, in general, all of Europe, were watching this record seizure in disbelief, the prisons of Ecuador were on fire. A wave of violence of a magnitude that the country had never known, led to scenes of unprecedented cruelty in the Ecuadorian prison system and a total of about 75 deaths. These riots are the direct result of the confrontation between various organised crime groups present in the country’s prisons. However, the modus operandi used suggest that these groups were inspired by practices that have already been observed in other Latin American countries. Or, perhaps worse, that organised groups in the region are in contact and exchange procedures and bad practices.

Unfortonately, in a context regularly considered as the school of crime,  it is not so surprising that there should be copycat behaviour between incarcerated organised groups in different countries. However, drastic measures will have to be taken if we are to prevent the creation of an Ivy League of prisons. In other words, more controlled by organised crime and, therefore, more dangerous.

The most urgent and obvious measure is the strict physical separation of prisoners belonging to one organised group from those of other groups. In the short term, this should avoid repeat outbreaks of violence. However, it will not be enough to solve such a complex problem. In this context, it is essential to work more determinedly on the systematic classification of detainees. Also, on their location in prisons based on how dangerous they are. It is the only way to achieve appropriate treatment based on the profile of each prisoner. To avoid contamination between detainees belonging to organised crime and “ordinary” lawbreakers. To avoid prisons becoming these schools of crime that we mentioned earlier.

Focus efforts on fighting crime in the pandemic

In February the world was still embroiled in the fight against the pandemic. Meanwhile, organised crime has shown that not only does the current situation not affect it…. It may even suit it.

Public institutions in many countries are exhausted from fighting the pandemic. Therefore, we know that asking for an extra effort is asking a lot. It is perfectly logical that there should be priorities at this time, but we must not forget that, beyond the pandemic, many threats are still afoot. We cannot ignore the reality of the world today. As we focus our efforts on curing a COVID-19 patient, gangrene is spreading to other parts of the body.

Today, organised crime is this gangrene that spreads quietly. If we don’t pay more attention to it, when we open our eyes we will only have the most drastic options or, perhaps, no more options left. Friends, colleagues, partners, beware! Organised crime is spreading and contaminating!

EL PAcCTO Programme

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