• Connect with us on Linkedin

Why Has the Italian Mafia Returned to Colombia?

Italian Mafia Capo Santo Scipione Italian Mafia Capo Santo Scipione

A spate of recent arrests suggests the Italian mafia may be making a comeback in Colombia, where the fractured criminal landscape makes it easier for them to exert control over the drug trade.

Linkedin
Google +

The first to fall was Iacomino Tomasso, formerly the right hand man of legendary Cosa Nostra leader Bernardo Provenzano, also known as "The Capo of Capos," who was arrested in 2006. Tomasso was arrested in Bogota, from where he had allegedly been running a trafficking network that sent cocaine shipments from the Caribbean coast to another Italian mafia group, la Camorra.

According to the authorities, Tomasso worked closely with a Colombian partner, Juan Carlos Davila Bonilla, alias "El Gordo," who was arrested shortly after. The pair also employed the narco-paramilitary group the Urabeños to provide security for their shipments, according to the authoritites.

Two months later, Tomasso's arrest was followed by the capture of two drug traffickers working for rival organization the 'Ndrangheta: Santo Scipione and Domenico Trimboli. Scipione, who is believed to have lived in Colombia since 2000, is one of the highest ranking 'Ndrangheta capos, while Trimboli, working on Scipione's orders, handled the logistics of the mafia's Colombia-Italy cocaine connection.

Officials say that while the 'Ndrangheta also maintained logistical networks in the Caribbean, their main trafficking method was sending shipments from the Pacific coast on boats which head up to the Panama Canal before crossing the Atlantic.

The arrests were the result of a three-year international operation that brought together Interpol with law enforcement agencies from Colombia, Italy, and the US.

InSight Crime Analysis

Iacomino Tomasso has a long history of operating in Colombia and over the years has been a key player in developing networks linking Colombian cartels to the Italian mafia. His capture this year was the second time he has been arrested in Colombia – the first came just weeks after his boss Provenzano was arrested in 2006.

At the time, Tomasso was operating as the Sicilian mafias' point man in the Colombian cocaine trade, making deals and alliances with the drug trafficking organizations in Valle de Cauca, Antioquia, and along the coast.

However, it is the arrests of the Scipione and Trimboli that are key to understanding the main connections between Colombia and Italy today. Over the last 20 years, the 'Ndrangheta has come to dominate the cocaine trade in Italy, and has used its profits -- estimated to be between  $30 and $50 billion a year -- to become arguably Italy's most powerful organized crime group.

The 'Ndrangheta or Calabrian Mafia is one of four main Italian organized crime groups operating today, along with the Cosa Nostra, or the Sicilian Mafia; the Camorra or Neapolitan Mafia; and the Sacra Corona Unita or United Sacred Crown. According to the FBI, the four groups have approximately 25,000 members in total, with 250,000 affiliates worldwide and cells in Canada, South America, Australia, and parts of Europe

The origins of the 'Ndrangheta date back to the 19th century, but the group remained a mostly local federation of crime families until its entrance into the drug trade. According to experts on the 'Ndrangheta, the families first entered the cocaine trade buying imported drugs from the Cosa Nostra, whose entrance into Colombia had been facilitated by Tomasso.

By the end of the 90s, they had established their own networks and worked closely with the notorious paramilitary warlord and leader of the AUC, Salvatore Mancuso, whose appeal was increased by his Italian heritage. By 2004 Italian authorities estimated the group was responsible for bringing in 80 percent of the cocaine that entered the country.

However as the axis of the cocaine trafficking world shifted from Colombia to Mexico, so did the Italian mafia. Again, the Cosa Nostra seems to have led the way, with the brothers Elio and Bruno Gerardi acting as their connection in Mexico after fleeing the attentions of law enforcement agencies in Colombia. But again, the 'Ndrangheta was not far behind: the organization established links with the Gulf Cartel, then did  business with the Zetas after they broke away from the Gulf Cartel in 2010.

However, there are numerous disadvantages for the Italian mafia groups in doing business with the Mexicans. Logistically, it adds an extra leg to the journey, which increases costs and risks. There is also the fact that the big Mexican cartels dominate the cocaine world through wealth, power and violence, which leaves little room for negotiation over who does what and how much they get paid. Then there are the growing signs that the Mexican cartels, among them the Zetas, are looking to increase their influence inside Europe to profit from distribution networks, as they do in the United States.

The fact that the Mexicans are able to force the mafia groups into this secondary role may well be one of the factors fuelling the return of the capos to Colombia. The tectonic shifts in the cocaine trade over the last 20 years have left the Colombian underworld much more fractured and its organized crime groups less capable of asserting dominance. As shown in Tomasso's case, even the most powerful of Colombia's criminal groups, the Urabeños, often do little more than provide traffickers with security services and guard shipments, leaving their cut substantially less than what the Mexicans would take.

It could be, as the Colombian police have suggested, that the rebirth of the Italian mafia in Colombia is little more than Italian traffickers reigniting old contacts after serving prison sentences in Italy. However, given the adaptability and flexibility the groups have shown in the past in finding new markets and opportunities, it is likely also influenced by the fact that they see dealing with Colombians as a way to exert more control –- and thus extract more profits from the cocaine trade.

Linkedin
Google +

---

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We also encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, provided that it is attributed to InSight Crime in the byline, with a link to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

InSight Crime Search

The Complete Organized Crime Database on the Americas

InSight Crime Social

facebooktwittergooglelinkedin

InSight Crime Special Series

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

Los Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

After the capture of Zetas boss "Z40," Nuevo Laredo is bracing itself for the worst. This investigation breaks down what makes the city such an important trafficking corridor, and what it will take for the Zetas to maintain their grip on the city.

See entire series »

 

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill

Uruguay: Marijuana, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

Uruguay is poised to become the first country on the planet to regulate the production, sale, and distribution of the drug.

See entire series »

El Salvador's Gang Truce

El Salvador's Gang Truce

The truce between El Salvador's two largest gangs -- the MS-13 and the Barrio 18 -- opens up new possibilities in how to deal with

See entire series »

Juarez After The War

Juarez After The War

As a bitter war between rival cartels grinds to an end, Ciudad Juarez has lost the title of world murder capital, and is moving towards something more like normality.

See entire series »

The Zetas And The Battle For Monterrey

The Zetas and the Battle for Monterrey

InSight Crime delves into the Zetas' battle for Mexico’s industrial capital, Monterrey, getting to the essence of a criminal gang that defies easy definition.

See entire series »

Slavery in Latin America

Slavery in Latin America

InSight Crime coordinated an investigation into modern slavery, looking at how Latin America’s criminal groups traffic human beings and force them to work as slaves.

See entire series »

FARC, Peace and Criminalization

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is being dangled before Colombia. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, the enemies of the negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the process are high.

See entire series »

Displacement in Latin America

Displacement in Latin America

InSight Crime coordinated an investigation into the new face of displacement in Latin America, where organized criminal groups are expanding and forcing people to flee.

See entire series »

Target: Migrants

Target: Migrants

The growth of organized crime in Mexico and Central America has led to an increase in violence and insecurity across the region, posing challenges to citizens, public security forces, and travelers.

See entire series »

Zetas in Guatemala

The Zetas in Guatemala

Mexico's Zetas have taken Guatemala by storm, and they are testing this country and the rest of the region: fail this test, and Central America sinks deeper into the abyss.

See entire series »

Most Read

Guatemala May Target 'Coyotes' to Address Child Migrant Crisis

Guatemala May Target 'Coyotes' to Address Child Migrant Crisis

Guatemala's Congress is analyzing an initiative to target the human smugglers known as "coyotes," as political pressure in the region builds to tackle the unprecedented numbers of child migrants trying to enter the US.

Read more

The State's Secret: Belize's Money Laundering Regime

The State's Secret: Belize's Money Laundering Regime

Nestled on the northeastern coast of Central America, Belize is often named one of Central America's most beautiful vacation destinations. With its ornate coral reefs and rainforest, the small English-speaking country has plenty to offer...

Read more

Spike in Mexico Kidnappings Indicates President's Security Failures

Spike in Mexico Kidnappings Indicates President's Security Failures

An NGO in Mexico reported that kidnappings rose 56 percent in the first half of 2014 compared with the same period last year, illustrating the failure of President Enrique Peña Nieto's security policies to tackle...

Read more

IDRC9-01