Mexican Cartels Expanding Influence in Europe: Europol

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The latest report from the European Police Office describes increasingly diverse and complex trafficking routes and criminal ties between the Americas and Europe, and raises the specter of the increasing influence of Mexican cartels.

According to Europol’s analysis of the European Union drugs market, Colombian criminal groups with a firmly established presence in Europe, continue to play a key role in cocaine trafficking in the region. However, the ever more fragmented nature of Colombian organized crime has created opportunities for groups from Europe and elsewhere in the Americas to develop new relationships. Increasingly, these partnerships involve European groups working with Mexican cartels, although the extent of the cartels’ presence is difficult to assess, the report states.

In an interview with Reforma, Europol Director Rob Wainwright expressed concern that the advance of Mexican groups may lead to an increase in violence in the region. “It is a risk that we are very worried about, taking into account the scale of violence that exists between Mexico’s drug clans,” he said. “We don’t want to see something similar reproduced in Europe.”  

The report also highlighted patterns in trafficking routes. According to Europol the largest quantities of cocaine are transported by sea through three principal routes: the northern route, which passes through the Caribbean and the Azores to Portugal and Spain; the central route, which departs from South American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela to Europe via Cape Verde or Madeira and the Canary Islands; and the African route, which departs from South America to West Africa, then on to Europe. Africa’s role in supplying Europe’s cocaine has increased substantially in recent years and the trade is expanding into East and Southern Africa, the report added.

While many of these are well-established routes, the report also highlighted a significant growth in trafficking through the Black Sea and the Balkans, which only accounts for a tiny percentage of cocaine trafficked but is growing rapidly, and singles out the Eastern Baltic Sea area as potentially the next emerging cocaine entry point.

InSight Crime Analysis

Wainwright’s fears of Mexican-style drug violence arriving in Europe seem somewhat overstated. The report suggests Mexican cartels may be increasing their presence but remain minority players. It should also be noted that the criminal dynamic in Europe is very different to the Americas, as shown by the fact that the presence of Colombian cartels has never caused Colombian levels of violence in Europe.

In fact, the trends highlighted by the report suggest a move away from involvement of monolithic groups dominating regions and toward fluid networks where European groups are playing an increasingly significant role. This trend could bring its own problems for European law enforcement, as the diversification and expansion of these trafficking networks could make the job of agencies like Europol substantially more difficult.

*Map is from: Daniel Brombacher & Gunther Maihold, “El Negocio Transatlantico de la Cocaina: Opciones Europeas ante las Nuevas Rutas del Narcotrafico,” Real Instituto Elcano (RIE), RIE Working Paper 45, September 2009.

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