Why Isn’t Mexico Seizing More Cocaine?

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Just 2.5 tons of cocaine has been seized so far this year by Mexico’s military, highlighting the country’s startlingly low interdiction rates and raising the question of why its anti-narcotics efforts contrast so starkly with neighboring countries.

The figure, reported by Mexico’s Secretary of Defense (SEDENA), does represent a slight increase on the 2.1 tons seized during 2012, but both amounts are surprisingly little. Meanwhile, marijuana seizures almost halved, from 1.1 tons between January and November 2012 to 624 kilos during the same period this year.

The number of people arrested on charges linked to drug trafficking also fell by a third, from 9,586 to 6,977, and the number of clandestine airstrips discovered dropped from 347 to 173.

The SEDENA figures do not include federal police seizures, which showed a major rise from 2012 to 2013, though also still remain low. Mexico’s Commission of National Security reported in early December that federal police had seized nearly 1.6 tons of cocaine during Peña Nieto’s first year in power, a 376 percent rise on the previous year. Marijuana seizures rose from 35 to 82 tons.

InSight Crime Analysis

Considering the fact that its northern border is the gateway to the US drug market, Mexico’s seizure statistics are surprisingly low. This predates Peña Nieto’s inauguration. Cocaine seizures, for instance, fell dramatically following Calderon’s first year in office, going from roughly 18 tons in 2007 to just four tons in 2008. While this figure rose again to around seven tons in 2011, it fell the following year to just two tons.  Cocaine seizures in Peña Nieto’s first year have seen little change, with 2.5 tons of the drug being confiscated by authorities.

All of these figures pale in comparison to cocaine seizures in countries elsewhere on the drug’s supply chain. By contrast, Colombia seized ten times as much cocaine — 241 tons — as Mexico in 2012. On December 4 police in the central Colombian province of Cundinamarca announced the seizure of 2.6 tons of cocaine in a single operation — more than the Mexican military intercepted all year.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

What explains Mexico’s disproportionately low seizures? Is Peña Nieto focused on going after the criminal networks that move illicit substances rather than the drugs themselves? The fact that drug trafficking related arrests have fallen in the previous year as well suggests not.

The most obvious explanation for the gap in cocaine seizures is severe corruption and weak fragmented security institutions. However even in Honduras, wracked by political instability and endemic corruption, particularly within the police, security forces managed to seize five tons of cocaine last year.

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