Micro-Trafficking A Growing Threat Across LatAm

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Micro-trafficking is on the rise in capital cities across Latin America, according to a recent report, raising the question: is the rise of a domestic drug market inevitable in countries used as transit points for the international market?

The Grupo de Diarios America (GDA) looked at the domestic markets in 11 capital cities in Latin America: San Jose, Costa Rica; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Lima, Peru; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Montevideo, Uruguay; Quito, Ecuador; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Bogota, Colombia; Mexico City, Mexico; Santiago, Chile; and Caracas, Venezuela.

Despite a lack of precise figures on micro-trafficking in any of these cities, authorities in all of these capitals agreed that the domestic trade is a major problem and is difficult to combat. This is due in great part to the proliferation of drug sales points — there are 240 recognized in Bogota and 960 in Montevideo — and the ease with which criminal groups recruit youth to sell the drugs.

While marijuana tops the list of drug sales, cocaine, inhalants, heroin and crack all have a significant local market and synthetic drugs are becoming increasingly popular among university students. Authorities in Mexico City estimate that 10 percent of youth regularly buy street drugs.

latam microtrafficking

InSight Crime Analysis

While there are numerous social factors behind rising drug use, in many cases there is also a correlation between growing international drug trafficking and a growing domestic market. This trend has been seen in various transit countries across the region, including Argentina and Ecuador, where turf struggles over the domestic market have led to growing violence and insecurity. The GDA report attributes 438 deaths in Puerto Rico’s capital city to the micro-trafficking trade.

There are several factors that could contribute to this. One is that drug transporters are often paid in product rather than cash, which can easily be pumped back into the local market. Another is that while transnational drug trafficking typically involves waiting a while for payments, micro-trafficking provides an immediate cash flow. Thirdly, successful efforts against transnational drug trafficking have led some organizations to look for profit closer to home.

These micro-trafficking networks have proved difficult to dismantle, as has been shown recently in Colombia. As noted in the GDA report, the sheer number of sales points makes it hard to identify all of them, and they also have a tendency to spring back up elsewhere. Targeting street dealers, meanwhile, does little to address the roots of the problem.

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