Mexico’s armed forces seized just over one ton of cocaine in 2014, a three-fold reduction from the year before, highlighting surprisingly low interdiction rates given the country’s strategic importance in the drug trade.
Statistics released by Mexico’s Secretary of Defense (Sedena) show that seizures of cocaine decreased from 3,052 kilos in 2013 to just 1,100 last year, while marijuana seizures dropped by almost 12 percent over the same period (see graph). Seizures of guns, grenades, and cartridges also fell in 2014. Additionally, the Mexican armed forces detained around 1,000 fewer people in 2014 compared to the previous year.
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The small amount of cocaine seized by the Mexican armed forces in 2014 stands in stark contrast to both the amounts seized in smaller transit nations and the country’s central role in the drug trade.
Statistics from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) show that cocaine seizures in other transit nations like Panama, Guatemala and Costa Rica are considerably higher than those in Mexico. In 2012, for example, Panama seized 30.8 tons of cocaine and Costa Rica seized 15.6, compared to Mexico’s 3.4, according to the UNODC.
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There are several factors that could explain Mexico’s recent drop in cocaine seizures. Changing tastes in the US market may be prompting drug cartels to shift their focus to more profitable drugs like heroin and methamphetamine. US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield recently stated that cocaine consumption has fallen by around 50 percent in recent years, while heroin use has reached “crisis” levels. Meanwhile, cocaine seizures along the southwest border of the United States have dropped significantly since 2011, while seizures of heroin and methamphetamine have been on the rise.
Additionally, the Sedena statistics might not reveal the whole story since these numbers do not include seizure figures from all of Mexico’s security forces.
However, changes in US drug consumption do not explain why Mexico’s cocaine hauls pale in comparison to those of its smaller neighbors. President Enrique Peña Nieto’s focus on other security priorities — such as nabbing high-level drug cartel operatives — and corruption among security forces could be two factors affecting the country’s interdiction efforts, although the latter is also an issue in other countries with higher cocaine seizures.