Some Mexican drug cartels are now also referred to as ‘cyber-cartel narcos’ seeing that they possess personal resources and technologies that enable them to exploit the Internet and the ‘dark side’ of the web, deep web. The strategies and techniques of the recycling of money are crucial; both in the financial and technological spheres, specific skills are needed in order to circumvent the controls of the banking authorities and of national and international law enforcement agencies.
Network and deep web have thus allowed illegal businesses to expand, taking advantage of masking techniques in the new cyber-space dimension. This gigantic industry of crime has a turnover of millions of dollars every month and doesn’t have even a minimal idea of what the term ‘crisis’ means. For the Mexican mafias it is essential to act on the money laundering front with a huge deployment both of human and technological resources. And all the possibilities are studied in the light of this objective.
For example, in 2013 the American authorities discovered an extensive network of money changers in Colombia that served as ‘money launderers’ for the Sinaloa cartel, the sums thus laundered being then deposited with banks in the United States, Panama and Hong Kong. It must also be said that the term ‘narco-cartels’ does not identify all the business of the Mexican gangs that have made them real ‘crime holdings’. The illegal businesses also involve the exploitation of prostitution, gambling, the demand for ‘protection money’, kidnapping, illegal trade in minerals (as happens in Michoacan) and the ferocious extortion from migrants coming from Central America.
The core of course is the trafficking of cocaine and crystal meth (the deadly synthetic drug whose chemical components are purchased by Asian gangs) that takes place both by land and sea, involving most nations as markets, arriving in places unthinkable a few years ago, such as the Marshall Islands.
The defeat of the Colombian cartels has left the field open to Mexican drug traffickers that, with the Arellano Felix group, also achieved the distinction of being the first to organize an effective distribution of cocaine by sea, with the implementation of a logistic that has evolved over time, as Ana Lilia Pérez, one of the spearheads of Mexican investigative journalism, writes in her most recent work: ‘Seas of Cocaine – Maritime Trafficking Routes’.
The example of the Arellano Felix group was then followed by the other cartels, while the law enforcement’s attempt to counter this maritime network achieved only partial success. Pérez writes that: ‘after the implementation of counter measures by the US Coast Guard and other countries, since 2004 the cartels are availing of the so-called Highway 10. Why this name? It is inspired by longitude 10°, passing north of the equator, and this cartographic reference has become the main route of drug-cargo ships that are flanked, when they approach the European and African coasts, by smaller boats to take the cargos of drugs on board, that have been masked in the most ingenious ways’. Pérez explains how the Mexican gangs have become, after the defeat of the Colombian cartels, the most experienced and organized at world global sea-level in the logistics for the shipping and marketing of drugs everywhere. Mexican cartels have thus become extremely efficient organizations, not only in trafficking of drugs by land with the United States and Canada, but towards the outlet markets of Europe, Asia and Oceania. In this context the ranks of drug traffickers have over time been strengthened by computer experts, super Internet advisers, hacker groups, in order to employ and exploit the vast resources of the web and deep web. As reported both in the press as well as by the police forces, the Mexican Mafia, relying on huge financial resources, find it easy to recruit high-profile intelligence, with large expertise in the high-tech sector.
A final nod is made towards the current situation regarding what the narco-cartels and the current power relations are. The Mexican authorities, in particular SIEDO (Subprocuraduría de Investigación Especializada en Delincuencia Organizada) have recently mapped the various mafia groups and the division of the ‘plazas’ have emerged (that is the domestic markets for illegal businesses) among the seven existing narco-cartels: the biggest plaza is divided between the Sinaloa cartel, headed by Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán (recently captured by police) and that of Los Zetas, led by Heriberto Lazcano known as ‘El Lazca’.
The Sinaloa cartel controls a slice of territory that includes the Pacific coast, is also present in the states of Chihuahua, Sonora, Sinaloa, Jalisco, Oaxaca, Chiapas and Quintana Roo. The Los Zetas have control over the largest part of Mexico and are present in most of the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico; the Zetas operate in particular in the states of Tamaulipas, Durango, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, San Luis Potosi, Aguascalientes, Veracruz, Colima, Oaxaca, Tabasco and Quintana Roo. They are also influential in many areas of Guatemala.
It is clear that a re-consolidation between the narco-cartels is now underway. The two large Cartels Los Zetas and Sinaloa have divided the greater part of the ‘plazas’, now leaving only a residual space for the other five cartels.(M.L.)