Mexican drug cartels eye Europe

Soldiers guard packages of seized marijuana in Tijuana, Mexico. Some 50,000 people have died in Mexico's ongoing drugs war. Picture: AP

Cormac O’Keeffe says Europol is worried about the arrival of Mexican drug violence

JUST over a year ago, 49 decapitated and mutilated bodies were found dumped on a highway connecting the northern Mexican city of Monterrey to the US border.

The 43 men and six women were found with their heads, hands, and feet cut off. A banner left at the scene bore a message with the Los Zetas drug cartel claiming responsibility.

The 49 people are among an estimated 50,000 who have been killed in Mexico’s drug wars since 2006.

Not surprisingly, then, that a recent statement from Europol warning that the Los Zetas and Sinaloa cartels were attempting to establish themselves as key players in the European drug market raised alarms.

It said Los Zetas, a “powerful and violent criminal syndicate”, was reportedly involved in trafficking human beings for sexual exploitation from north-east Europe to Mexico.

In addition, Mexican gangs were trafficking firearms from south east Europe to barter with criminals involved in the cocaine trade in Central South America.

The statement said: “An attempt by the Sinaloa cartel to settle in Europe, to develop their wholesale cocaine distribution business, was recently averted by a timely, intelligence-led law enforcement operation. These criminal groups have an extremely violent operating culture; however, only an isolated number of violent incidents in Europe — including a murder attempt — have so far been attributed to these groups.”

Europol’s director Rob Wainwright said: “We do not want the level of violence and brutality which we see in Mexico mirrored in Europe. Together with our law enforcement partners, we will continue our efforts to tackle the criminals who are active within the illegal drug markets and ensure that Mexican organised crime groups cannot gain a foothold in Europe.”

As Europol’s top representative for North, Central, and South America, Pat Byrne is deeply involved in preventing Mexican gangs doing exactly that.

“Our reports indicate certainly increased connectivity in Portugal and Spain, or attempts to set up bases there,” said Mr Byrne. “We have seen activity in south east Europe in relation to the acquisition of firearms and we have seen, and Europol is actively working with Italian authorities, on increased potential collaborations with major Italian organised crime groups. This is a potentially very dangerous situation.”

He said the attempt by Mexican gangs to establish a presence in Europe has involved “exchanges” between gangs on both sides of the Atlantic.

“We have seen evidence of gangs sending people over to gain a foothold in the market, to monitor shipments they are sending over,” said Mr Byrne. “We’ve seen members of European organised crime groups going over to Mexico and South America: If you like, a personnel exchange.

“We see it as a step up by them in increasing their foothold so part of the reason for putting out the notice is advisory and cautionary: we must prevent this, we must nip it in the bud before they get a foothold.”

He said the level of violence associated with the Mexican gangs was “on a different scale” to anywhere else.

“That’s what we’re concerned about,” he said. “We’re concerned that the modus operandi they deploy in Mexico would become commonplace within the European environment and that’s what we’re trying to make sure we prevent, by breaking the links.”

He said organised crime gangs in Europe, including some major Irish ones, have links with Mexican and South American gangs. But the Mexican cartels’ attempt to establish a physical presence in Europe is different.

“It is one thing when UK, Dutch, or Irish criminals involve themselves in maritime cocaine trafficking to Europe, which is challenging enough, but having a quartermaster from the Mexican gangs operating from a European base, arranging deliveries, is an even more sinister situation to have to deal with.”


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