HomeNewsBelize, the Gatekeeper for Contraband Tobacco Flowing into Mexico
NEWS

Belize, the Gatekeeper for Contraband Tobacco Flowing into Mexico

BELIZE / 9 NOV 2021 BY CHRIS DALBY EN

While contraband cigarettes are a mainstay across Latin America, Belize has confirmed its status as a major port of entry for illegal tobacco into Mexico.

Every Monday, a day on which Mexican customs agents reportedly are “less strict” for imports, numerous packs of illegal cigarettes cross the Belize-Mexico border at the town of Chetumal, according to a report by Milenio.

While each person crossing the border can bring up to three packs of ten cigarettes with them, smugglers have struck a deal with customs agents once a week.

“It’s an agreement that all the smugglers have, that once a week, we can cross with everything we want to bring across. We have to bring everything over at once,” one smuggler told Milenio. Both Mexican and Belizean vans were seen crossing the border. Smugglers even said that they could bring cigarettes across for any individuals who paid them to do so.

SEE ALSO: Contraband Chinese Cigarettes Take Latin America by Storm

According to the investigation, cigarettes brands from China, India, Vietnam, the United Arab Emirates, Canada and the United States were all brought across.

The appeal is clear: a pack that sells from 4-6 Mexican pesos ($0.2-0.3) in Belize’s free trade zone along the border increases in value to 15-20 Mexican pesos ($0.75-1) in Chetumal.

However, many of them don’t stay there. Most are then sent to Tepito, one of the largest neighborhoods in Mexico City and a well-known smuggler’s paradise. One criminal group in the capital, the Tobacco Cartel (Cártel del Tabaco), got its start by specializing in the theft, smuggling and sale of contraband cigarettes.

InSight Crime Analysis

Mexico has many ports of entry for illegal cigarettes.

On the Atlantic side, the port of Veracruz has been inundated with illicit cigarettes. From January to October 2020, Mexican customs seized over 40 million cigarettes, with 31.1 million of them having arrived through Veracruz, according to customs statistics cited by the local press.  

The country’s biggest port, Manzanillo, on the Pacific coast is a common destination for Chinese contraband tobacco. Shipments to both Manzanillo and Veracruz often come from Panama, which has become a regional platform for the distribution of illegal tobacco.

SEE ALSO: Tobacco Cartel May Mark Shift in Mexico Underworld

However, Belize’s importance has been steadily increasing. Back in 2013, InSight Crime reported on how the country’s free trade zone had become a hub for cigarettes coming from Paraguay and sold to Mexico and Guatemala.

At the time, its lack of specific security measures to fight contraband was listed as a key reason for its role as a contraband hub. With smugglers having formalized deals with customs officials about when to bring over their merchandise safely, the situation is unlikely to improve.

While the sale of cigarettes in Mexico plummeted by up to 45 percent during the pandemic, a new report suggested that the percentage of illegal cigarettes has climbed from 2 percent to 19 percent in the last decade.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

HOMICIDES / 17 JUL 2013

According to Mexico's national statistics institute, just 1.8 percent of the homicides registered in 2012 have resulted in a sentence,…

CHILE / 26 JUN 2019

Chilean officials conspired to bring hundreds of Chinese migrants into the country illegally, leaving the country to face its largest-ever…

MEXICO / 11 OCT 2011

State authorities detained more than 100 municipal police officers and cadets suspected of corruption and links to organized crime in…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela El Dorado Investigation Makes Headlines

3 DEC 2021

InSight Crime's investigation into the trafficking of illegal gold in Venezuela's Amazon region generated impact on both social media and in the press. Besides being republished and mentioned by several…

THE ORGANIZATION

Gender and Investigative Techniques Focus of Workshops

26 NOV 2021

On November 23-24, InSight Crime conducted a workshop called “How to Cover Organized Crime: Investigation Techniques and A Focus on Gender.” The session convened reporters and investigators from a dozen…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Names Two New Board Members

19 NOV 2021

In recent weeks, InSight Crime added two new members to its board. Joy Olson is the former executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America…

THE ORGANIZATION

Senate Commission in Paraguay Cites InSight Crime

12 NOV 2021

InSight Crime’s reporting and investigations often reach the desks of diplomats, security officials and politicians. The latest example occurred in late October during a commission of Paraguay's Senate that tackled…

THE ORGANIZATION

Backing Investigative Journalism Around the Globe

5 NOV 2021

InSight Crime was a proud supporter of this year's Global Investigative Journalism Conference, which took place November 1 through November 5 and convened nearly 2,000 journalists…