Latin American drug traffickers are increasingly turning to Asia, according to the US State Department, as changing market dynamics and law enforcement pressure fuel criminal migration.
On a visit to Southeast Asia, US Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield said Latin American drug traffickers are expanding into the cocaine and methamphetamine trade in Asia, in part as a result of tough US anti-drug measures, reported AFP.
The US is increasing anti-drug cooperation with the Philippines, he said, which is an ideal transit point for Latin American groups trafficking through the Pacific as it sits at the entrance to the rest of East Asia.
Philippines anti-drug czar Arturo Cacdac said his country was investigating connections between Mexican cartels and a Chinese gang that manufactured methamphetamines in the Philippines, which was dismantled last year.
InSight Crime Analysis
Brownfield's comments echo information from the 2013 World Drug Report, which indicated Asian demand for South American cocaine had increased. The report found that while cocaine consumption had declined notably in North America over the past few years, seizure trends indicated it was rising in Asia and Africa. This is also seen in the two regions' percentage share of the total number of global cocaine users -- in Asia, this rose from 2 percent in 2005 to 8 percent in 2011.
The report also stated that the South Asia and Southeast Asia cocaine market "arguably presents the greatest risk of expansion," with rising seizures noted in Hong Kong, China and the Philippines. Asia was also among the regions with marked increases in methamphetamine seizures, from 21 tons in 2010 to 32 tons in 2011.
In addition to changing consumption patterns, the expansion into other routes and markets, including West Africa, is likely in part driven by pressures faced by Latin American groups back home.
This appears to be the case in the expanding connections between Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel and criminal organizations in China. After the Mexican government made it harder to get hold of the precursor chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamines, Guzman reportedly turned to three Chinese organizations to provide them, and there are signs the cartel has actively sought control over the Asian drug supply.