With a well-known route through the Southern Cone decimated and authorities combing the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, drug traffickers are turning to the Pacific Ocean to ship their illicit wares to North America.
According to Mexican government reports, between January 2018 and February 2019, the Mexican navy seized 10.7 metric tons of cocaine, almost two-thirds of the total seized in the previous six years. While there have been regular seizures on both coasts, the Pacific seems to be gaining in popularity among drug traffickers as they move their products north.
Trafficking routes to Caribbean nations are still effective for reaching European and North American markets. However, the crisis in Venezuela is affecting its neighboring countries and could be placing the coasts and ports of South America’s northeast under the microscope, as well as any vessel departing from them.
SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles
Organized crime groups could be looking to the Pacific to avoid the noise in the Caribbean, even though moving operations to the west brings its own set of risks.
Groups operating in Colombia, for example, have increased their illicit crop farming in the country’s coastal areas along the Pacific. Between 2014 and 2017, the departments of Cauca and Nariño tripled their number of coca crops. Such shifts have unleashed a domino effect on both national and international criminal structures as they maneuver to better position themselves.
InSight Crime Analysis
This shift in drug trafficking routes could be eliciting changes both in the modus operandi of organized crime groups throughout Latin America and in the amount of traffic on what can be called the Pacific drug trafficking highway.
At the same time, anti-narcotics authorities are also stepping up their efforts in the northern regions of South America.
Traffickers have taken to sending some of their shipments up the Pacific with escorts -- often from the cartels they do business with -- to protect them from “tumbadores,” people who rob drug traffickers of their goods. The escorts have even been used to distract authorities when they pursue illegal shipments.
High-tech elements are also increasingly used along the Pacific route. Drug traffickers, for a few years, have relied on buoys with satellite location devices on them, which allows for more maneuverability. One group leaves the drugs out at sea with the buoy switched on, and the frequency is shared with their partners who can pick up the drugs at their convenience. This lessens the risk of a patrol stumbling unto them.
And even if authorities develop successful countermeasures against the new strategies employed by drug traffickers, they still must contend with ongoing corruption. A long-time constant in the international trafficking landscape, corruption has facilitated maritime trafficking for years and is likely at least partly to blame for its 190 percent increase since 2014.
International authorities are increasing efforts to monitor the Pacific and prevent the arrival of cocaine to northern shores. However, Central America continues to be a chink in the armor, not only due to its well-known struggles with corruption, but also because it lacks the resources necessary to keep up with new shipping methods. For now, only Mexico and the United States seem to be keeping up with the dynamic situation, but their efforts alone may not be enough.