US authorities announced drug-related charges on January 18 against 104 alleged members of a Puerto Rico crime group, in a move that could leave a power vacuum in the US territory’s underworld, possibly paving the way for an uptick in violence on the island.
The defendants, all allegedly belonging to the “Menores,” or “New Blood” gang, were charged on nine counts including drug dealing and murder.
The indictment alleges that the Menores gang took root in Bayamón, a municipality southwest of the Puerto Rican capital San Juan, after federal authorities arrested a slew of other gang leaders in 2010. Authorities say the organization sold drugs out of the housing projects and wards in Bayamón and the surrounding areas.
Federal officials added that the Menores used the US mail system to launder drug profits through the purchase of US Postal Service money orders.
The indictment comes on the heels of the high-profile arrest and later conviction of Puerto Rican drug kingpin José David Figueroa Agosto, aka “Junior Cápsula,” who was sentenced to 30 years in a US prison last August. Junior Cápsula’s colorful drug trafficking career -- which included a publicly released sex tape and a prison break -- earned him the title of “Pablo Escobar of the Caribbean.”
Puerto Rico is a strategic point for drug trafficking routes because once inside the US territory, illegal shipments of narcotics that move between the island and the US mainland are subject to less restrictive inspection than imports from foreign countries.
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The fall of Junior Cápsula -- once considered among the most powerful drug traffickers in the Caribbean -- along with the disruption of the activities of other gangs operating in the San Juan area likely laid the groundwork for the Menores rise to prominence.
Now, the move against the Menores’ leadership could create a similar power vacuum, potentially leading to an increase in drug-related violence as a new cohort of Puerto Rican drug lords vies for control.
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Indeed, the island saw an increase in drug-related violence after Junior Cápsula’s arrest as homicide rates soared to record levels in 2011. Now that Puerto Rican police and security forces are still grappling with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, organized crime outfits could seize the moment to shore up power. Thirty-two people were slain on the island in the first two weeks of 2018, the Associated Press reported.
The Caribbean has seen rising rates of drug trafficking linked to a boom in cocaine production in Colombia, with homegrown criminal cells moving to assert dominance over routes previously controlled by foreign crime groups.