Record-breaking MDMA seizures in Chilean ports have linked yet another Latin American country to synthetic drugs from the Netherlands and Belgium, some of the world’s largest ecstasy producers.
Authorities in Iquique and San Antonio, port cities in northern Chile, discovered nearly 475,000 MDMA tablets on various ships departing from the Netherlands and Belgium in the past two months. The shipments, valued at $17 million, came from the ports of Rotterdam, Zeebrugge and Antwerp.
According to Chilean newspaper BioBio, the operation led to the arrest of seven Dominican nationals, hinting that the Dominican Republic may have been a transit point for these drugs.
The smugglers hid pills in a motor home, three cars and a mechanical compressor. Due to the route and modus operandi of the various shipments, authorities established that the drugs belonged to the same organization.
The discoveries in northern Chile are not the first hauls of Dutch ecstasy in Chile, but recent seizures have entered the country by plane, not ship. In April 2022, authorities at the Santiago airport found over 6,000 ecstasy tablets in luggage originating in the Netherlands, while in 2019, ecstasy was found in a table shipped from the Netherlands by plane.
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The steady flow of synthetic drugs from Belgium and the Netherlands to Latin America seems to have found a new market in Chile.
Chile is one of the wealthiest countries in Latin America per capita, with a growing middle class, leading to demand for synthetic drugs. The country's long coastline and developed ports make sending drugs there more straightforward than in other countries. MDMA production in Europe has led to more supply for countries like Chile with rising demand.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)’s World Drug Report 2022, the Netherlands was the top origin and departure point of ecstasy from 2016–2020, with Belgium following in second place. Drug traffickers have often smuggled pills from Belgium and Germany to Latin America, particularly Argentina. After arrival, smugglers move the drugs to neighboring countries with substantial synthetic drug markets, such as Chile and Brazil.
Despite the established routes between Europe and Argentina, Chile's ports have had few ecstasy seizures. The recent stings demonstrate the link between the Netherlands, Belgium and Chile. A direct shipping route to Chile would cut out middlemen, eliminate risk, and allow more MDMA to flow into Chile compared to the more common parcel shipments or smuggling of drugs on airplanes.
Drug trafficking between Chile and Europe has previously been seen as a one-way street, as several Chilean ports have emerged as transit hubs for Bolivian and Colombian cocaine headed to European. But the most recent seizure shows that the dynamic is changing; cocaine headed to Europe from Chile, and synthetics moving reversely.