Panama’s role as a sophisticated drug trafficking hub, not a mere cocaine transit point, was revealed when the country was named the logistical center for the recently dismantled “Super Cartel.”
In November, 49 people were arrested in Dubai, Spain, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands for helping a so-called super cartel of leading Irish, Italian, Bosnian, and Dutch-Moroccan drug traffickers.
Following the fall of many of the group’s key players, Panama’s attorney general, Javier Caraballo, revealed that Panamanian citizens inside the country had been helping the drug traffickers based in Dubai send drugs to Europe. Additionally, Spanish authorities stated that another Panamanian individual was based in Dubai and maintained contacts with members of the drug trafficking network in different countries.
The group allegedly controlled up to one-third of all cocaine going to Europe, so the logistical capacity needed to coordinate this was likely to have been significant.
It is likely the man mentioned by Spanish police was Anthony Alfredo Martínez Meza, alias “Hassan,” a Panamanian trafficker arrested in Dubai. From 2017, Hassan worked with leading Irish drug trafficker, Daniel Kinahan, to ship large quantities of cocaine from Panama’s port of Manzanillo to Spain.
These revelations about Panama’s role as a logistical trafficking hub come as the country looks set to seize a record quantity of drugs in 2022, surpassing the 128.7 tons caught in 2021. According to Panama’s Security Minister, Juan Pino, so long as the country’s port facilities continue to be vulnerable to drug trafficking, these figures will keep rising.
InSight Crime Analysis
The role Panamian traffickers played in helping to distribute so much cocaine to varied destinations shows how Panama has evolved as a drug hub.
One of the first stages of its evolution came when smaller gangs, who routinely transported smaller shipments of cocaine through Panama for Colombian and Mexican groups, began to unite. This led to the rise of two gang federations, Bagdad and Calor Calor, who manage drug transportation and associated logistics, provide security for traffickers, and battle for control of trafficking routes through the country.
A second factor has been the normalization of the Panama Canal as a constant cocaine trafficking route. Its Atlantic port of Colón, in particular, has been a favored drug hub for the Colombian criminal group, the Urabeños, also known as the Gulf Clan (Clan del Golfo) and the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia - AGC).
The same Urabeños provided much of the cocaine to Irishman Daniel Kinahan, with the shipments coordinated by Panama’s Hassan.
Furthermore, reports of official corruption in Panama, including among Panama Canal management and police, show how easy it has been for traffickers to keep the cocaine flowing.
The role of Hassan as part of the super cartel is another worrying development. According to a report by the local newspaper, Crítica, Hassan was not on the radar of Panamanian authorities before his arrest, and the country did not participate in the international effort which led to the November arrests.