For nearly a decade, Mexican drug trafficking has no longer been dominated by a single cartel or established in a single geographical area of influence. Organizations have been constantly breaking up and rearranging competitively and effectively. This is true in regards to the Mexican territory, the American continent and perhaps most importantly in global terms when it comes to illegal substance trade and markets, transportation routes and money laundering strategies.
The trafficking and laundering reach of 9 Mexican drug cartels actually expands to over 51 countries throughout the globe. The Sinaloa Cartel alone, with the involvement of Rafael Caro Quintero and leadership of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, is currently active in 43 of those countries, from the Americas to Africa, Asia and Europe. Along with activities such as weapon trafficking, gasoline theft and kidnappings, this cartel continues to traffic cocaine, heroine, methamphetamine and the chemical precursors necessary to produce top-selling drugs via land, sea and air.
The Sinaloa Cartel, however, is particularly innovative in its insistence to try, test and develop previously untapped transportation routes and connections along with a complex money-laundering infrastructure that depends on the activities of previous cartel leaders such as Rafael Caro Quintero. The case of a 1.3 shipment of cocaine sent across to Europe through Venezuela via Air France, for instance, shows this cartel’s attempt to redesign their transportation methods and obfuscate their involvement overseas.
Despite recent contradicting notions that Rafael Caro Quintero is either no longer involved in organized crime or quietly organizing a mega cartel conglomerate, however, it is crucial to underline that this past cartel leader is in fact active as an important node responsible for present day transportation and laundering operations for the Sinaloa Cartel and others in the U.S. and Mexico as well as African and European countries.
Over thirty years ago, before his 1985 arrest, Caro Quintero effectively secured a considerable amount of his assets. Along with Quintero, there were several individuals responsible for laundering his money and evading taxes that were sent to jail at the time but later released with minimum sentences. Their role in the business was to hide illicit revenue across the hotel industry, real state investments and through the purchase of shipping vessels that began operating since and continue to do so to this day.
It isn’t necessary for Caro Quintero to attempt an overshadowing of powerful cartels such as Mexico’s CJNG because his role as a transporter and launderer is profitable and effective enough. In fact, Quintero and the Sinaloa Cartel have rather aspired to establish a productive relationship with the European continent because it implies the possibility of a long-term profitable business climate. While the cartels have been able to secure reliable connections in the U.S., for instance, in places such as Chicago, where the presence of a Mexican population allows them to move easily and test the reliability of key individuals necessary to conduct the drug and laundering business, they’re just not ready to mirror this move overseas. It is a context to a large degree unknown in comparison to the U.S. and Mexico.
Yet, it doesn’t mean that the Sinaloa Cartel and its affiliates will bypass an attempt to establish a solid grip in Europe. They evidently have a clear understanding of how information —who, when, in what way— plays a significant if not central role when it comes to the drug business. The problem is the difficulty to access, secure and utilize that information effectively. Their immediate strategy is to reach out to that unknown territory through their family members, who may be sent across to European countries temporarily or permanently.
Indeed, this cartel is working to develop profitable connections in places such as France, Spain and England, despite the immediate challenge that the difference in languages may pose. Quintero’s drug trafficker colleague, Juan José Esparragoza Moreno, “El Azul”, for instance, sent his daughter to study finance in an elite private school in Switzerland.
That’s just a single example of many other attempts by the Sinaloa Cartel to impulse their offspring into a different continent. The purpose is to become familiar with a completely foreign territory and grip the connections crucial to avoid the vulnerability that comes with leaping into an unknown business context and its social, cultural and juridical implications. Making the sale of drugs profitable overseas implies a lot more than the product and getting it there. An efficient money-laundering method is indispensable and it requires specific actors and strategies.
The sons and daughters of Mexican drug traffickers are rubbing elbows with crucial individuals overseas through universities, equestrian activities and real state as well as financial institutions. It is a strategy that may prove more effective in the long run than expediting points of contact that could imply a higher risk. Especially considering that local trafficking groups in countries such as Spain, for example, have developed their own means to control the territory in terms of the drug trade and its required relationship to corrupt authorities.
Mexican drug traffickers involved in Europe such as the Sinaloa Cartel, on the other hand, want to settle reliable means not just to sell illicit substances but also to launder their profits. Reliable intel, information and the capacity to establish dependable relationships is crucial for a drug trafficking business of such a scope; the case of Rafael Caro Quintero in particular sheds light on this matter. He may no longer be a drug trafficking boss as it was previously conceived yet he serves as an active connection for transportation and laundering purposes with ramifications not limited to the U.S. and Mexico but currently involving Europe.
It is particularly relevant that the businesses Caro Quintero utilized to hide illicit assets years ago, along with others that were formed after his arrest, are still active and registered. It is through these enterprises and the connections currently developing in Europe that Quintero and the Sinaloa Cartel will continue to contribute to the expansion of Mexican drug trafficking globally through previously untapped means in order to replicate the productivity and unbelievable profit margins they secured in the American continent.