It is very difficult that there is an American “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Not because millions of dollars are not handled and there are no drug dealers in that country – the largest cocaine user in the world – but because of the way drug trafficking is organized in the United States. There doesn’t seem to be anyone there like the Mexican who became known as one of the greatest drug traffickers in the world in recent history.
This is the assessment of experts, and even the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) recognizes the presence of local mafias.
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Since the middle of the last century, national drug lords have been known in the United States, but the likelihood that one of them will simultaneously produce, move, distribute and market illicit substances is very low.
There are no famous cartels, like the Mexicans or armed groups that fight for coca-growing territories, as in Colombia. However, there are organizations dedicated to drug trafficking in the United States that transport narcotics throughout its territory.
In general terms, however, there is still ignorance about the protagonists and the operation of trafficking in the country.
2 of 2 The United States has different agencies for seizing drugs and capturing traffickers – Photo: Getty Images / BBC
The United States has different agencies for seizing drugs and capturing traffickers – Photo: Getty Images / BBC
1. Wholesale buyers
Drug traffickers and organizations that are part of the first level of trafficking in the United States are those who have a certain ability to pay for a cargo that has just arrived from Mexico.
Through them, cocaine and synthetic drugs begin to travel to the different markets in the vast American territory.
“These organizations buy bulk shipments of drugs from Mexicans, but it is not that Mexicans do not have the capacity to distribute. They are not interested,” explains Jesús Esquivel, author of the 2016 Los narcos gringos (Os narotraficantes gringos, 2016) to the BBC News Mundo, BBC’s Spanish language service.
The researcher argues that Latin American cartels know that they are less vulnerable to the capture or confiscation of cargo using local intermediaries “which they can easily disseminate in American society without attracting attention”.
Esquivel points out that Mexican organizations do not have an “Miami office”, but representatives.
Asked why US security agencies often announce the arrest of citizens of Mexico and other countries for carrying controlled substances, the journalist noted that there are many more cases of Americans, but they do not receive media attention because they do not are linked to violent acts.
Drug trafficking researcher Hernando Zuleta points out that one of the reasons why American organizations and their leaders are little known is their way of acting.
“In micro-trafficking, gangs from the United States and from different Central American countries have a lot of presence, but they don’t get most of the cake. So everyone asks who the foreign leaders are, because there must be,” he tells BBC News Mundo .
The university professor explains that the “heads of distribution in the interior of the United States”, as far as is known, have a very different profile from the installed image of the Latin American drug trafficker, and that they managed to export this model.
He cites as an example that recent investigations show a new wave of Colombian drug traffickers who “mix with his country’s upper middle class”.
“This phenomenon seems plausible to me and I think it is a strategy not to be on the radar, as is the case in the United States,” he concludes.
In this regard, Jesús Esquivel indicates that “it is not the same to be a drug dealer in Manhattan than one from a poor neighborhood in Houston (Texas)” and that is why you need to adapt to the environment.
“It is not that they are behind an office or established, watching the movement of narcotics, but they are connected to the places where they are,” he explains.
Esquivel adds that this is why they are not ostentatious and opt for the discreet profile, they cannot attract attention because there is a lot of control and, if one of them is detected, they will suffer sanctions and loss of money.
“They act very carefully, because in the United States there are different police institutions, in addition to federal agencies.”
As noted, the first link in the chain is the wholesale buyer who buys controlled substances from Latin America, Asia and other parts of the world.
From there, a network of groups and service providers continues, extending to markets in the more than 9 million square kilometers that the United States has.
The most conservative estimates maintain that cocaine alone generates more than $ 100 billion in that country.
Other substances consumed in the country are marijuana (legal under different modalities in some states), methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl (opioid for pain), whose mortality levels have alarmed the United States.
Jesús Esquivel points out that, among mass buyers, there are motorcycle clubs that have branches in many cities and are therefore difficult to detect.
“A cartel moves tons of cocaine, but when entering the United States, thousands of Americans are responsible for distributing those tons into increasingly smaller parts. It’s like a spider’s web, that’s why it’s so complicated,” he says .
The researcher gives as an example of this difficulty the transfer of chemical substances that arrive from China to the United States.
“The drug goes through different stages until it reaches the market that the demand for. The distance to the demand for drugs does not exist”, he concludes.
For his part, Professor Zuleta points out that this is where the gangs come into action.
“There are specific hierarchies and they are not homogeneous, of course, but obviously they have the economic capacity, the capacity for corruption and bribery,” he says.
The researcher adds that, from there, retail distributors are hired, carriers to reach consumers (which in the United States are more than 4 million).
4. The role of Mexicans in the United States
The DEA, in its 2019 annual report “National Drug Threat Assessment”, recognizes the existence of “criminal and local gang” groups linked to the drug business.
“They collaborate directly with criminal groups and local gangs in the United States to distribute and transport drugs at retail,” notes the report.
Therefore, experts point out that the entity gives much more prominence to the Mexican members of the transnational criminal organizations present in their country and minimizes their local mafias.
For example, the agency announced in April this year that it had detected a “sophisticated tunnel” that started from the Mexican border and reached the San Diego area in the southeastern United States.
Its peculiarity is that it was the first time that the seized cargo included several different types of drugs: cocaine, heroin, marijuana and fentanyl in the total amount of US $ 29 million.
Another discovery recently announced by the US agency is that it would have identified “eight major meth transport centers,” most of them in the southern United States.
The peculiarity is that, in both cases, the DEA attributed practically all the responsibility to the Mexican drug groups, pointing out that they operate in “several cells that are assigned specific functions, such as the distribution or transport of drugs, consolidation of their entry or money laundering “.
“Mexican operations in the United States generally function as a supply chain: chain operators know their specific role, but are unaware of other aspects of an operation,” says the agency.
On the subject, Falko Ernst, one of the main researchers at the International Crisis Group study center, which analyzes conflicts in the world, rejects that it is the Mexicans who control all the links in the chain until they reach the final buyer.
Like Zuleta and Esquivel, the expert highlights the role of gangs, local mafias and biker clubs within the distribution system.
According to Ernst, what exists is a “mixed model”, in which there is Mexican participation at different levels of hierarchy and protagonism at different stages and places.
He explains that the presence of representatives of Mexican criminal organizations in the United States is not limited only to the sending of representatives, but that nothing is known about any of the real capos operating on that side of the border.