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"The Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG are taking complete control of the fishing and logging industry in Mexico"

2022-05-22T15:34:53.102Z

Brookings Institute researcher Vanda Felbab-Brown assures that Mexican cartels traffic species to China in exchange for the chemical precursors necessary to make the drug



Brookings Institution organized crime specialist Vanda Felbab-Brown, in a file image.CHATHAM HOUSE

The link between drug and species trafficking in Mexico is becoming closer every day.

Poachers and loggers are forced to work for the Sinaloa Cartel or the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), who pay them for their work with methamphetamine or fentanyl.

China's insatiable thirst for species such as totoaba, sea cucumber or abalone has led organized crime to want to control this lucrative business.

The Mexican cartels deliver these species to Chinese traders, who in return provide the chemical precursors necessary to produce the drug.

Meanwhile, the policy of the Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador of non-confrontation towards the cartels and the constant cuts to the budgets of the environmental authorities make it easier for organized crime.

The circle closes.

To unravel this entire interconnected network of illegality, the American expert in organized crime Vanda Felbab-Brown has published her latest investigation for the Brookings Institution, 'Illegal trafficking of species in Mexico linked to China'.

The report points to increasing control of Mexico's fishing and logging industries by cartels to supply huge Chinese demand.

Question:

Why does China have this voracity for Mexico's biodiversity?

Answer:

China has become a key market for the trafficking of species from all over the world.

Let's say that Mexico is the last stage of the expansion in search of wildlife products, but very little is known about it.

People know about the trafficking of ivory, rhinos, pangolins or jaguars for the Chinese market, but very little is known about the extent of the trafficking of both legal and illegal species from Mexico to China.

What makes the case of Mexico unique and perhaps crucial is the role played by organized crime and the relationship between drugs and the trafficking of species.

The Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel are entering the lumber industry and the trafficking of species with force.

On many occasions, they are using these types of wildlife products as a form of payment to obtain the chemical precursors to make methamphetamine, fentanyl and synthetic opioids, as well as as a mechanism to avoid bank regulations against money laundering.

Q:

In your latest report you explain that the relationship between cartels and Chinese traders has changed in recent times, why?

A:

For a long time, Chinese traders would go to Mexico to sell everything from shoes to toys, while also looking for what species might be available for export.

This could be from legal fishing, such as abalone, or illegal, such as totoaba.

They were beginning to make their connections with the local communities so that they would extract these products and sell them to them.

Sometimes the traffic organized by these Chinese groups was totally illegal, as with the purchase of wood in Chiapas.

But the power and presence of organized crime groups in Mexico has been expanding in the last decade.

The most crucial thing is that it has not been an expansion only geographically, but also in the type of markets in which they operate: they are entering many economic activities that are not drugs.

The cartels realized that these Chinese traders were making a lot of money from jellyfish, totoaba maw, sea cucumbers, abalone… and so they began to penetrate these economies to dominate them.

They have begun to monopolize these markets and have removed Chinese traders from direct interaction with local poachers.

Now it is the Mexican cartels, such as Sinaloa and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, but also smaller groups, depending on the area, who organize clandestine logging, both legal and illegal fishing, and they are the ones who sell the products to the Chinese merchants.

Mexican cartels now organize species trafficking in Mexico.

Chinese traders receive the products at the border and they transport them to China,

Q:

You criticize the Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador for its lack of protection of the environment and the reduction in budgets to prosecute this type of crime.

Can the current Administration be blamed for the increased presence of cartels in these types of markets?

There are two dimensions to López Obrador's policies that are backfiring.

They come together and are making Mexico's biodiversity find itself in a moment of extreme vulnerability.

On the one hand, this non-confrontational policy towards criminal groups, eliminating any type of persecution or police surveillance.

Basically the government has given up going after the cartels.

Yes, there is the National Guard, and from time to time it deploys them in some areas of the country, like in Michoacán, but on many occasions the instruction is that they only stand in the street.

They do not confront, they do not arrest criminals.

The hope is that they will somehow establish their territories and the violence will subside.

On the other hand, the Government has decimated the already small budgets of the environmental authorities in Mexico.

The cuts have sometimes been as much as 90% from one year to the next, basically eliminating their surveillance capacity.

The government has also been promoting a series of policies contrary to environmental protection, such as designating infrastructure projects as national security so as not to have to comply with environmental regulations.

Q:

The role of the cartels in the illegal hunting of totoaba is well known in Mexico.

But his report goes much further, saying that organized crime controls the entire fishing market in the country.

A:

Absolutely yes.

And not only illegal fishing, which goes far beyond totoaba – also other species such as shark or abalone – but many of the legal fisheries are being systematically controlled by the cartels.

From the poorest poachers to the largest operators exporting abroad, there is enormous pressure not only to pay extortion but also to become some kind of subsidiary.

The Sinaloa Cartel is demanding that the processing plants buy the fish that they bring to them.

These plants are the ones that issue the certificates that support the legal origin of the fish and are coerced into issuing false certificates for them.

The hotels are being forced to buy the fish from the cartels, there is de facto absolute control, a monopolization of the fishing industry in the hands of the cartels in many regions of the country.

It is more significant in the west but it also occurs in the Yucatan peninsula, in Tamaulipas, in Veracruz.

Q:

It seems then that cartels like the Sinaloa cartel are becoming more like mafias, controlling all these markets outside of the drug market.

A:

Totally.

Much of this modus operandi is spreading to smaller groups in places like Michoacán, with Guerreros Unidos for example.

There are different ways in which they carry out this control.

The Sinaloa cartel for example has really become this dominant entity, practically acting as the entity that grants licenses for its franchises.

But the Jalisco cartel is somewhat further behind, only demanding extortion, although it is increasingly following in the footsteps of the Sinaloa Cartel to monopolize markets.

Q:

Something shocking about your report is the fact that cartels pay fishermen with drugs

A:

It is terrible, devastating for the communities.

They make the fishermen addicted to drugs, but also the other effect is that they become drug dealers, because they have to sell methamphetamine in the community to be able to bring money home.

They become addicted to crystal, but also to more dangerous drugs like fentanyl.

Q:

You give a lot of details about the role of the cartels in the fishing industry. Does the same thing happen in other markets such as the sale of wood or mining?

A:

Yes. There are different levels of control in different industries, of course.

But you see very similar patterns to the fishing industry in other markets, for example in Tierra Caliente.

There practically any type of agricultural production, not only avocado but also corn or citrus, is controlled by organized crime.

In the mining industry, the least you find is extortion, but very often it goes much further.

It is part of the enormous tragedy and the sad consequence of the decision of the Government of López Obrador not to persecute the cartels.

The communities, the businessmen, the people who seek to get ahead in a legal way, see how their existence is controlled by the cartels.

Q:

Would you say that the Government underestimated the environmental problem thinking that it was minor and has found all these ramifications that also involve the cartels, public health and the security of the country?

A:

Totally.

First of all, biodiversity issues are intrinsically important.

But this is also only a small part of this enormous criminal control over the communities, lives and governments of Mexico.

It is connected to public health in many ways, because on the one hand there is the addiction aspect, but on the other hand the illegal trafficking of species is a dangerous source of zoonotic diseases such as covid-19.

It is connected to people's quality of life, basic security, and has many very dangerous ramifications.

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2022-05-22

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